I recently got myself into a debate I never thought I would: the veneration of icons.
It seems that Abu Daoud got himself into a dispute with one JMW over the veneration/worhsip of icons. So he threw it out to the rest of us for discussion. One of Abu Daoud’s respondents wondered why a dialogue with someone who so vehemently opposed the practice was worth the bother. I could not resist saying the following:
…In his line of mission work, the first thing you learn is to dialogue with people who might kill you. After you have passed that threshold, people like JMW are a snap.
Beyond trying to lighten things up just a little (I got in trouble recently doing that on an unrelated matter,) my purpose was to illustrate something important: that when you deal with Islam, a lot of what Christians think is life and death really isn’t.
Let me illustrate this by discussing the case of John of Damascus, whom I brought up first in his post. He lived his life in Muslim-ruled Syria and Palestine, but was the last (and one of the greatest) of the Fathers of the Church. He has the distinction of being one of the first and foremost to do two things: a) defend the veneration of icons, and b) confront Islam from a Christian viewpoint.
Given the fact that the Qur’an hasn’t changed and that the Muslim conquest of that part of the world was fresher in his day than ours, it’s interesting to note that John of Damascus’ critique of Islam tells us that he confronted the Muslims to their face! And this, a man who worked for the caliph! After getting through this, the Damascene must have thought, what consequence is some Emperor in Constantinople who can’t bring himself to venerate the icons?
Same Emperor was not amused; he tried to have John framed as a traitor to the caliph. The caliph had John’s hand cut off; however, typical Middle Eastern practice would have dictated execution. Evidently the caliph was impressed with this bold and stubborn infidel! No matter what you think of the veneration of icons (my position is here,) John of Damascus was a man of courage. That’s what it takes to dialogue with Muslims. We need to see and emulate that, icons or not.
While on the subject of Eastern Orthodoxy, for those of you who are Orthodox and visiting this site, let me make one plea: it’s time for us to come to some kind of understanding when we face opponents together and have that understanding carry over when they’re not around any more.
I’m thinking in this case of Russia. Orthodox and non-Orthodox believers survived seventy years of persecution and the gulag, but now the Russian Orthodox Church is using its special place with the state to push everyone else out. (My church has been on the receiving end of this, as one can follow here.)
This is not right. Orthodoxy is perfectly capable of attracting and keeping good people; just ask the Antiochenes in the U.S. It’s not necessary to add state coercion to the mix. The ROC should have learned a long time ago that state support is a two-edged sword; I frequently cite the example of Avvakum, but guess who abolished the Patriarchate? And whose family kept it that way for 200 years?
As the old ditty says:
To live in love with the saints above, that would be glory;
To live and grow with the saints below, that’s another story!
Let’s make things a little sweeter in the dangerous world we live in.