Thy Kingdom Come: Day 3

It is Day 3 of Thy Kingdom Come, and today we’ll learn about praying with icons and spend some time in God’s presence, meditating on an icon of Christ and saying the Jesus Prayer.

Please set aside 15 minutes to watch, listen and pray along with the video we prepared. The transcript is below that if you prefer to read.

Greetings, and welcome to this time of prayer, as part of our series of online activities for Thy Kingdom Come, a prayer journey from Ascension to Pentecost. Christians across the world, including hundreds of parishes in the Church of England, are seeking God together as part of this 11-day event.

Today our theme is praying with icons.

What is an icon? It is a religious image that we use in prayer as a way of bringing us closer to God.

Imagine your dream vacation. What view do you see from your window? The sun setting over a mountains and lush green valleys? Yellow sands and an ocean stretching towards the horizon? A rushing brook and shafts of daylight breaking through between the branches? Does the thought of it give you a sense of relief, restfulness, a chance to put a pause on life, to simply breathe and be at peace?

Think of an icon as that window with a welcome view. A chance to take in the beauty and rest—in God’s presence. Eastern Orthodox Christians call an icon ‘a window to heaven.’ It is more than a picture. It is an entrance to a sacred place.

And in much the same way that when we read or hear Scripture the words draw us into a story and thereby closer to God, so when we spend time looking at, or meditating upon, an icon, we are drawn towards our loving God.

Icons often depict a saint—such as our own patron saints in Prescot, Mary and Paul—or an event from the Bible, such as the Crucifixion, the Resurrection or the Day of Pentecost, or simply Our Lord Jesus himself. For the artist, it is not simply a painting, but creating the image is a kind of prayer or holy process in itself.

There are many icons you may have seen before: Rublev’s The Trinity, for example, depicting the three strangers Abraham meets in the Old Testament book of Genesis, a veiled appearance of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; if you join the dots, you’ll see its contours reveal the outline of the Eucharistic cup, foreshadowing the Last Supper. Other icons depict the Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus, or the Madonna and Child.

Today we are going to pray with an icon that has been created and recreated many times. As we begin our time of prayer with this icon, find a quiet place to sit if you have one, and a comfortable position in which to sit. If you don’t have a quiet place, let’s take a few moments of silence to gaze on Jesus’ face and create our own, inner ‘quiet place,’ in our hearts. Take a few deep breaths to relax yourself if you need to.

This icon is called Jesus the Light of the World or the Pantokrator, a Greek word meaning ‘the All-Powerful One.’

Look at him.

The writing in the book he holds in his left hand declares him to be the Light of the World. If we follow him we will not be in darkness, but will have the light of life.

In the darkness we are scared; in the light we feel safe.

In the darkness we try to hide our sins; in the light we lay everything bare before God, and he sees our sinfulness and declares us forgiven in Christ.

In the darkness we can’t see our way; in the light we can see the heavenly destiny we share with Jesus, and we have hope.

When you look at Jesus in this icon, what do you notice first?

Is it his eyes? He looks directly into our eyes. He sees and he knows. Is he judging us? If we come to him with an open heart, he brings us not shame and judgment, but welcomes us as a friend and a brother. If we put our trust in him, he sees, but he forgives. He knows, but he loves. He gazes into our eyes with a perfect love that casts out all fear.

Science tells us that our eyes see by letting in the light, but in ancient times people saw the eyes as a lamp, as if light was coming from them, not into them, so we could see ahead of us. Jesus’ eyes are a lamp to guide our way. Trust in him. He knows what he’s doing and where he’s taking you.

When Moses encountered God in the burning bush, he asked God’s name, and he received the reply, I AM. Jesus told the crowds that, ‘before Abraham was born, I AM.’ And so the letters around Jesus’ head in this icon read, I AM. In Christ, all the fullness of God dwells. To be accepted into the presence of Christ is to be in the presence of God himself, the All-Powerful One.

Look at Jesus’ right hand. It is raised to give a blessing. Two fingers and a thumb meet to represent the Holy Trinity—one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

When he wrestled with an angel, Jacob would not let him go until the angel gave him a blessing. The blessing was an assurance that the angel meant no harm; that he meant only good; that Jacob had nothing to fear. And so Jesus’ blessing assures us: Do not be afraid. He comes in peace. He means nothing but good for us. We are safe in his hands.
One way Eastern Orthodox Christians pray with icons is to recite the Jesus Prayer. The words are:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

They echo the plea of the tax collector in the gospel of Luke: ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner!’

As we gaze without distraction on the image of Jesus, we’re going to recite the Jesus Prayer for a few minutes. Say it with me. Take a deep breath between each prayer, and enjoy the rhythm of the experience. Enjoy spending some time with Jesus. His eyes look into yours and invite you to be forgiven and free, to walk with him and let him be your guide. Enjoy being drawn closer to God in Jesus.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.