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Iconography and the Tabernacle

Priest-in-Holy-of-Holies-610x351

Seraphim Hamilton is a great up and coming, young Orthodox Theologian with a good deal to say. You can catch some of his writings on the well known Orthodox, Ancient Faith website. Or his personal blog Apologia Pro Ortho Doxa.

Here is his critique of Bogomil Jarmulak line of arguementation against iconography. I put it here because there are some really good insights. Just goes to show once more how closely linked iconography and Christology really are.

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So, within the Festschrift for James Jordan, Bogomil Jarmulak has a critique of the Orthodox use of iconography which I just briefly read through. Some thoughts:

  1. He doesn’t seem to understand the concept of the divine energies, which seems to be a pervasive problem among those who engage with Orthodoxy, and even some converts to Orthodoxy. The divine energies are not some super-mystical code word for God-woo. The divine energies are God’s timeless activities. The three persons have always loved each other, have always contemplated each other, have always been faithful to each other, and so on. Because the Father always acts in the Son, the Son is called Logos- He is the summation of all of God’s activities/energies. The creation exists in virtue of its participation in God’s creative energies, so that the creation is an icon of the Son. Man is made in the Image of the Son, so man is a microcosm. When Jarmulak contrasts the Church’s project of heavenizing the world with filling the world with divine energies, he betrays a woeful lack of understanding of what the energies are. The Heaven of Heavens is the Holy of Holies, and the word for Holy of Holies is “Word.” The Word became flesh and Tabernacled among us. To heavenize the world means to bring it to full participation in the energies of God, because the creation exists in virtue of its participation in those energies. His dramatic misunderstanding of the energies is most profoundly reflected in his statement that “beauty is not a matter of energies but relations.” The divine energies are the mode by which the divine persons indwell one another!
  2. His eschatology is underrealized. He wants to make the argument that throughout the Bible, hearing is primary, so that God meets us in the spoken word rather than in the image. He admits that the incarnate God was indeed seen in the person of Christ, but attempts to bypass the implications of this fact by saying that Jesus has ascended and been replaced by the Spirit. This seems to me to undercut a major point of St. John’s Gospel. John begins by declaring that “No one has ever seen God, God the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known.” As we progress, the apostles are invited to “come and see.” Jesus even alludes to the prohibition on images in His debate with the Jews. God says in Deuteronomy that Israel can make no image because they saw no form, but heard a voice. Jesus tells the Jews that they have neither seen God’s form nor heard his voice. This prepares us for the stunning revelation that the apostles hear at the Supper. Israel at Sinai heard a voice, but did not see God’s form. The apostate Jews neither hear His voice nor see His form. The apostles as the sheep of Christ hear His voice and follow Him- and now they ask Jesus to “show us the Father.” His response? If you have seen me, you have seen the Father. Jesus is the means by which the sight of God is finally realized.

Are we truly to believe that the point of this theme in John is that “nobody saw God until the person of Christ changed everything, and then Jesus left so we’re basically back to where we were before”? This strains credibility, but the most decisive refutation of this argument comes in 2 Corinthians 3:

(2 Corinthians 3:16-18) But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Under the old covenant, the Israelites could not look on the glory of God- Moses had to veil his face so that they could not see. But now, under the new covenant, the Christian can see- because the Spirit lifts the Church to participation in the glory of God through the incarnate Christ. The most important element of this passage is that for Jarmulak, the replacement of Christ by the Spirit is the reason why we still cannot “see.” For St. Paul, by contrast, the Spirit is the very means by which we continue to “see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” What, then, of Paul’s statement that we “walk by faith, not by sight?” What of Jesus’ blessing on those who believe without seeing? Faith precedes sight- this is why the Jews who saw Jesus standing before them and heard Him speaking to them had neither “heard his voice, nor seen His form.”

  1. He admits that the Tabernacle contains images, but argues that these images are not conduits for divine glory. It seems odd that virtually everything else in the Tabernacle is understood to be a symbol or conduit of the Presence of God except the images! He further argues that the Israelites did not worship the images, and contrasts this with the Orthodox who do. This strikes me as a massive begged-question. After all of his effort, are we really ending up with “it’s okay to make images, just not worship them”? If so, then I deny that I worship the icon. More importantly, the Tabernacle (as Jordan has argued) is, among other things, a symbol of the glorified human person. And the Psalmist “bows down” towards the Tabernacle and Temple. The honor shown to the symbol does indeed pass towards its prototype- that’s why submission to one’s father is like submission to God the Father. That’s why love for the Image of God reflects love for God.

One more thing I want to point out about the Tabernacle. The only images of persons are found in the Holy of Holies, and the Holy of Holies is under strict lock and key throughout the old covenant. Only the High Priest can go in there once a year, and it’s completely dark, and His face is covered by an incense-cloud. As I noted above, the word for Holy of Holies is “Word.” So: the Holy of Holies became flesh and Tabernacled among us, and we have seen His Glory. That which was locked up in the old covenant has been unlocked in the new covenant. Personal images of those things in God’s Heaven were only permitted where God’s Heaven and Earth were actually linked- in the Holy of Holies. And no man could see or enter that place. Christ has built a ladder to heaven through His incarnation. The Heaven of Heavens and the Earth are now inextricably linked. The Holy of Holies is broken out, and that’s why we can make images of those things which are in Heaven.

-Seraphim Hamilton

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This entry was posted on September 27, 2015 by in Saints, Theology and tagged , , .
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