" 'Rublev's Holy Trinity icon,' a monk told me during one of my early visits in Russia, 'is a proof of God.' This is a way of saying that beauty itself bears witness to God. But who can describe beauty in words? It is a futile errant to try to define what makes a good icon. It becomes still more difficult to draw the border between good iconography and that which is second-rate or simply bad.

"Nonetheless certain general comments about what to look for in iconography may be helpful to those who are new to icons.'

"No less than the written word, an icon is an instrument for the transmission of Christian tradition and faith. Through sacred imagery, the Holy Spirit speaks to us, revealing truths that may not be evident to those using only the tools of reason.

"Icons are an aid to worship. Wherever an icon is set, that place more easily becomes an area of prayer. The icon is not an end in itself but assists us in going beyond what can be seen with our physical eyes into the realm of mystical experience. 'The icon,' Paul Evdokimov comments, 'is the last arrow of human eros shot at the heart of the mystery.'

"The icon has a hieratic character; it is concerned solely with the sacred. Through line and color, the iconographer seeks to convey the awesomeness of the invisible and divine reality, and to lead the viewer to a consciousness of the divine presence. The icon is theology written in images and color.

"The icon is a work of tradition. Just as the hands of many thousands of bakers stand behind each loaf of homemade bread, the icon is more than the personal meditation of an individual artist, but the fruit of many generations of believers uniting us to the witnesses of the Resurrection.

"The icon is not intended to force an emotional response. There is a conscious avoidance of movement or theatrical gesture. In portraying moments of biblical history, the faces of participants in the scene are rarely expressive of their feelings at the time as we might imagine them, but suggest virtues — purity, patience in suffering, forgiveness, compassion, and love. In Crucifixion icons, the physical pain Christ endured on the cross is not shown; the icon reveals what led him to the cross, the free action of giving his life for others. There is no superficial or exaggerated drama.

"Icons guard against overfamiliarity with the divine. For example, a Savior icon is not merely a sentimental painting of 'our dear friend Jesus' but portrays both his divinity as well as his manhood, his absolute demands on us as well as his infinite mercy."
Praying With Icons

The Beatitudes

"Blessed is the person whose desire for God has become like the lover's passion for the beloved.
— Saint John Climactus
"Even in a culture in which the Bible is a dark and unmapped continent to millions of people, if you say 'Blessed are . . . ,' someone is likely to add the next few words of the first beatitude, 'the poor in spirit.' The text is hard to forget, even if it isn't easily understood.

"With only a little effort, all the beatitudes can be memorized. Once learned by heart, we carry within us for the rest of our lives a short summary of the teaching of Jesus Christ: the whole gospel in a grain of salt.

"Some churches see to it that the beatitudes become engraved in our hearts while we are still children. In the Orthodox church it is customary to sing the beatitudes every Sunday during the first procession, when the gospel book is carried out of the sanctuary into the main part of the church and back into the sanctuary again to be placed on the altar. Week after week the words are sung until they reach so deep a place that late in life, when the face in the mirror belongs to a stranger, these words will still shine like pebbles in a stream. Anything sung is easily memorized."
The Ladder of the Beatitudes

Two Saints of Hospitality

"Dorothy Day, a saint of hospitality and a writer who often recommended voluntary poverty to readers of The Catholic Worker, wore hand-me-down suits and struggled to own as little as possible. 'Those who cannot see the face of Christ in the poor are atheists indeed,' she often said. She was distressed about the irritation she felt when her books were borrowed and not returned — 'I am too attached to my library,' she confessed to me more than once. The impressive thing is that this attachment did not cause her to live a life in which her books would have been less likely to disappear.

"Another saint of recent times was the Russian Orthodox nun Mother Maria Skobtsova, whose house of hospitality in Paris opened its door to anyone in need. Her assistance to Jews during the time of the Nazi occupation led to her arrest and later to death in the gas chamber at Ravensbruck. She saw each person as 'the very icon of God incarnate in the world' and sought 'to accept this awesome revelation of God unconditionally, to venerate the image of God' in everyone in need. Her personal possessions fit into one suitcase; her bedroom was a corner in the basement."
The Ladder of the Beatitudes

Humility and Patience

"Humility is poverty of spirit and meekness. Humility inspires an attitude of listening and of seeking out those who can give good counsel. Humility welcomes correction. A humble person is not proud or arrogant. Humility is not a denial of my value as a human being but rather seeing myself in relationship to God. Humility results from being in a state of gratitude rather than envy, resentment, or bitterness. Do I boast about myself? Do I respect others? Do I listen with attention and a readiness to learn? Do I resent good advice? Do I accept correction with gratitude? Or do I defend myself even when I am in the wrong?

"Patience is calmly bearing or enduring delay, disappointment, pain, and sorrow. It is a deep confidence in God's providence and the willingness to persevere even in the face of loss and failure. Clement speaks of patience as an 'interiorized monasticism.' It is not resignation but the awareness that truly Christ is risen from the dead and is with us moment to moment, no matter where we go or what we are enduring. Do I imagine I am alone? That I am God-forsaken? Do I resent delays? Do I give up when there are too many obstacles? Do I tend to do things in a hurry? Am I easily annoyed with others? Do I get angry when I don't get my way?"
Confession: Doorway to Forgiveness