It is the first week of Lent, which means that this Sunday is the Sunday of Orthodoxy — the celebration of the restoration of the icons to the Churches after the end of iconoclasm. This week’s Bible Study was small, short and focused on how the Epistle (Hebrews 11:24-26, 32-40) and Gospel (John 1:44-51) Readings speak to the Orthodox Church’s understanding of icons.
We primarily focused on the last verses of each pericope:
And all these [holy ones of the OT], though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had foreseen something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. — Heb. 11:39-40
Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man. — John 1:51
In order to truly appreciate how these two speak to each other, one much look to the Greek of St. John:
ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἀπ᾽ ἄρτι ὄψεσθε τὸν οὐρανὸν ἀνεῳγότα, καὶ τοὺς ἀγγέλους τοῦ Θεοῦ ἀναβαίνοντας καὶ καταβαίνοντας ἐπὶ τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου.
A more literal translation looks like this:
Truly, truly I say to you: you will see heaven — the one that has opened — and the angels of God — the ones ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.
Note the subtle difference in tense suggested by the participles. Nathaniel cannot see what already is; however, unlike the holy ones of the OT, for whom the heavens were closed because Christ had not yet become incarnate, Nathaniel is capable of seeing these things. He need only put away his attachment to earthly things (as suggested by his political understanding of Christ as merely the King of Israel), open his eyes and see the reality of the Kingdom of Heaven in Christ Himself.
The Orthodox Church understands icons as windows that allow us to glimpse what already is — heaven is open and angels are descending and ascending upon the Son of man. The reality of the Kingdom of Heaven has entered into the world through our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ and is available in Him. We need only open our eyes to see. Amen.