Unlike angels, who are entirely spiritual beings, God has made each of you as creatures dwelling in a material world. To be whole, you must worship God both in body and soul. This teaching is central to our Christian faith and is an affirmation of the sacramental nature of this material world. Because of this truth, icons have played a central role in Christian history, for they proclaim Jesus Christ’s physical reality as God incarnate.
Our Lord told his disciples that “he who has seen me has seen the Father.” Icons depicting the Holy Virgin show the Christ Child with bare feet, reminding us that he walked the earth among us. The Logos, Christ, through whom all that is was brought into existence, condescended to take on our flesh and walk among us. He joined his divinity to our humanity, that we might become gods.
The Lord Jesus Christ was born, lived, died, and rose from the dead in this material world. He broke bread with disciples, he ate fish with his friends, and he invited his disciple, Thomas, to feel the wound in his side, after his holy Resurrection. Most of the miracles he performed were in the nature of physical healings.
At the Last Judgment, the Lord’s words—“I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless and you gave me shelter. I was sick and you cared for me. I was in prison and you came to visit me”—will echo in our minds. It is through you and your care for others that you will be judged. It is in your demonstrated love for others that you show forth your own personal love for God. The Lord asked the question, “How can you love God whom you’ve not seen, when you do not love your neighbor, whom you have seen?”
Because of the Incarnation, your prayers must not be allowed to be centered in the head. Your use of icons while praying, keeping your eyes open that you may behold the beauty of God’s creation, bring your whole nature, both body and soul, into the material world wherein you were born. This physical nature of prayer is what connects you to your true self, composed of both body and soul. This is where God reaches down to embrace you. Cutting off the physical world, with your eyes closed, does not bring you closer to God.
Icons are wonderful aids in our communion with God because they serve as bridges to Christ and links with the Holy Virgin and the saints. They are by no means necessary, for sitting on the top of a mountain, or walking on the seashore, eyes open, allows you to behold the beauty of God’s creation and his love for you, his child. The beauty of an icon and the glory of God’s created universe can be windows for us into eternity.