by Fr Gabriel-Allan Boyd
Photographers have a great term to describe the process they go through in trying to create the most beautiful images. They call it, “chasing the light.” They instinctively know that light is at the heart of the most beautiful images. For good photographers, their best images are shaped more than anything else by the lighting conditions. This process that photographers go through in creating the most impactful images (their mission) makes a wonderful archetype for all of us Orthodox Christians.
In Orthodox Christianity, the presence of our Lord is also emphasized in the form of light, through the use of sunlight, lamps, candles and gold, illumining the inside of our worship space…especially as they light the images of Jesus and the saints. And pay very close attention to this: Almost all Orthodox churches are built so that the worshippers face East. This is done partly because the Sun rises in the East, bringing natural light into the sanctuary…but more significantly, since Jesus says that He will come again from the East, the Church is trying to re-Orient us to live in constant anticipation of His coming. Thus, as we worship God, we expect the coming of our Lord to establish His Kingdom over our hearts, illumining us with the Light of Life.
In this Sunday’s Gospel Reading, Jesus says, “I am the Light of the world; whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the Light of Life” (John 8:12). It just so happens that this Sunday is also Father’s Day. Like the photographer, Orthodox Christian dads are responsible for creating beautiful images too (our mission). We Orthodox dads, and grandfathers and Godfathers and godly father types should be most concerned with “chasing the light,” as we help develop our children into beautiful images of Christ.
And yet, even with some awareness of this mission, so often, many of us dads get stuck in the rat race. We go to school to find a good job with lots of benefits and a nice, high ladder to climb. Little by little we save our money, pay our bills and expenses, and then we spend what we have left over, only to repeat the same cycle for the rest of our working lives. While it may be interspersed with a bit of happy vacation time here and there, it’s little more for us than a dry, meaningless obsession. It may be a career, but it’s not our God-given vocation (our mission).
And this obsession is the perfect excuse because it sounds so darn respectable to tell everyone how hard we need to work, for so many legitimate reasons. But we end up missing out on really valuable “mentoring time” with our children, which can help shape them into healthy, well-adjusted adults who live faithfully in unity with God’s will. So, it’s good for us to be reminded from time to time that nobody on their deathbed ever said, “Gosh, if only I’d spent more time working at the office.” We dads don’t want to get to the end of our lives and regret that we’d missed out on so many opportunities to model for our children what it looks like to live in faithful trust of God…to live in His Light, fulfilling our vocation.
This Sunday is also Pentecost, where we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to the Church as Light. After Christ, the Light of the World, ascended to His Father, He sent help (the Holy Spirit) to His followers to help them grow in His likeness and to carry on His mission. This event was marked with the appearance of flames of fire over their heads! The Holy Spirit illumined not only their heads, but also their hearts and souls, allowing them to illumine others with God’s Good News.
The icon of the feast of Pentecost is an something that we fathers should pay attention to as we lead our children to chase after the light…helping them to live in unity with God, with our family and with others around them.
Notice that the source of these disciple’s unity is found in a semi-circle at the top of the icon (mandorla), showing the descent of the Holy Spirit. From the blue semi-circle, a single ray of light for each of those gathered shines down to illumine them. Sometimes the “tongues of fire” described in Acts are shown at the tips of the rays, ready to descend upon the Apostles. Other times, the tongues of fire are shown already within the halos of each of the seated disciples. Some icons of Pentecost show a dove, somewhere in the icon, or even descending upon those gathered in the upper chamber. Given the appearance of the Holy Spirit as a dove during Christ’s Baptism, it’s understandable that this physical image of the Spirit is also used in Pentecost icons. However, the Holy Spirit appeared as tongues of flame at Pentecost, and a dove at Christ’s Baptism, being–in reality–neither of these things, but something that transcends them both.
At the bottom of the Icon is another semi-circle, showing an old king against a dark background. He’s referred to as Cosmos, representing the world, for whose sake we’re given the Holy Spirit, and to whom we’re sent in Christ’s loving mission of reconciling to God. Cosmos is crowned as a symbol of earthly authority–representing all the peoples of the world. He’s seated “in darkness and the shadow of death” (Luke 1:79), representing people, who with the ministry of the Holy Spirit, desperately need us to bring them the Light of the world.
This presence of the Light of the World in our lives requires our purposeful cultivation, our “chasing the light,” in our own lives first, in our children’s lives second, and in the lives of the people around us third, so that we offer the world wonderful images as a witness to God’s love. God continues to send His Holy Spirit to light the world, asking each of us to participate with His ministry. At our baptism and chrismation, we received “the seal of the Holy Spirit,” and He’s at work trying to illumine our hearts…and through us, the hearts and minds of those around us, as well. Indeed, “the Light of Christ illumines all,” and that illumination is greatly assisted when we cooperate with Christ and His Spirit’s work in our life!
Dads, what if it was within your power to give your child anything at all? What would you wish for them? Out of all the things they could possibly have, what would give them the biggest benefit in their lives? And since we’re all faced with our own inescapable mortality, imagine that day in the future when your child will tearfully attend your funeral. What will they remember the most about you, and be most grateful for? Relatedly, when you stand before the great judgement seat of God, how will you answer Him, when He asks you about the investment you made in leading your children to Him, compared to the other things you invested your life in? Those are some sobering things to imagine. Are you leading your children, by your example, to chase after the light? In your God-given vocation, what kind of image are you helping them to become?