‘I call you friends’ – this was the title of the Ordination retreat held at Sheldon. The text for the retreat was taken from John 15: 9-17. I share with you a small part of our retreat.
We were shown a copy of an icon which dates from the 8th century of Christ with Abba Mena (there are many prints and the icon can be viewed on line). The original icon is hanging in the Louvre in Paris. The French, however, title the icon ‘Christ and His Friend’.
The text from John’s Gospel reads ‘I do not call you servants any longer because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my father’. (John15:15)
The icon depicts Christ with his arm around the friend. The friend is Abba Mena; he can be seen to represent each one of us. Jesus does not face his friend, rather he stands alongside him; he accompanies him, sharing the burdens of his life. ‘Christ no longer calls us servants but friends’. The second striking thing about this icon is the position of the eyes. Christ has an eye on his friend and another looking out. This gives us an insight on how we all need to have one eye focused on Christ and one looking out to those in our care, to our neighbours and friends. As John 15:12 reads; ‘This is my commandment that you love one another’.
The icon shows Christ holding the scriptures; God’s word, the word that tells of the love between God and humanity. We are like the friend in the icon who is holding a small scroll which is rolled up, God’s loving plan not yet fully revealed. Another fascinating detail of this icon is that Christ is depicted without feet. The friend has feet; it is we who are being sent out. ‘As the Father has sent me so I send you’. (John 20:21)
There is a silence (as in all icons) to be discovered in this icon; both Jesus and his friend’s mouths are closed. The friend, however, is drawn with very prominent ears. We are the listeners of Christ; the silence in the icon is a prayerful silence. Prayer is the very essence of our relationship with God.
I am writing this piece in early October; however, it will be read in November when churches across our Mission community and throughout the country will be commemorating the ending of World War 1 one hundred years ago. As we remember and pay our respects to all those who went to war, to the horror that they endured and to the many thousands who did not return home, like the icon, as we have one eye focused on Christ and one on our neighbour, so we pray for peace and reconciliation in our world today.
Lord strengthen our hearts, hands and minds to work together for peace; to see you in one another, and to seek your kingdom above all things, that your will may be done, and your kingdom come, through Jesus Christ, the Lord of Lords and King of kings. Amen
(Church of England resources)