Those of you who know me know that I cultivate a special love for icons. In English the word icon can be used as a general term for an image. It is often used in connection with religious imagery, and the term iconography can relate to any consistent scheme of imagery, religious or secular. However, two modern secular applications of the word icon have gained wide currency.
First, in the world of fashion and entertainment, people can be described as icon if they epitomize certain trends in style or culture. Second, in the world of computers and electronic technology certain images on the screen are known as icons. You'll also know that my acquaintance with the modern applications of the word is more with the latter! Click on the icon and you enter a whole new world of information and imagery. This modern usage of the word icon has interesting parallels with the theological use of the term!
John Paul II in his encyclical "Duodecimum saeculum" wrote: "Just as the reading of material books allows the hearing of the living word of the Lord, so also the showing of the painted icon allows those who contemplate it to accede to the mystery of salvation by the sense of sight". Our first encounter with icons may not be easy, for they are seriously different from many of our assumptions about art and imagery.Icons are different, they are a non-naturalistic form of art. The intention behind the icon is to make the invisible visible. They are a door to another world, allowing us to enter more deeply into a living relationship with the Father, Son and Spirit. In the Apocalypse St. John says: "I looked, and lo, in heaven an open door!" (Rev 4:1). Through that door he enters into the heavenly worship and the place of revelation.
In C. S Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the children enter the strange world of Narnia through the wardrobe. There is a change in levels of consciousness and perception which can only be communicated through the metaphors and imagery of transition. Sacred iconography uses its own language of symbols and imagery to take us deeper into the mystery of Christ.
LEFT: The blue garment is almost hidden by the shimmering outer garment. This is the Father who cannot be seen by his creatures and must encounter him using the eyes of the Son. Both hands grasp the staff showing his dual authority over heaven and earth.
MIDDLE:The brown garment speaks of the earth - of His humanity. 'He humbled himself and became obedient even unto death on a cross.' The gold stripe speaks of kingship.