Sunday, November 8, 2015
Icon as an Image of the Trinity
Iconography is a special form of prayer where the iconographer prays by painting. It is a form of sacrifice on the part of the iconographer as he strives to be with God in prayer and produces the icon as his offering to God. It's a special relationship that's hard to describe. By being in contact with the Uncreated Light you attempt to create what you've experienced: Light. I've found, as I've written icons, that each stage relates to a different Person of the Trinity. The Father seems to be involved with the creation of the board and initial color, the Son seems to be involved with the drawing, gold leaf, and inscriptions, and the Spirit is involved with highlighting. While this isn't a perfect analogy (what Trinitarian image is?), I find it makes sense on a practical level.
I find myself thinking of the Father a lot as I actually prepare the board, which comes from birchwood ply that I buy and prep myself. As I gesso, sand, and put the underlying color (either a yellow ochre or a burnt orange) on board after board I've come to realize that the process is a tribute to God the Father. Without the Father reality would not exist and yet He is The Hidden One, the One from Whom the Son is begotten and the Spirit proceeds. He is the source of all things and yet is the least known of the Trinity. And so the board reminds me of the Father, the One Who made all things and yet His creations have the least idea about.
The drawing reminds me of God the Son; the Word, the Idea, the Logos. Jesus is the One by Whom we know the Father, the One by Whom we come to know the Father by. The drawing gives itself the board something to portray. The analogy breaks down a bit here: the board is pointless without the drawing, and the drawing can survive without the board. It has it's own surface already; the paper it was originally conceived on. But, as I work on transfering the drawing and etching it into the board, I realize that it's not the drawing that's the Word, but the etching upon the board. The board and the etching are of the same substance. The etching is the expression of the board, much as the Logos is the expression of the Father.
Painting is the easiest part of this whole process, relatively speaking. It's the most glamorous, that's for sure, the part that's the most noticeable. The painting enhances and shows the drawing in it's complete light. It's a complete revelation and shows everything in it's own light. But the thing is that paint does not make an icon complete. it only reveals the im/perfections of your drawing and board. And that's what the Holy Spirit does for us: He reveals the Trinity in His perfection And the paint on the board does the same thing: it reveals everything. Every last divet and imperfection of the board, every poorly done fold, it all comes to light. But the paint also reveals the things I did right. The Spirit enlivens and supports.
When I get done with the icon I hold it up and see the Trinity: the unapproachable Father, the Idea known as the Son, and the Breath that is Spirit, all bonded together. Sure, my icon isn't of a single substance, but it is a single presentation which, while not perfect, does in some way light up the darkness. The icon is one unit now, with differing parts that interrelate to make a single object. It is, in one sense, it's own Trinity.
And so, as I paint on the board with the inscribed drawing on it, I realize that all the imperfections of my offering will be revealed to everyone who looks at it. I didn't make a perfect image of the Trinity, because not only is the icon not a real analogy to God but it's not even done all that well to begin with. But, as my friend Martinez says, God is immeasurable but man must try to measure anyway. I don't mind that my six month son, Micah, can't stand yet. In fact, I find it adorable that he wants to stand so much that he's willing to fall into my arms over and over again as he fails! I love him all the more for trying. Isn't that even moreso from God, Who isn't limited by a short temper and infestimal point of view?