The word ‘icon’ comes to us from the Greek word for ‘image’. An icon has a very different intention to the countless images with which we are bombarded day in day out. An icon is not like a photograph, nor is it a portrait. It is an image which invites us to prayer. Like the Gospels, but in a visual way, it helps communicate to us what kind of relationship God wants to have with us.
The icon writer, when painting persons, starts their skin tone with a base greenybrown soil colour, called Proplasma (reminding us that we are humans – of the dust of the earth). Then they do what God does to us – they add light to it. These sketches were made for illustrative purposes by the iconographer Mihai Cucu, to give a sense of this soil coloured base of the person’s skin and the gradual adding of light. The adding of First Light. Adding a Second Light. Adding a third light, and so on…
Theologians of the Orthodox Churches remind us that in the Book of Genesis, chapter 1, when God speaks and says: “Let there be light” in verse 3, God does so before He creates the physical light of the sun, moon and stars (verses 14ff). This can be understood as God first communicating to us the glorious light of the radiance of love, shining from the face of Christ.
What does this icon show? In considering what would be featured in an icon fitting for the World Meeting of Families, thoughts immediately focused on the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph and also on passages in the Gospels in which we see Jesus’ deep compassion and concern for marriage and for those living with the burdens of family life. We were drawn to an image of the Holy Family at table, sharing a meal and sharing their faith, as suggested by the Gospel of Luke chapter 2. An obvious Gospel text reflecting God’s concern for marriage is the Wedding at Cana in the second chapter of the Gospel of John. And finally, the other Gospel that came to mind was the Raising of Jairus’ daughter as found in chapter 5 of Mark’s Gospel. There we see Jesus’ response to a family with a sick child and how he respected that family’s privacy in the midst of emotional turmoil when it came to the moment of healing. Thus, with these three narratives, the design of this icon takes the form of a triptych which looks, from the outside, somewhat like a house with front doors. On these outside doors, we are presented with the Archangels Michael (left) and Gabriel (right). On the base is the inscription “AMORIS LAETITIA”, ‘The Joy of Love’, the title of Pope Francis’ post-Synodal exhortation on love in the family, the source of our reflections during the World Meeting of Families 2018.
Their gathering around the table is reminiscent of the Three Angels in the famous 15th century Icon of the Holy Trinity by Andrei Rublev. Christian Marriage is sometimes compared with the Holy Trinity, as a communion of the giving and receiving of love that is life-giving. Similarly to this icon, the Holy Family have a place at their table for us. They invite us to join them. They are no strangers to the trials of family life. They themselves have been refugees, fleeing the violence of Herod. They have known great anxiety.
Christ Jesus is revealed too as the Bridegroom of the marriage between God and Humanity. The bread and wine on the table again remind us of the Eucharist. Indeed blessed are those called to the supper, the wedding feast of the Lamb.
THE PRAYER OF BLESSING OF THE ICON FOR THE WORLD MEETING OF FAMILIES 2018
Lord our God, you created us in your own image and likeness. You redeemed us from sin through Christ Jesus your Son lover of the human race. Taking upon himself the form of a servant and becoming one with us in our flesh he makes all creation new in the image of your original blessedness. We ask you to send your blessing upon this icon by the sprinkling of holy water and anointing with holy oil. Make it holy to your glory in honour and remembrance of Jesus your Beloved Son, our Lord, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and our mother, St Joseph her husband, and the Archangels Michael and Gabriel. May this icon draw us to the Holy Family who invite us to their table. May it help us contemplate your saving Gospel and see in the Wedding feast of Cana and the Raising of Jairus’ daughter your look of infinite compassion upon all the concerns of marriage and family life. May those who pray before this icon find the comfort of your grace and your help in their every need. We ask this through the bounteous love of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. SOURCE: Edited and Shortened from https://www.worldmeeting2018.ie/WMOF/media/downloads/WMOF2018-Icon-of-the-Holy-Family.pdf