I’m not late for church but the prayers have already begun. The church never ceases to pray and for a short time this morning I draw closer than is usual to the mystery – all the saints above and all the saints below. A smokey ribbon of incense winds its way into the narthex and seems to rest by the icon at the door. This icon has no frame, so her beauty and her truth spill over the edges to meet the sounds of the liturgy that has just begun and here in the doorways she will greet each worshipper who enters this sacred place.
I know this icon by colour and by line, dynamics of persons caught in the act: Christ, Adam, Eve and all the saints. Here on the surface of her story and the deeper places of her truths, Christ is raise and all of us in His wake, we are raised too. In the icon of the resurrection*, Christ at the centre, strong armed and sure of hand, grasps the wrists of the first man and the first woman and yanks them out of their hell-bound pain. Below him the shackles are falling into the deep and the strong feet of the Saviour are firm on a bridge made from the broken doors of hell. One decisive move, one grand stride, robes flowing, the Christ of this icon is caught in movement and I am caught up in that movement too. It is the movement of our salvation: darkness to light, death to life. In the time it takes me to draw the shape of the cross upon myself, I’m there with Him, pulled into the centre of the image: pulled into the centre of Him. Under his feet he tramps down sin and by his strong hand bestows new life.
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit…” (1 Peter 3.18)
And it would be enough to read this, to meditate upon it, to write it down. It would be enough to sing it, to hymn the words, in tunes ancient and modern, to carry them on a card in the pocket; at my fingertips, on the tip of my tongue. But this image has scratched its outline onto the wood and filled the spaces in-between with more than the colour of paint. It has no words and neither do I.
This is not literacy: this is prayer. There will be time enough to read and consider answers to questions demanding attention. There will never be a shortage of words but I come to God, quietened.
New prayer begins where words stop and images of beauty and truth take their place with a certain flooding of the soul that I can’t explain.
*The icon of the Resurrection or Anastasis portrays the descent of Christ into Hades where he is depicted pulling up Adam and Eve out of their graves while trampling upon the gates of death. In the background stand the Old Testament patriarchs, prophets and other figures, including John the Forerunner.