Have you ever noticed that saints never smile. In fact, teaching students how to Paint non smiling saints is one of my icon painting techniques. Even so, after looking at all of these modern painted icons, I have taken to wondering why we never Paint them smiling.
Over Four hundred time the word “joy” appears in the Bible, most of them referring to what awaits those who seek the presence of God. So why do icons never smile at us – portraits of Saints who have achieved union with God – Why do they look so incredibly somber in Byzantine iconography? or are they detached?
True interior joy is lasting, often inspired and sustained by some energy unseen within us, something that comes from the source of eternal bliss. Fleeting pleasures are, by definition, are temporary and do not bring sustainable happiness. The smile is a reflection of a happy moment, it’s presence is reflected in our face and is temporary. There are many examples of “wonderful” smiles – the pure smile of a child, the loving smile of a mother, the sincere smile of a friend – but nevertheless the smile is something belonging to worldly event in our life. Smiles indicate a joyous moment is experienced, from eating or sleeping to playing in the sunshine or rain., The action is done while we are in the flesh and reflected in the face, usually with emotion, but not required.
Saintly people maintain a Dispassionate peaceful condition within the soul.
It is this “peaceful condition” that is communicated in the countenance of Saints in icons. It is beyond one minute or event filled with happiness realized in the world, theirs are the faces of interior joy which becomes lasting in the soul. It is the transfigured, revealed, reality of a joyful meditative state. It is a reflection of the peace found in Christ consciousness promised to His followers. (John 14:27).
Despite all that is written above you may still not be convinced that the Christ and His Saints look all that happy in icons. Well, there is an extra point to consider. Icons depict the a state of divine understanding or perhaps better said, understanding of the divine. When we stand before an icon of Christ, for example, and see Him “looking at us”, we are to be reminded that His essence is always present and looking at us.
The mystic clairvoyance of the saint, knows our condition at the moment we gaze at an icon, we see our own state of being in them. If we are not happy, why should we expect them to look happy? The thing is, in large part we see what we are in all of creation, we choose to see what we see and interpret it as good or bad. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. A higher state of existence is found in simple detached being and it is joyful but not reflected on the face necessarily. These may be a few reason for Why Saints Never Smile.