We are all tempted at times to think how nice it would be to run away from all our problems. We would like to leave behind our jobs, annoying people, or difficult circumstances of whatever kind. We would like to escape all that weighs us down in order to find peace and happiness. In one way or another, we have all fantasized about that. And that, of course, is precisely the problem. Such an escape is a fantasy because we cannot escape ourselves. No matter where we go, we bring along our own personal brokenness, which is at the root of our lack of peace with others and within ourselves.
The way to find joy is not by imagining that we can run away from our problems. It is, instead, to find healing for our souls, which means becoming more beautiful living icons of Christ in the midst of life as we know it. The word “icon” means “image,” and God has created us male and female in His image and likeness. The ugliness of sin, in all its forms, mangles and distorts our beauty as those whose nature is to be an image of the Lord, to be like Him. Whatever makes us more like God in holiness makes us more truly ourselves. And whenever we justify any form of sin as “just being who I am,” we deny the most basic truth of our humanity.
As we celebrate the restoration of icons to the Church several centuries ago after the period of iconoclasm, we call ourselves to restoration in holiness, to return to our true identity as those called to be like God in every aspect of our lives. Our epistle reading reminds us that that is a difficult task, for those who looked forward to Christ’s coming in the Old Testament suffered and sacrificed greatly in anticipation of the fulfillment of a promise that they did not live to see.
We, however, have experienced the fulfillment of the promise in Jesus Christ. And that is why we will make a procession around the church with our icons at the conclusion of Liturgy today, for we celebrate that the Eternal Word of God has become one of us, entering fully into our fallen world and humanity in order to restore us to the great dignity for which He breathed life into us in the first place. The icons reflect the truth of the Incarnation. They provide signs of hope that people like you and me, with all our problems and limitations, may enter into the holiness of God from the depths of our souls even as we live and breathe in the world as we know it.
With flesh and blood like anyone else, and in the midst of great threats, difficulties, and temptations, the Savior offered Himself fully in free obedience. Through the mystery of His death and resurrection, He has made it possible for us to share personally in His eternal life. In this season of Lent, we open ourselves more fully to His gracious healing of the human person through humble prayer, acts of mercy toward the needy, fasting, and repentance. As we embrace His holiness, we become more like Him as His true icons. That happens not by trying to flee from our bodies, relationships with others, or any aspect of the creation, but offering them to the Lord for healing and blessing.
It is a hard struggle to reorient our desires toward the Lord and in the service of our neighbors. There is much in us that wants to find fulfillment on our own terms, not by entering into the deep mystery of the Cross and the empty tomb from the depths of our souls. But as the witness of the Saints has shown, there is no other way to become more beautifully ourselves in holiness. There is no other way to “see the heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man” than to become who He created us to be in His image and likeness. There is no other path to the Kingdom than to become a better icon of the Lord.