By: Deacon Charles Rohrbacher
In the Roman liturgy, the thematic focus for the First Sunday of Lent is how Jesus fasted and prayed for forty days in the wilderness and was tempted by the Enemy. Unlike the First Adam, who succumbed to the temptation to doubt the good intentions of God, and turned away from God, Jesus, the Second Adam, placed all of his trust in the love of the Father and overcame the Tempter.
In the Byzantine liturgy of the Christian East, the theological and liturgical theme for the First Sunday of Lent is focused not on the temptations of Jesus, but the restoration of the image of God in a fallen and sinful humanity, in Jesus, who in his unique person unites the divine and human. In the person of Jesus, we encounter both the fullness of divinity, and our restored, redeemed and transfigured humanity.
For Byzantine Catholics and Orthodox Christians, the first Sunday of Lent is celebrated as the “Triumph of Orthodoxy,” commemorating the Second Council of Nicaea in 787 when the entire Church, East and West, confirmed the lawfulness of the veneration of images, after a century and a half of controversy. The controversy turned on this question: given the making or use of images in worship was prohibited in the Old Testament, how could Christians lawfully venerate images of Jesus, Mary and the saints?
Those who defended the icon argued that the Word of God, revealed to Israel in signs and symbols, became visible in the person of Jesus, the Word who became flesh and that he is revealed to us in both his words and in his image.
What the psalmist could only hope for, to see the face of the Lord, the disciples saw with their own eyes in the person of Jesus; and succeeding generations of Christians could see Christ in his holy image.
The proto-icon of Jesus is the “Image of Christ Not-Made-By-Hands,” or the Holy Face. This image of the face of Jesus, traditionally ascribed to a cloth that was pressed to the Lord’s face, after being hidden away during the period of Roman persecution, was rediscovered sometime in the 6th or 7th century in present-day Syria.
Some scholars believe that the image of the face of Jesus that was hidden and then rediscovered was the relic which is now known as the Holy Shroud of Turin. Although the Shroud depicts the full-figure, front and back of a crucified man, it is believed that in the Middle Ages it was kept folded so that only the face was visible.
Until that time, Jesus had been depicted in Christian art symbolically (the Lamb of God) or allegorically (as the Good Shepherd), but with no attempt to render a likeness. After the discovery of the image of Christ-Made-Without-Hands, the Holy Face became the model (despite stylistic differences) for all subsequent images of Jesus, in both the East and the West, up to our own time.
The Catechism notes:
“All the signs in the liturgical celebrations are related to Christ: as are sacred images of the holy Mother of God and of the saints as well. They truly signify Christ, who is glorified in them.” No.1161
Icons then are particularly suited to prayer, as they make visible to us the invisible presence of Jesus, Mary and the saints, one of the fruits of the rediscovery of the icon in the 20th century has been an increased desire by Roman Catholics and some Protestants to find ways to incorporate icons into their practice of prayer, especially contemplative prayer.
One of the traditional Lenten practices, in addition to fasting and almsgiving, is prayer. In keeping with offering opportunities to go deeper in prayer, I’ve been invited to lead a silent retreat at the Shrine of St. Therese at the end of March entitled: “Lent through the Lens of Icons: Lord, I Long to See Your Face.”
There will be six conferences on the following topics:
• Jesus the Image of the Invisible God
• The Question of Images
• The Icon: The World Transfigured by Grace
• The Prayer of the Heart: The Jesus Prayer
• Types of Icons
• Incorporating the Icon into Your Rule of Prayer
We’ll share simple meatless meals, pray Morning and Evening Prayer with ample time for personal prayer and silent reflection. The retreat, which begins on Friday evening, March 29th, will continue all day and into the evening on Saturday, March 30th and conclude on Sunday morning. Please contact Joe Sehnert at the Shrine of St. Therese to register for the retreat or learn more about it. All are welcome!
Deacon Charles Rohrbacher is the Office of Ministries Director for the Diocese of Juneau. Phone: 907-586-2227 x 23. Email: email@example.com