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Christianity is the revelation not only of the Word of God but also the Image of God. Leonid Ouspensky

Icons also lift up our minds from earthly things to the heavenly. St. John of Damascus wrote, "we are led by perceptible Icons to the contemplation of the divine and spiritual" (PG 94:1261a). And by keeping their memory before us through the Icons, we are also inspired to imitate the holiness of those therein depicted. St. Gregory of Nyssa (ca 330-395) spoke of how he could not pass an Icon of Abraham sacrificing Isaac "without tears" (PG 46:572). "If to such a Doctor the picture was helpful and drew forth tears, how much more in the case of the ignorant and simple will it bring compunction and benefit”

This is prayer without words, with a focus on being in God's presence rather than performing in God's presence. It is an experience of touching and feeling what is holy -- a divine mystery. Icons are not simply art; they are a way into contemplative prayer, and are therefore one way to let God speak to us. They are doorways into stillness, into closeness with God. If we sit with them long enough, we too can enter into the stillness - into communion. And if we listen to them closely enough, with our hearts, we just may discern the voice of God.

When we speak of icons as a medium for “gazing into heaven”, we refer to their value as much more than religious art. Instead, icons serve as a very real means for connecting us with God and His love. Icons are beautiful, but without relationship behind it, beauty alone feeds only a portion of the human soul, and ultimately patronizes the deep human need for loving connection with the Transcendent.

With this in mind, we seek to view icons as points of visual and spiritual intersection with eternal things, as living prompts for our prayers, and as reminders of the very real world that exists beyond the limitations of this temporal one. Christ and the saints are alive and well, and they have not forgotten us. We can draw strength from holy people who have gone before us into eternity, who are constantly present within both the form and function of the icon to help us in our prayers. Icons teach us to contemplate life’s most important matters.

Icons can seem complicated or strange at first. Take time to simply gaze, allowing both your sense of sight as well as the longings of your heart to interact with what the icon presents to you in a particular moment. Icons have a way of teaching the heart spiritual truths the mind cannot. This is part of what is meant by icons being “theology in colour.”

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