Hebrews 11:24-26, 32-40 | St. John 1: 44-52
At the end of Liturgy today, we will parade around the church carrying our icons in celebration of the Sunday of Orthodoxy, which commemorates the restoration of icons to the church after the period of iconoclasm many centuries ago. We do so because Icons are not mere works of decorative art to us; they are windows to heaven which remind us that the Son of God really has become one of us, with a visible human body, and that we are called to become like the saints whose images are portrayed in them. For we are all icons of God, created in His image and likeness. Jesus Christ is the new Adam Who has restored and healed every dimension of our fallen humanity, and brought us into the very life of the Holy Trinity. It may help us to think of Lent as a time to make ourselves better icons of the Lord.
When we recall the great saints of the Old Testament mentioned in today’s reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews, we are humbled by their faithfulness, obedience, and humility. But even they “did not receive the promise, God provided something better for us that they should not be made perfect apart from us.” As hard as it is to believe, we have been blessed beyond them, for God’s promises in Jesus Christ were not fulfilled in their lifetimes; they hoped for what they did not receive, but their lives were still icons of faithful anticipation of the Messiah.
We live many generations after the New Testament saints Peter, Andrew, and Nathanael encountered Jesus Christ. And the Lord’s promise to Nathanael, “you shall see the heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man,” is the fulfillment of all the hopes and dreams of the Old Testament. In Jesus Christ, humanity and God are united; no longer shut out of paradise, we are raised to the life of the Heavenly Kingdom by our Lord. Our destiny is not for the dust and decay of the tomb, but for life everlasting because of His glorious third-day resurrection.
In Lent, we take small, humble, imperfect steps to open ourselves to this new life in Christ, to become better living icons – living images – of what it means for human beings to share in God’s salvation. The point of Lent is not to punish ourselves or simply to make us feel guilty, miserable, or deprived. Instead, the purpose of our spiritual exercises is to help us share more fully in the promise fulfilled in Jesus Christ. We want His holiness, love, mercy, and blessing to reshape every dimension of our lives, to be evident in how we go through the day, in how we treat others, in what we say, think, and feel.
And the more we grow in His image and likeness, the more we will become our true selves. Icons portray particular human beings whose lives have shone brightly with the holiness of God. The unbelievable truth is that, in Christ Jesus, we may do the same. No matter our age, health, occupation, family circumstances, personality quirks, or anything else, we too may become living, breathing manifestations of our Lord’s salvation when we open ourselves to His healing mercy through prayer, fasting, forgiveness, generosity to the needy, and all the various forms of spiritual nourishment given through the life of the Church.
There could be no greater optimism about us than what we proclaim on the Sunday of Orthodoxy. We not only carry icons, we are icons. We not only venerate icons, we are called to become living proof of what happens to a human being who enters into the eternal blessedness of God, even as we walk around Abilene. Let this sink in: What the Old Testament saints hoped for, we possess. This Lent, let’s take Jesus Christ at His word, and prepare – with humility, persistence, and mindfulness – to “see the heaven open and angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” For that is the good news of our salvation.
BY FR. PHILIP LEMASTERS