I have just completed writing an icon that I began a year and a half ago.
The term “write” is used in regards to icons rather than “painting” because icons are considerd visual theology.
The icon is of Christ the Tree of Life. I first encountered this icon through the Community of Sant”Egidio – both on the Community’s website and in its chapel in Rome. I do not know how old the original image is but I find it be a very powerful and holy image.
Christ sits surrounded by the twelve apostles. Christ is the Word of life and the passage that is opened for contemplation is, “I am the vine and you are the branches.” Some of the apostles hold open books while others hold rolled up scrolls. To the open books I added scripture passages that speak to the reality of Christ living in us and our life in Christ: Colossians 3:14-15, Ephesians 3:20-21, 1 Corinthians 12;12-13, 1 John 4:14-15 and 1 Peter 1:22-23.
Christ surrounded by his apostles within the context of a “living tree” is, I believe, a wonderful image of Church. All is focused on Christ who is central and the branches strain toward heaven and the Father. The twelve apostles remind us of the apostolic nature of the Church – a mark of the Church often unreflected upon in our day. Christ retains the wounds of the crucifixion as the resurrection experiences recalled in scripture testify. Even in his glory Christ remains united to the suffering of his Church and all creation.
In the original icon the Father was pictured at the top of the icon in human form and there was a more ornate and detailed depiction of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. In the Orthodox Church there has been an instruction that the Father should not be pictured in human form and I agree with this. We can depict the Son because of the incarnation – the “Word become flesh ” – and we can use the images of the dove, tongues of fire and celestial light for the Holy Spirit but the Father remains beyond our imagings. In this icon I replaced the image of the Father with rays of light streaming from a central point. The rays also draw our attention to that point.
The Holy Spirit unites the Father and the Son. I simplified the image of the Holy Spirit in this icon. The living reality of the Church gathered around Christ also exists and grows under the care and empowerment of the Holy Spirit.