According to St. Basil (S37), Christ is the image of God the Father, Whom no man hath ever seen. We can see God by beholding Jesus Christ manifest inwardly when He becomes the very Light of our life and our very means of perception, and then seeing all other things through Him. We can see God outwardly by looking at His Holy icons which are a direct revelation of Him as He was in the flesh. Then, however, we must look through those icons as “windows into the Heavenly Realms”: where Christ is the very light of perception of the Next World. (J36)
This Light is the light of all men, as St. John the Evangelist says. We need to learn how to see everything at all times through this light “…which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” (John 1:9) Heaven is filled with this Light which warms the heart, illumines the mind, and fills all those living there with ineffable sweetness and love.
The Holy Icons also help us in another way as we are always included in the act of beholding an icon and are a living part of each icon that we behold. This “window into Heaven” is a two-way window. When we see Him with love and compassion, the image of God that was planted in us becomes alive and luminous, for we are essentially made in His Image from our conception. (J40) The word Icon is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word for Image, so we are made as the icons of Him.
This word is used to describe the beginning of Creation of people, and defines us as essentially related to Him from the very first moment of our being. We are not just children of God, but in some sense have the possibility of becoming so infused with Him that we can shine with His grace and love, lit up in reflection by showing forth His image cleansed and enlightened then by Him. Let us reach out to Him ardently now so that He reaches back to us today in love!
Jesus made the first icon by pressing His face to a cloth, sometimes known as Veronica’s Veil. Veronica’s name means “true icon” (S407). It is also called “the image not-made-by-hands.” All icons of Him are patterned after this image. (J80) St. Luke was the first iconographer or icon painter. He painted the Virgin Mary from life. Some of his icons are still here so we can see what she looked like too. (T22) Therefore, from the beginning, the icons are patterned after those that they depict, and have an actual historic basis.
There are icon pattern books that tell the iconographer how to paint different people and scenes so that they keep a direct continuity with the entire history of icon painting. For example, among the Apostles St. Peter (S299) is always shown with short white hair and a short white beard, while St. Paul (S298) is always shown with longer dark hair and beard, and with a receding hairline, because this is how they really looked in life. St. Andrew (S105), however, is always shown with his hair and beard somewhat disheveled, which was a distinguishing characteristic of him. The icons show this historic actual dimension, but they are, in fact, more than just earthly portraits.
All of the icons then have two dimensions, one earthly after the form which each person appeared in this world, and one Heavenly in the deliberate abstraction added to the image to show us more than just realism. (J16) God was both Man and God. When He was on earth He was always more than just what people could see outwardly. Some people found that He was God incarnate even while He was here. All the icons include this spiritual dimension that brings us right back to God Incarnate, Jesus Christ, Who is the express image of God the Father. And we are all made in His Image. (F130) Let us look deeply into the icons to see this dimension too!