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Living 'icons' are all around us

Living 'icons' are all around us

Living 'icons' are all around us

4 November 2019

As we share our life with others, we can experience one another as "living icons".

By Christina Tyson

Recently, I had the privilege of a pilgrimage to Greece and Turkey where I got up close and personal with some incredible Eastern Orthodox art.

Coming from a Salvation Army faith tradition, with its roots in Wesleyan Methodism, my experience of church trappings is stripped back when compared to the Orthodox tradition. We don’t have ornate church buildings filled with paintings and icons.

A Salvation Army hall is meant to be plain and functional. Early Salvation Army converts – back in the 1860s – came from the slums of East London.

Saved through the tentbased outreach of William and Catherine Booth, they were sent back to established churches only to meet with judgement and discrimination from ‘proper’ church folk uncomfortable with a riff-raff of converted prostitutes and drunkards in their midst.

And so, The Salvation Army was born – as a church for the outsiders, inspired by Jesus’ words: “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled” (Luke 14:23 ESV).

Sunday meetings were held in the likes of music halls, with a focus on creating places of welcome where all could feel at home, without cultural or ecclesiastical barriers.

Because this is my faith tradition, I hadn’t worshipped in a setting that included icons and other religious artwork – which made John of Damascus, an Early Church Father, found solace in the icons of his church.Simon Uskakov's 1685 icon, The Last Supper

He wrote: “When I have no books, or when my thoughts, torturing me like thorns, do not let me enjoy reading, I go to church, which is the cure available for every disease of the soul. The freshness of the images draws my attention, captivates my eyes ... and slowly leads my soul to divine praise.”

For John of Damascus, church was a place resplendent with Christian iconography that pointed him to Christ. But how am I, living in Aotearoa New Zealand, to find such icons today? Well, it’s not as hard as you might think.

I’m a member of a small group where I see the image of God in others. As we share life together, the ups and the downs of it, they frequently point me to Christ. These dear friends are icons in my life.

I attend a Salvation Army Recovery Church for those journeying from addiction to freedom and wellbeing. When someone starts coming to Recovery Church, I’ve noticed their eyes are often downcast and clouded.

They are burdened by addiction, carrying a sense of personal failure and regret. Sometimes they are weighed down by sins others have committed against them, from which drugs or alcohol provided an anaesthetised refuge. They may also carry a sense of shame at how they’ve wronged people in the past.

Yet, as the weeks pass, their outlook on their identity changes. They start to see their God-given value. Hope and life become more visible in their eyes, as does the transformative power of God.

The faces I see at Recovery Church are icons that point me to Christ. I was at a conference recently where one of the speakers commented that the Bible is “our meeting place with God”.

Such a simple and obvious statement, and yet the truth of those words gripped me because I realised that is why the Bible is so important in my life. It’s where God and I meet! My meeting with God in the Bible and in prayer increases my usefulness as an ‘icon’ of Christ for others.

Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” All of us are intended to carry the image of God into our world. In fact, when we open our eyes, we can see living icons all around us. 

Major Christina Tyson is a New Zealand Salvation Army officer and former editor of War Cry magazine in the New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa Territory.

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