“God has left his mark on humanity just as surely as He has left it on all of creation.”
God has left His mark on all of creation, including man. It really cannot be otherwise. We see this reflected in our own nature. We can often identify the author of a work by the way he composes his words, or the artist behind a painting by the way he draws. The creator always leaves his impression on his creation.
In the traditional art of liturgical iconography, the goal of the iconographer is to be invisible. The desire is that those who meditate upon the image reflect on holy things and not upon the hand of the artist who created it. That is why so many icons, painted by different iconographers at different times, all look so similar. This is purposeful.
Nevertheless, those who study ancient religious imagery can often pinpoint an icon to a specific geographical location, a general time period in which it was painted, and often, the artist who painted it. An artist nearly always leaves his mark on his art. In the same way God leaves His impression on us, just as He has on the entire world.
It has become fashionable to consider the human race as alien to this world, that we do not belong to it and are not part of nature. Some have even gone so far as to speculate that if man were removed from the earth, none of the food chains or eco-systems would be disrupted, and the earth would continue just fine without us.
There is an argument, that because man was created last of all things, he is unimportant to God. God created the whole world, the argument goes, and then, almost as an afterthought He created man.
But that isn't really the best way to consider man's place in God's creation.
Suppose you were going to build a house for the person you love. You have the perfect location in mind and you know exactly the type of house you will build. Would you take the person, sit them in the middle of a field and then build the house around them? Of course not. You would carefully build the house first, furnish it, decorate it, and make sure that everything was perfect. Only then would you bring your beloved home.
God created the world for man, to teach us about His nature. To truly get an idea of how important we are to God, consider that He created the entire world for our benefit. God has left his mark on humanity just as surely as He has left it on all of creation.
And because of that, we are intimately connected to the world around us for we all bear the impression of the Creator.
Even so, we are not the center of human history or the center of the universe - Jesus Christ is.
All of creation was made through Christ the Word. He is the archetype of all being and we are made in His image. "In him were created all things in heaven and earth," St Paul tells us in his Letter to the Colossians. "All things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together."
St. Paul’s letter echoes the Gospel according to Saint John. John tells us, “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.”
This is Christ-centeredness. It's the opposite of self-centeredness, and it is a transcendent Truth, something that is always true.
The famous Church of Holy Wisdom in Istanbul is now a museum. Before that, it was a Muslim mosque. Before that, when the Ottoman Turks conquered the ancient Christian city and capital of the Byzantine Empire in 1453 (at that time Istanbul was called Constantinople), it was a Christian church. This magnificent church was covered from floor to ceiling with rich, beautiful Christian art.
These types of artistic images are not permitted by the Islamic religion, so once the city was conquered, the art was gradually dismantled or plastered over.
In the last 150 years, restoration work has been allowed to uncover some of the mosaics and other artworks. One of the most remarkable of the few surviving images is known as the Deesis Mosaic. The Deesis is a traditional iconographic image of Our Lord that decorates a wall of the “south gallery.” It shows a three-quarter length portrait of Christ flanked by the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Baptist. The right hand of Christ is raised in a blessing, and in his left hand he holds an ornately decorated volume of the Four Gospels.
This simple, noble pose was one of the earliest developments in all of Christian art, especially in the Churches of the eastern Mediterranean. It is the same pose we find in the oldest surviving artist image of Christ in the eastern world - the "Christ Pantocrator" (the "all-powerful" Christ,) at St. Catherine's Monastery in the Sinai desert.
The fact that this serene and mesmerizing image of Christ ruling over all has survived so long and spread so widely, and the fact that it continues to gaze down from the dome of the Church of Holy Wisdom, long since overrun by a non-Christian empire, is a providential reminder of this truth we often forget. The simple truth that Jesus Christ is the everlasting center of the universe and of history.
As Christians, we have the privilege of knowing that Jesus is the Lord and Savior of human history, and the Lord and Savior of each one of our lives.
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university
Lawrence Klimecki, MSA, is a deacon in the Diocese of Sacramento. He is a public speaker, writer, and artist, reflecting on the intersection of art and faith and the spiritual “hero’s journey” that is part of every person’s life. He maintains a blog at www.DeaconLawrence.organd can be reached at Lawrence@deaconlawrence.com