The Theological and Spiritual Foundations of the Return to the Icon.

The spirit of filiation

PentecostOn a spiritual level, this attitude of respect towards the canons implies the same attitude of respect of filiation. For instance, saying that a certain local Church draws its canonicity from the universal Church and not from another local Church implies a rejection of the spiritual filiation, which is as deadly on an ecclesiastical level as on a personal one. This filiation is indispensable to the gestation, and the begetting as well as to the maturing of the spiritual being; it is necessary to the new birth from above. The Tradition of the Church means « transmission » of the gift of the Holy Spirit; and this transmission, as everything that happens in the Church of the Three-personal Divinity, can only be personal, and be achieved from person to person in the unity of obedience which flows from love. Tradition is the Tradition of the Fathers, of our Fathers, who opened our spiritual eyes.

       The filiation from the Mother Church is personal, hypostatic; it is neither cultural nor linguistic. Speaking the same language or singing the same melodies are not enough if the communion has been broken, besides, with those who communicated the gift of the Holy Spirit to us. Yet it would be a folly to refuse the forms through which we received « the light of Life », which are also, among other things, cultural and linguistic. Things happen in the same way in our lives as well as in the life of the Churches. Saint Paul says: « For though ye have ten thousand masters in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel. Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me. » It is thus inevitable that such an « imitation » is accompanied by a more or less greater integration of cultural forms characterizing the teaching and the personality of our teachers.

       In the same way, it is impossible that a universal Church, understood as an abstraction, distinct from one or more local Churches, or understood as their sum (86), in the manner of Roman universalism, creates a new local Church; and that should not be « any » local Church: but, the local Mother Church, universal because catholic, in giving existence to the local Daughter Church , gives her both universality and catholicity.

       It is the same in iconography, too: a specifically local icon cannot be born while there is a rejection of the personal and, therefore, cultural characteristics of the teachers who, through those very forms, have transmitted universal iconicity to us, that is to say, have opened our spiritual eyes... The personality of each individual is also tormed by his/her teachers, in the same way as his/her nationality. By going deeper into this determined iconicity, the authentic character of the spiritual life will gradually give rise to a new local iconicity based on of the individual characteristics which constitute the person: nationality, culture, and experience of each human being and a new style will itself arise of , with no considered elaboration and no research. The only concern remains spiritual asceticism and the demand of iconicity: « But seek first the Kingdom of Heaven and its righteousness, and all these things will be given to you also ». « We say that what is true fears nothing; and what we can also say, is that what is true appears without effort. () The Mother of God is the One who bears without effort. () She gave birth to God without effort through the action of the Holy Spirit who came down on Her. As the Lord says in the Gospel: « Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. (87).

       Consequently, reproducing one or other iconographic style because of taste, « fashion » or nationality, « forcing » it, in a way, should be avoided. Artificially reproducing a style - which is a widespread temptation today because of the expansion of photographic reproductions - demonstrates a kind of refusal of obedience and, consequently, of filiation, and this is a really grave problem as it prevents the resurrection that comes after the death of obedience. Without this new birth, there is neither new man , nor is there new creation.  

86) When a Church receives independence from a council as was the case for Cyprus or Jerusalem, the council represents the fullness of the Church and her visible manifestation and, as such, is just as local. As we know, the ecumenical character of the council is not a consequence of the number of its members representing or not the totality of the Churches but from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit through whom the will of God finds expression. And in this connection this is essentially personal filiation, here, in this instance, by all and by each of the members of the council.

87) Archimandrite Vasileios, Father Superior of the Iviron Monastery in Mount Athos, The Christian in a Changing World, English version, Montreal, 1997, p 37-38-38.

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