“Show me the icons that you venerate,
that I may be able to understand your faith.”
– John of Damascus
As I watched the inaugural events of this week and especially today’s inauguration I was reminded that we are surrounded by images, icons. They fill our world, our minds, and our hearts.
There are icons of politics, sports, music, entertainment. They are on our televisions, magazine covers, and news headlines. They have become our distractions, escapes, and sometimes our heroes. Other icons live in our heads as thoughts, fears, prejudices, fantasies, or temptations. They tend to control our lives, impoverishing our world and separating us from God, one another, and ourselves. This week has been filled with national and cultural icons – reminders of our past and hope for our future. And let us not forget the true icons, the holy icons that reveal and connect us to an eternal reality.
The question is not whether you have icons or whether you venerate icons. Instead the question is, “What icons do you venerate?” St. John of Damascus reminds us that we all venerate icons. Some are holy and life-giving, others are not. Either way we reveal much about our selves, our life, and our faith by the icons we choose to venerate. May we, by the mercy and grace of God, choose wisely this day and every day.
John of Damascus was born around the year 675. When Emperor Leo the Isaurian began his persecution of the holy icons John wrote vehemently in defense of the veneration of icons. Leo deceived the Caliph, to whom John was chief minister, into believing that John was guilty of treason. As punishment for this supposed treason the Caliph cut off John’s right hand. John prayed before the icon of the Most-holy Theotokos. His hand was rejoined to his arm and he was healed. Seeing this miracle the Caliph repented but John no longer desired to remain as a nobleman and withdrew from the world to live the monastic life. John is commemorated on December 4.