Ancient Answers

Iconostasis of Life

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Father Alexander Schmemann wrote the following in his book, For the Life of the World:

“…And if I make this new life mine, mine this hunger and thirst of the Kingdom, mine this expectation of Christ, mine the certitude that Christ is Life, my very death will be an act of communion with Life.”

True Christianity can only exist among Christians who have not lost their hunger and thirst for the Kingdom – or better, of the Kingdom, as Schmemann wrote it. We are not hungry and thirsty for the Kingdom – in the sense that we are just waiting to get there, as if there is somewhere. What we need to experience is the hunger and thirst of the kingdom! The Kingdom of God is hungry and thirsty for us. Do we experience that longing in our lives? That is they key question for us who live in these treacherous times of desertion.

We sit around like the paralytic in today’s Gospel reading, waiting for someone to stir the waters, to bring life into a dying institution. But there is no life in institutions. Life is in each of us. Life is given to each of us from the tomb of Christ. Listen to another great theologian of the 20th century, Olivier Clément:

Death is an iconostasis

of the faces of our friends

so let him come who gives us death

as life in Eucharist.

An extraordinary statement. Death is an iconostasis of the faces of friends. Our lives are an iconostasis! And just as in the iconostasis in every Orthodox church, Christ is in the centre. So let him come who gives us death as life in Eucharist. Our lives and our deaths are not separate experiences. They are one. And they are united as Eucharist – as thanksgiving. In the Eucharist of every Liturgy we experience what Father Schmemann wrote: the hunger and thirst of the Kingdom…the expectation of Christ, who is Life…so that our deaths become acts of communion with Life. 

The iconostasis at Holy Trinity Church, Portland.

Here is Olivier Clément again, from his book L’Autre Soleil:

Clots of blood fall from the face of God and the Man of sorrows is resurrected. He and everything. Him in everything Everything in Him. The children of Rachel are resurrected, Lazarus leaps out of the tomb for good, the smell of roasted fish on the shores of the lake, the long hair of the harlot, that moment when he makes them lie down on the grass to receive from the five loaves, where Peter was forgiven, and every second of your wretched life where your veins were full of life: all is risen. Everything begins; one can try to love, since there is no more death, since death itself is full of God.

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