I am proud of my Greek ancestry, but I did not grow up in an Orthodox home. Rural Idaho where my paternal grandfather settled after immigrating from Greece was not near a Greek Orthodox church. My father and his siblings were raised in an Evangelical congregation. As a result, my brother and I grew up in a home that did not include an appreciation of icons.
Sadly (and ignorantly) I was led to believe that sacred art (such as icons) fostered something akin to idol worship. It wasn’t until I began studying for the ministry that I discovered the meaning and beauty of these miniature religious paintings. And then I was blown away by their significance as an aid to worship.
The icons on my computer desktop help illustrate what I came to see. Those images are symbols you click to open a program that you can engage more fully. Those icons are not an end in themselves, but windows (literally) that open to a deeper reality than the graphic image on which you initially glimpse.
In addition to my computer, I have icons on my actual desktop in my office. One of them was given to me by my father before he died. (Like me, he came to appreciate his Orthodox heritage later in life). Another icon was recently painted by my son-in-law. These symbols of my faith invite my prayerful meditation.
In this week before Easter, Christians around the world are contemplating the good that resulted from a bad Friday. Because of our familiarity with the Gospel accounts, the events surrounding the passion of our Lord are engraved on our minds and hearts but can easily be ignored. Like icons of a computer, they must be purposely accessed.
The events we commemorate this week are “living icons” of the soul. When we virtually click on them, they open-up to reveal the virtues of our faith. For example, that final supper in the upper room on Thursday is a scene that recalls the power of humility. We can picture a young rabbi stooping to wash his students’ feet while modeling a humble spirit.
When we click on Friday, what pops up is the image of a bruised and bleeding scapegoat unjustly hung out to die. You can almost hear his bleating whimper as he gives us an example of laying down our lives for another.
And then there is that fateful Saturday. It is the icon that calls to mind a “black Sabbath” in which the followers of Jesus hide behind locked doors fearing for their lives. It is an image that reminds us that doubt is part of the faith journey. That group of grieving disciples couldn’t imagine how the valley of death’s shadows would ever succumb to the dawn’s early light of Sunday.
And speaking of Sunday, Easter is an icon not unlike the Microsoft Word icon on my computer screen. As I click on that icon, a blank page appears. It provides the means by which I can compose something new. It is the invitation to begin again and start over.
As we Christians believe, Easter is the ultimate reboot. Death and regret have given way to life and hope.
In the events of Holy Week, we are given “living icons” on which to click in order to contemplate what the culmination of the Lenten Season is all about. These days are an opportunity to fix our gaze on what we see in order to focus on what those familiar images mean for us today.
Greg Asimakoupoulos is a Wenatchee native living on Mercer Island, where he is the Faith/Values columnist for the Mercer Island Reporter.