Reflections

Icon of Christ the Healer

January 03, 2008

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MARY KATSILOMETES

Christ the HealerThe Icon is written in the heart of the iconographer before the brush touches the board or the pencil touches the paper. It is also written in the heart of the individual or community and comes forth from their yearning. It is Prayer made Visible. In this case, the desire was for a healing image of Jesus who was touching both the blind man and the leper. Out of the drawing process emerged the questions: “ Where are the Women,” and “What happens when we are healed”?

The Risen ChristIcon is the Greek word for “image.” The Byzantine “image,” the icon, is based on the Incarnation, that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Once the virginal body of Mary received and gave flesh to the divine Word, it offered holiness to matter, validated the circumscription of the divine in a human form, and legitimized the production and veneration of images. From the Council of Nicea the icon was held to be equal to the written word found in Scripture. It is a Sacramental equal to the Word of God in line, color, and form just as scripture is the Word of God in print, on paper, and bound in book form.

The Christ the Healer icon exhibits both the scriptural basis of the icon and the symbolic language of Byzantine aesthetics that speak to the heart. In this symbolic language of iconography everything is happening all at once and time is experienced as a still point of Contemplation, as a Sacrament of the Present Moment.

The Risen Christ, healingThe central figure of Jesus the Christ is represented, in pre-resurrection image, clothed in an outer garment of blue and an under garment of red. Blue is called the color of “the mystery of beings” and is the color of transcendence and divinity. Red signifies the life that the Savior brings to the children of God by the shedding of His blood. Over His shoulder is the gold band of His authority as Son of God. Inscribed in the gold halo that surrounds His head is the cross, and within the cross we find the Greek letters Omega, Omicron, Ni, abbreviations for “Before Abraham was, I AMlic.” This cruciform halo is only depicted on the icons of Jesus. To the side of the halo is the Greek abbreviation for Jesus Christ.

Icons are considered to be true icons when their names are written on them – just as all icons are considered to be worthy of veneration after they are blessed and received into the community for which they were written. Icons are venerated. They are not worshiped. The veneration goes to the prototype, Jesus Image of God, upon whom all icons are based.

The five other figures depicted in this icon all find their basis in the healing miracles recounted for us in the Gospels. From right to left are: the Woman Possessed by Seven Demons, the Leper, the Woman with the Hemorrhage, the Blind Beggar whose sight was restored, and the Paralytic who was instructed to pick up his mat and walk.

Woman possessed by seven demonsThe Woman Possessed by Seven Demons is in tradition thought to be Mary Magdalene. She is clothed in the red mantel and green undergarment associated with her. Her stance is that of one who is reluctantly brought to Jesus for healing and then stopped in her tracks, arrested by the power of mental and emotional cure. The gesture of her hands is one of awe and prayer as she surrenders to the healing power of God.

The Leper is clothed in cleansing white. He said to Jesus, “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” Jesus then stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “…Be made clean.” He is the outcast and the unlovable one. His Body is Transfigured by Grace and made whole. The best excuse for a relationship with God is that it is only God who can love us unconditionally. All others will to some degree disappoint our need to be loved.

The woman with a hemorrhageThe Woman with a Hemorrhage was healed by touching just the hem of the garment of Jesus (lit from within). She is dressed in the color of pink. Pink is symbolic of her joy, the joy that “she felt in her body as she was healed of her affliction.” She embodies the virtue of Courage. Maya Angelou speaks of Courage as the greatest of the virtues. She says that all other virtues can be practiced erratically, but it is only with Courage that they can be practiced consistently.

The Blind Beggar, restored to sight by his faith and the touch of Jesus, is wrapped in gold, the symbolic color of the Light and Glory of God. Gold reflects the light that he asked for in response to the question of Our Lord, “What do you want me to do for you?” It also represents the praise to the Glory of God that he gave when his sight was restored. Gold in the Icon is not just a color but is used to indicate our participation in the transforming “energies” of God, who calls us to become the Likeness of God.

The blind beggarThe Paralytic is clothed in green, a color that expresses the new life found in healing and in forgiveness. The mat he carries and the gesture of the figure speak to the challenges of carrying the new life we have to carry in being healed. We at times think that we must be healed to do good in the world. Rather, we are healed as we go.

The background is intentionally two-dimensional, as it brings us to encounter the boundless love of God pouring out toward the viewer, who is the true point of perspective of the icon. Also, in the very shallow background of the icon there are four elements, each of which possess a spiritual significance.

Behind the figures on the right are the mountains and emptiness of the desert, which is not just beautiful but a very dangerous and frightening place. God is with us in the desert experiences of our lives and heals us even in the wilderness of desolation. To the left are the buildings of the city and church, where we encounter healing in the active contemplation of daily life and community. The red cloth atop the buildings reminds us of the interiority of spirit that we are called to in what may be at times the frantic activity of our lives. Joining mountain and city is the wall of Jerusalem that is the city of destiny to which Jesus was called, and symbolizes, particularly during the holy season of Lent, the destiny to which we all journey.

Mary Katsilometes, Anastasis: Studio of Iconography, is an icon writer in Portland, Oregon. She teaches icon writing at a yearly institute sponsored by the Iconographic Arts Institute, Portland, Oregon.

Images of Christ the Healer was provided by Mary Katsilometes.

READ OTHER ARTICLES BY MARY KATSILOMETES:

The Icon: Brightly Shining Darkness

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