January 8, 2018

Praying to the Saints and Why Icons Look ‘Weird’

Christ and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus

In venerating the saints, remembering the souls of departed loved ones, and praying for those in purgatory, Catholics are often accused of praying to the dead. But the souls in heaven (the Church Triumphant) and those in purgatory (the Church Suffering) are not dead. They are very much live. In fact, they are much closer to the Throne of God than anyone on earth (the Church Militant).

By virtue of the Communion of Saints, no Christian is an island, isolated or alone. We are joined together, spiritually united in love, through the Lord Jesus Christ and the divine economy of salvation, one family sustained by God across time. As members of Christ's mystical body, Christians are bound not only to Him, but to each other. Prayers to the saints for their intercession are efficacious for they see God now face to face. Hence, their petitions to Him on our behalf are powerful.

Most of all, Christians pray to God: God the Father, God the Holy Spirit and God the Son, our Lord and Savior. Regarding the later, Nicholas Papas, an Orthodox iconographer and commentator writes: "The Christian conversation with 'dead' people starts with talking to Jesus. You might respond, 'But Jesus isn’t dead!' and I would say, 'Aha, you’re making my point!'" Using Christ's appearance to two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), Papas explains how the lived faith of believers who seek out Christ and do His will is neither wishful nor blind:
Jesus, through Luke, Cleopas and the Emmaus story, shows us a path to absorbing this elusive thing, faith. Along the road, Jesus explained about Himself from the scriptures, but the [two disciples] still did not understand who or what He was. But they did not have to wait long for their eyes to be opened, and it was Communion, the Eucharist, that opened them.
The disciples who witnessed the Emmaus miracle believed that Jesus was dead. Unaware of Christ's Resurrection, Cleopas and his fellow traveler doubtless felt fear and confusion. Jesus would reassure them. Papas continues: "Jesus revealed the formerly hidden messages of Scripture. He showed Himself to be The Christ of the Old Testament. And even more amazingly, the Apostles eyes where opened to knowing that this was Jesus there with them! He had risen from the dead!"

Papas concludes with a related discussion on iconograpy. As a prolific writer of Orthodox icons, he brings his faith to bear. Papas notes: "The way people are depicted in icons is, on the one hand, visibly decipherable as being completely human and like us. Yet on the other hand, iconographic, artistic flair portrays these dead-but-not-dead people in an abstracted, stylized way that proclaims in a poem for the eye that these people are in heaven." (Read the article in full here.)

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