In the Byzantine rite October 16 brought the feast of the centurion Longinus, who pierced the side of Christ and said, “Surely, this man was the Son of God.” His feast coincided with the feast of the fathers of the seventh ecumenical council, which condemned iconoclasm. In response to Byzantine emperors stripping churches and smashing icons, the fathers proclaimed that icons enable us to place our faith in Christ.
Although the Jews did not use images in worship, they still knew God through human beings. They believed the words of Genesis: “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.” Man manifests God’s love to the rest of creation. He serves as the cosmic priest who offers the creation back to God. God entrusts us with the weighty task of caring for and showing compassion to creation.
As man reveals God to creation, so Christ reveals God to man. The incarnation stands at the center of the revelation of God: Jesus Christ the real person, not just the theological idea. This Jesus eschewed any form of violence against anyone. He turned toward Jerusalem to suffer and to found a kingdom.
We put icons in our churches not only because they look pretty but also to remind us that Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth. The Lord is sitting by the Father in a human body, but he has not abandoned the world. He has left His image and likeness with us.
Longinus the centurion crucified people for a living. He knew and practiced the Roman’s brutal ways. His superiors gave him the task of torturing and killing three criminals. When he saw Jesus dead and pierced his side, he said, “This is the Son of God.” What could have possessed him to make this claim? Nothing he sees in Jesus suggests divinity. He knows the beauty of the Roman gods and the glory of the Roman emperor. He looks at Jesus and sees the weakness and suffering which he inflicted. God chooses to reveal Himself to Longinus and to us in failure. The crucifixion upends how we expect God to act. Longinus unwittingly cooperates with God’s plan. He realizes that a new creation is coming forth from Jesus’ side as Eve came from Adam’s. Longinus understands for the first time that divinity manifests Himself in weakness.
In the midst of brutality and absurdity, where do we find the image of God? In those whom God has called to share the table of the Lord with us. Jesus instituted this table to call back in the excluded. In this meal we see each other, people weak and powerless but an image of the Creator. Like Longinus we gasp and say, “This truly is a son or daughter of God.” When we care for the poor, the widow, and the orphan, we reveal the power of God.
We image Christ for each other. We reveal this when we go out to love and not to judge. Then we become a new creation.
Father Daniel gave a homily containing these thoughts at Saint Basil the Great Byzantine Catholic Church.