Who’s your hero?
Do you think of a fictional character? A superhero, perhaps?
Do you think of a family member? A parent or grandparent that you look up to?
The Eastern Orthodox Church set a new goal for Christians to aspire to- the saints. Our “Holy Heros.”
The saints were Christians who demonstrated “unusual faith and holiness in life.” Their journeys are meant to inspire us to grow in our own faith and holiness. The Eastern Orthodox Church venerated the saints through art. These pieces of art, or icons, are some of the most unique in the world.
Icons are not meant to be realistic. The purpose of an icon is to show through art a person who is filled with both he human and divine spirit within them. Icons seek to capture the transformation of a person who is becoming more like Christ.
“The first icons were painted in the fifth century, at about the same time the church was spelling out how the divine and human natures of Christ cohere in one person.” (Sittser 122)
The artists would attempt to capture the dual nature of the saints through exaggerating various physical elements of their painting. “For example, a high forehead symbolizes wisdom; large eyes, luminosity; a gaunt face, discipline and self-sacrifice; intense stillness, perfect inner equilibrium. The halo conveys holiness, the gold background timelessness. The source of light- which seems to come from inside the saint rather than from some outside source- represents divine radiance.” (Sittser 125)
This is an example of a typical icon. This is St. Alexander. You’ll notice the large forehead to connote wisdom, the halo around his head to convey holiness and the sense of light that appears to be emanating from him.
This is an icon of Jesus. You’ll notice immediately the difference in his eyes. If you hold up your hand to cover half of Jesus’ face, you’ll notice an immediate difference between the two sides. The right half of Jesus’ face is stern and is meant to depict Jesus as judge. The left half of Jesus’ face is serene and depicts Jesus as savior.
This icon, from the 6th century, shows Jesus as both judge and savior of the world.
These holy heroes are meant to be held up as examples to us because we are all “saints in the making.” May we be inspired by the lives of Christians who have come before us to work everyday toward becoming Christlike people through the work of the Holy Spirit in us.
Every aspect of life can be used by God to shape us into Christlike people. “Life in this world is like a divine workshop; the stuff of daily experience- marriage and children, responsibilities and opportunities, interruptions and problems and suffering- the tools that God uses; the artist is God himself, who will sculpt the block of marble that we are into something extraordinary.” (Sittser 138).
Who are you becoming?