The unspeakable and prodigious fire hidden in the essence of things, as in the bush, is the fire of divine love and the dazzling brilliance of God’s beauty inside everything.
St Maximus the Confessor
‘The dazzling brilliance of God’s beauty inside everything.’ This is the world that the icon depicts, a world seen not only with the eyes of the body but also with the eye of the heart. This is the meaning of Paradise, a world known not as mere object but as gift, a revelation of our Maker’s ‘fire of divine love’ for us.
To know the world and our Creator in this way is our natural state, a homecoming. Every one of us therefore has a profound longing to return to this home, which is not a place but a way of living and loving. We are blessed with nostalgia for the Land of the Living which is Christ, in whom all things are united, things in heaven and things on earth.
I believe it is precisely because it depicts our spiritual homeland that the icon has been steadily capturing the imagination of the West over the past few decades. It resonates with something somehow known but forgotten. On first encounter we are perhaps perplexed, or even scandalized by the way icons are painted. The perspective is all strange and the proportions are unfamiliar.
Or so we think, for steadily we begin to recognize something in these holy images. Deep calls to deep, like a fragrance evoking a forgotten person or place. And those who have followed this fragrance will know that what first appears to be a picture ends up being a gate that opens to a garden as real as this world.
Aidan Hart, Techniques of Icon and Wall Painting, xix.