Posts Tagged ‘icons’

The “Art” of Worship

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010 by Dale M. Coulter

I have been reflecting on the meaning of icons and art within the Christian tradition. This reflection was prompted by looking at the icons of several Orthodox churches. Recently, I have had the chance to visit several Orthodox churches and see the role of icons in worship, particularly in the iconostasis.

In brief, the iconostasis is the screen of gold and icons that separates the main sanctuary from the “holy of holies” where the Eucharist occurs. In the middle of each iconostasis is a set of doors leading to the bread and wine. After consecration the Orthodox priest will bring the wine and bread out through the doors as the final act of worship for the congregant.

To the right of the doors, one always finds the icon of Christ, the pantocrator or creator of all. To the left of the doors resides the Mary the Theotokos with the infant Jesus. Immediately to the left of this icon is the icon for the saint after which the church is named, or an icon of the Trinity, if the church is named Holy Trinity.

While there is much theological significance to the icons, what has struck me recently is the way in which they convey the communion of the saints. When an individual worships in the midst of icons, there is a strong sense that one is approaching the Triune God in and through the cloud of witnesses that testify to His glory.

Worship is never a solitary event. It always occurs in the communion of the saints as we join our voices to the chorus of those who sing with the Seraphim, “holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are filled with your glory.” Icons remind us that we are together caught up into the presence of the Triune God. They also remind us that God catches us up into His presence in and through other human beings who become channels of that presence precisely because they are joined to Christ who is the source of salvation.

As the source, Christ pours out his gifts to the human beings in the power of the Spirit who then become channels of divine life to others. In the midst of this fellowship, this communion, we embrace God as the Father reaches out to us through his two hands, the Word and the Spirit.

Icons also remind us of the importance of art as a way of making sense of our world and of redeeming life. The iconographer is not simply an artist, but a worshipper because she uses the materials of creation in order to depict God and God’s action in the world. Worship is an act of life, and when the artist captures life she captures the God of life, not simply in its triumphs but also its tragedies because all Christians follow Christ from cross to resurrection. By connecting life’s events to the cross and resurrection, the iconographer redeems the world and places all events within the frame of God’s acting in time—history becomes salvation history.

As those who hold fervently to a theology of encounter that claims God always desires to transform believers by catching them up into his presence, Pentecostals and Charismatics should be firmly committed to artist expressions as acts of worship. This is how the artist becomes an iconographer and thus a gift to the church. She channels God’s presence into her art as her “living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1-2) before his throne. Worship is not a solitary act, but one done in the communion of the saints as we together become conduits of God’s presence. In these acts of worship, we can make sense of our world and redeem it.