I've grown accustomed over the past few years to hear people opine on various issues in the Orthodox Church, and heard just about every opinion I'm likely to hear. There are a number of issues that seem to come up time and again. I can't tell you how many appeals I have heard from people who want to tear the pews out of their churches because the proper way to worship God is standing up, not relaxing in a pew. The same tactic is suggested for the few churches that have organs. "The human voice is the greatest instrument because it was made by God, and we ought to worship with our voice, not with organs." Or there is the frequent refrain, "Orthodox Christians are not supposed to pray with heretics." So naturally, everything from a prayer before a meal with your Protestant family to the Patriarch of Constantinople saying a prayer with the pope must be wrong. "Orthodox Priests shouldn't dress in Catholic style Clerical clothes, they ought to dress in a cassock."
Now I won't pretend like there aren't good reasons why these rules or traditions exist, but what I find truly astonishing is that when I say that God the Father ought not to be depicted, I will inevitably hear one of these same people say "But I grew up with them in my church, and I like them, and aren't there miracle working icons that have God the Father on them?"
The basis for all iconography is the Incarnation of Christ. In spite of the protestations of iconoclasts, we still adhere to the Second Commandment, and we are not permitted to depict what has not been seen. We can only depict Christ because He became a man, He took on flesh, and He became depictable. To depict God the Father is to undermine the very foundation of iconography. The Orthodox Church puts so much emphasis on preserving proper theological teaching, and yet when it comes to the visual proclamation of the gospel, we have often have such a cavalier attitude.
I rarely see this anywhere else in Orthodoxy, and it seems to me to be completely backwards. I would rather sit in a pew looking at an icon that properly expresses that only the Son of God became incarnate than stand in the presence of an icon that makes a subtle statement that perhaps God the Father did as well. I would rather sing along with an organ(and I really don't like organs in church) in a church where the invisible God is invisible and the Incarnate God is depicted than sing A Capella in a church where both are depicted. Even issues of who we ought or ought not to pray with pale by comparison with what we pray. We try to keep our ears safe from hearing heresy, why do we not want the same for our eyes? We care more about a priest in the wrong clothes offending our eyes than a false image offending our eyes.
And believe it or not, my position is not as harsh as what people suggest for pews. I don't advocate that we tear all these images out immediately. What I advocate is that we listen to what the church in council has suggested, which is that when they are replaced they should be replaced with something proper, and that no new ones should be made. But in order for this to happen, we need to be aware that these images are not correct, which requires someone to say that they aren't correct. Or maybe we can make a deal, I'll get rid of the pew that I like to sit in from time to time, and you get rid of that picture of Christ on an old man's lap with a bird that you like to look at. Deal?
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