Nowhere is this image of God drawing close to us more profoundly demonstrated than in the 5th century Egyptian icon of Christ and Abba Menas currently hanging in the Louvre in Paris. The French, however, do not call it Christ and Abba Menas they title it Christ and His Friend. Reflection upon this icon can be used to demonstrate what it is to live the Christian life, to do pastoral work and, more specifically, how to form disciples in Christ.
In the icon we notice the unusual position of Christ with his arm around “the friend.” This embrace can be seen as demonstrating the change of status we have with Christ. He no longer calls us servants but rather friends. “No longer do I call you servants for the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I called you friends, for all that I have heard from the Father I have made known to you.” John 15:15
The second thing this icon teaches about the relational love of the Lord for us is the position of the eyes. Christ has an eye on the friend and another looking out. We need to follow Christ’s example, we can have one eye on Christ and one eye on those under our care. “Looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2
This icon shows the Lord Jesus Christ holding the scriptures, symbolizing that He is the Word, the truth. We are like the friend in the icon, we also have been given something to share, as signified by the small scroll that the friend is holding. But we are only given enough wisdom to rely on God to provide more.
The next detail of this icon to consider is that Christ has no feet. The fact that the friend has feet can be understood as being sent out like the Father sent the Son. “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’” John 20:21
Finally, there is a silence found in this icon as in all icons. Christ and His friend have their mouths closed. The friend, however, is painted with very prominent ears. We are to primarily listeners of God. There is a silence in the icon. A prayerful silence where not a word is spoken. Mother Teresa was asked what her secret was and she said, “My secret is simple, I pray.” So someone asked her what she said when she prayed and she said, “nothing, I listen.” So the interviewer asked, “OK, when you pray what does God say?” And Mother Teresa answered, “Nothing, He listens.” Prayer is a mutual listening.