Today we honor the life and work of Andrei Rublev. Generally acknowledged as Russia’s greatest iconographer, Andrei was born around 1365 near Moscow. At a young age he became a monk in an orthodox monastery. There he began to study iconography. Icons are central to orthodox spirituality. They are used both in liturgies and in personal devotion. Icons are not physical portraits, but instead are images of someone meant to provide access to the spiritual and divine. For Andrei, painting an icon was a spiritual exercise. As he worked, he would reportedly say the Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me). His icons were ways of accessing God in a unique way.
I first encountered icons in college. Having grown up in the United Methodist Church, the devotional use of icons was a foreign experience. But on my ecumenical mission trips, I was introduced to modern icons of Martin de Porres and Oscar Romero. The images were jarring and gave me small window into the lives of these modern-day saints. These stories, in turn, inspired in me a new sense of passion for the Gospel. This is what icons are supposed to do – jar the senses in such a way that one experiences God in new and fresh ways.
Our lessons for 2 Corinthians and Matthew highlight the ways our senses play a role in our faith. 2 Corinthians talks about the aroma or fragrance of Christ. At first, that language sounded foreign to me, but then I remembered the many times incense has stirred something in my faith. That one fragrance can totally change a worship experience, opening up the holy in unexpected ways. Meanwhile, our gospel lesson talks about the eye and how the eye can be a source of light – like the experience of praying with icons, our visual cues are what bring most of us to a more focused place of worship – whether seeing a crucifix, the drama of the Eucharistic prayer, or the flickering of a candle, these visuals bring our focus back to God who is trying to connect with us in new and fresh ways.
Our invitation today is to find which senses might be out of touch with God. Maybe we haven’t been really paying attention to the taste of the Eucharistic meal. Maybe we haven’t been listening to the power of music to lift us up. Maybe we have not been seeing the beauty of this space and all that the space inspires in us. These are the gifts God gives us every day – sensing ways of making our faith fresh and engaging. How might God be inviting reconnection with you? Amen.