The Source of the Question
"Every one of us is in the image of God, and every one of us is like a damaged icon. But if we were given an icon damaged by time, damaged by circumstances, or desecrated by human hatred, we would treat it with reverence, with tenderness, with broken-heartedness. We would not pay attention primarily to the fact that it... is damaged, but to the tragedy of its being damaged. We would concentrate on what is left of its beauty, and not on what is lost of its beauty. And this is what we must learn to do with regard to each person as an individual, but also — and this is not always as easy — with regard to groups of people, whether it be a parish or a denomination, or a nation. WE MUST LEARN TO LOOK, AND LOOK UNTIL WE HAVE SEEN THE UNDERLYING BEAUTY OF THIS GROUP OF PEOPLE. Only then can we even begin to do something to call out all the beauty that is there. Listen to other people, and whenever you discern something which sounds true, which is a revelation of harmony and beauty, emphasize it and help it to flower. Strengthen it and encourage it to live."
— Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh
Was Anything Omitted?
Did Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh Omit Anything? In carefully examining Metropolitan Anthony’s excellent meditations, I’m still left with a feeling of uneasiness about his conclusions. Mind you, everything he said is very apropos. Does it fall short?
We should give careful attention to everything Metropolitan Anthony said. We should see beauty in everything: it is, after all, God’s creation. We wrestle against spiritual wickedness, not against flesh and blood. Granted, the flesh cooks up plenty of its own sinfulness. Nevertheless, our real battle is with demons, and not mere men or groups of men: the sinful flesh is only clay.
If we do pay attention to Metropolitan Anthony’s accurate words, we shall soon realize that his advice applies to all varieties of Christian denomination. These words compel us to see beauty in all of them. We shall soon realize that it is our Christian duty to seek the flaws in our own iconography first, stop crowing about our own glory, and stop branding others with hateful words like heterodox. Heterodox implies much more than other correctness; it boldly and judgmentally says, “You are wrong.” It is a carefully concealed form of pride. Our duty, then, is to appreciate the beauty in other denominations, seek to arrest the damage caused by sin, and aid in the full recovery of all, wherever that may be possible. In a sentence, “I am my brother’s keeper.” This does not mean that I am free to mince words about sin; I must struggle to be forthright in all things.
These are not things that Metropolitan Anthony left out. What he left out was the fact that our loving Creator has the power to justify wrong, to remove sin from our lives, and to heal all the wounds and damage caused by that sin. God’s solution to sin is judicial, correctional, and medical: it is multifaceted, and complete. We no longer live under fear of the threat of judicial condemnation, our inability to stop sinning, or the obvious damage our actions have worked in us and to those around us. We pray about all of these things daily. God certainly hears our cry, because He is good and the lover of all mankind. What Metropolitan Anthony left out is what God does with these things.
What does God do with these things? Our Lord Jesus Christ is eternally scarred with thorn marks, nail prints, and a spear wound in His side. He was beaten beyond human recognition. These are beauty marks; they do not make Him ugly. Paul writes that he bears in his body the marks of the Lord Jesus: these, we shall eventually see, are Paul’s beauty marks. 2 Corinthians 1 points out that the core of our effective ministry comes from the scarring done to our icon: these marks are beauty marks. What Joseph’s brothers intended for evil, God intended for good: Joseph’s fetter-scars are beauty marks. We must not live in perpetual fear of the ravages caused by sin in our lives. We must cling faithfully to our baptism and our communion, to our confession and absolution. These are some of the instruments of God that will change the ugliness in our lives and make even these objects of beauty.
Left to our own devices we would have left our icon in its original wrapper, sealed it behind glass, or otherwise kept it in its pristine condition. But God’s plan is better and greater. God is not done painting our icons: He may never be done. He is carrying us forward to a beauty and glory, which we can never imagine: the increase of this beauty and glory may never end. “God became man, so that man might become god.” That is an unspeakable beauty and glory.
The Grand Canyon is an ugly scar in the surface of the earth: it spoils earth’s spherical perfection and symmetry. Yet, when seen firsthand the Grand Canyon is a work of breathtaking beauty. The unscarred area around the canyon is rather ugly and boring.
He is the vine, we the branches. Every beautiful grape attaches to the vine with a dead, ugly, dried up, little, insignificant branchlet, that we pluck out and throw away. This branchlet is our lives. At most, we have been a conduit bringing the grace of God to the grape. What we despise and cast away, God keeps, loves, and treasures. These branchlets, God does beautify. The grapes are merely consumed.
Yes, we should carefully heed Metropolitan Anthony’s instruction. But, there is more, much more.