I am guilty of taking the Church of the Icons for granted. And I think that is because for most of us, our experience of churches is of something that has always been there, or at least been around for centuries. Whether for not you go to church, the building itself is a landmark in your life, and similarly the traditions of whatever faith you are, or choose not to be, have become landmarks in our annual calendars. Our churches have become part of the background of our culture. Something we take for granted.
But there is a perplexing mystery at the heart of the Church of the Icons. The Church of the Icons is young.
Or rather, both old and new. The religion or folk law has been around for centuries, but the church, with its trans-Horizon structure, is “the Horizon’s youngest faction”
It’s rise to prominence is extraordinary. New international churches in our world do exist. For example the Church of Scientology, created by Science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, is about as old as the The Church of Icons. It’s a global organisation, yes, but it doesn’t have reach and acceptance that the Icon Church appears to have achieved. What is the secret to their success?
The core book tell us that the Church of the Icons has “grown strong through collecting, canonizing and institutionalizing the wide, sprawling faith that has existed in the Horizon for centuries.” So, rather than making up a pantheon of Thetans, like L. Ron, the Church of the Icons appears to be more like the Baha’i faith. The Bahá’ís philosophy is one of unity, their belief is that every prophet, every religion, reveals a different aspect of the truth of god. Similarly the Church of the Icons seek out and embrace local variations of faith, progressively revealling the truth of the Icons. But the Bahá’í faith has not achieved the level of acceptance and authority the the Icon Church seems to have managed. Indeed its adherents are persecuted in the Middle East where it was founded by an Iranian, 125 years ago.
How has the Church not only become accepted, but risen to prominence so smoothly and so completely?
Perhaps the answer lies in its structure. The Icon faith is not a cult of personality. There is no L. Ron or Bab. Its a federation, the Matriarch and Partiarch appear to have little power except as notional figureheads, and there are two of them anyway, so neither one is THE leader. The Seekers, an ancient cult which may have had something to do with the founding of the Church, have been marginalised. They “looked upon as wise ascetics and prophets rather than actual figures of power within the faction.”
So, the Church of the Icons seems less like, say, the Catholic Church, under the Pope, and more like the international Anglican Communion, of which the Archbishop of Canterbury is more a figure head than leader. I therefore imagine that the teachings of the church can be very different in different systems, just as the philosophies of the Episcopal church in the United States regarding, for example, homosexuality, are very different from those of their Anglican brethren in Africa.
So, how does anything get decided? How does the church make any decisions, if not by Papal Bull or Fatwa? I think, every two or three Cycles a great Synod is held, with representatives of the church from all corners of the Horizon attending. Much discussion is had, many topics are debated and occasionally, very occasionally something is agreed. Between such Synods, weighty topics might be the subject of an Ecumenical Assembly, which would present its findings at the next Synod. Thus it was the Nine Sacred Rites were only put in writing in CC49, only a couple of decades ago, in game canon. Before that, I imagine, that doctrine which denies the duality of Icons, and that evil exists, not in the Icons but within humanity was agreed in a similar manner, with much muttering around the periphery.
Indeed, I think that despite one of the nine sacred rites being that “Once a year, during the Cyclade, a believer should openly declare her faith by reciting the creed together with others in a temple” that Creed itself might still be in flux. The Creed isn’t defined anywhere in the core book after all, and we know very little about it other than that Icons are only good doctrine.
The core book mentions two schisms, which I think are not schisms at all, but rather issues upon which a Synod has not yet agreed a wording for the Creed. So right now, the creed does not mention Humanites at all. But perhaps, the first Cyclade after the Oikoumene as Najim Assembly has reported to the Synod, the Creed will include a line about whether Humanites have a soul, or are simply biological automata or animals.
Talking of souls, I am amazed that the Creed is not yet clear on what happens to your soul after you die. The Church of the Icons assures us that our souls do not become monsters trapped in the Dark between the stars, for which, personally, I am grateful, but stubbornly refuse to confirm whether you are rewarded with an afterlife in an Al-Ardhan paradise, or as the Seekers believe, becomes one with the Icons in the eternal Aoum.
The fact that there appears to be no ecumenical agreement upon this important matter, surely confirms that the Seekers are indeed marginalised, and are not the power behind the Church. But, conversely this fudging of the issue of the afterlife also raises questions about the rapid growth and success of the Church. In our world, the one key selling point for religions is the promise of an afterlife, be that in heaven, Valhalla, or a more successful reincarnation, if you follow the teachings of the church. And of course the many alternative hells or unfortunate reincarnations for those that don’t follow the path. If the Church of the Icons can’t define how your soul is rewarded, how come so many people, have accepted the Church and the Creed into their lives?