Tag Archives: Icons

On Living Icons

The Orthodox Christian Faith is enriched by icons. We surrounded ourselves with these prayerfully-written images of Christ, the Theotokos, and the saints. Our churches are full of icons, as are our homes. This is as it should be. In our modern self-focused culture, we need visual reminders of God’s work in and through the saints! These reminders in the form of icons challenge us to be strong and live a life accordingly faithful.

There are other icons that enrich our Faith as well. God has surrounded us with His hand-written images of Christ in the form of every person around us. Our churches are full of them, as are our homes. But He has not limited His handwritten icons to the Church. They are all around us. If you are like me, occasionally you may need a reminder that everyone – EVERYONE – is an icon of Christ, written by God Himself, in His image. May this short post remind us of that truth. So, that sweet lady at Church? Yes, she is an icon of Christ. The person who just cut me off when driving? An icon. The persistent child interrupting my phone conversation? An icon. That person who I struggle to love? An icon. The famous person everyone gossips about? An icon. Those people who live far away and very differently from me? They, too, are an icon. My spouse? Also an icon, written in the image of (and by the Hand of) God.


Whether or not we recognize His artistry, God has written (and is writing) each and every person. Therefore, we must remember that He is at work in and through them, then respond with the love and respect that we offer any other icon reflecting His image. When we choose to see His work in each person, we will be challenged by them to be strong and live our Christian life faithfully!  

We must be careful to note that this recognition of God’s work in writing the living icons around us must not be limited to noting it in other people. In truth, we ourselves are living icons, and should also be enriching the Church and our world. In order to be the most reflective image of Him that we can be, we need to cooperate with Him as he works in and through us. As we do so, He will strengthen us and give us what we need to live the faithful Christian life befitting an icon.

May God help us all to live and love His image in every person!

 

Here are some resources that can help us to be more aware of the icons of Christ around us; and challenge ourselves to be the best icons of Christ that we can:

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“We get the chance to venerate these living, breathing icons every day—in our homes, at work or school, as well as at church. We just have to get in the habit of seeing them. If we were to treat the living icons around us the way we treat the painted icons in our churches, what would that look like?” ~ from Donna Farley’s article, “Seeing Icons and Being Icons,” http://myocn.net/seeing-icons-icons/

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“How we treat others is how we treat the Lord. Every person is a living icon, and how we treat them reveals the true nature of our relationship with Jesus Christ.” ~ from Fr. Philip LeMaster’s homily “How We Treat the Living Icons of Christ.” Read the entire homily here: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/easternchristianinsights/2016/03/05/780/

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“Every one of us is in the image of God, and every one of us is like a damaged icon. But if we were given an icon damaged by time, damaged by circumstances, or desecrated by human hatred, we would treat it with reverence, with tenderness, with broken-heartedness. We would not pay attention primarily to the fact that it is damaged, but to the tragedy of its being damaged. We would concentrate on what is left of its beauty, and not on what is lost of its beauty. And this is what we must learn to do with regard to each person as an individual, but also – and this is not always as easy – with regard to groups of people, whether it be a parish or a denomination, or a nation. We must learn to look, and look until we have seen the underlying beauty of this group of people. Only then can we even begin to do something to call out all the beauty that is there. Listen to other people, and whenever you discern something which sounds true, which is a revelation of harmony and beauty, emphasize it and help it to flower. Strengthen it and encourage it to live.” – Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

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“Just as people who have no faith are yet drawn to the beauty of icons, so we must remember that unbelievers will be drawn to the beauty of our spiritual lives, should we embark on this process of restoring the image and likeness of God in each of us. Spiritual beauty is manifested in the virtues brought forth through us by the Holy Spirit. A peaceful heart and mind firmly established upon total Faith in God, is magnificent and glorious to behold. Through our spiritual path, we fulfill our iconic calling, manifesting the beauty of God in our persons. By bringing God’s beauty and light into the world, we offer hope to a world filled with ugliness and darkness.” ~ Read more of Bishop JOSEPH’s address “On the Holy Icons” here: http://www.antiochian.org/holy-icons

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Need an overhaul on your perspective of yourself (and others), the icon(s) of Christ? Here’s a 7 minute sermon from Fr. Ted Paraskevopoulos that will do just that: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/isermon/orthodox_anthropology

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What does it mean for a father to be the living icon of Christ? Read one dad’s take on the concept in this blog post: http://illumination-learning.com/main/2017/03/23/dad-a-living-icon-of-christ/

 

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On Miracles That God Performs Through Icons

Icons are windows to heaven. We have them in our churches, we have them in our homes, and perhaps in our car/locker/workspace/elsewhere as well. They are in these places as visual reminders of Truth. Icons remind us of the power of God at work, either through the written images of Christ Himself or of those gone before us who have followed Him completely and became saints. They help us to better understand the scriptures and to better connect with the person/people written on them. Icons draw us to God by virtue of their beauty, the stories of faithfulness they represent, the Scriptures they unveil. It is a miracle that something so simple as a prayerfully-written icon can do so much to help us on our journey toward Him.

Occasionally, God chooses to move beyond that sense of “being drawn,” and to work other miracles through them. The purpose of this blog post is to help each of us to learn about some of the icons He is using in this way (or has recently used in this way), and to read the stories of miracles wrought through them. It is our hope that this post will be encouraging and help each of us to be aware of how God is at work through icons. (These stories will also encourage our children when we share the stories with them. Children are naturally full of wonder, and will benefit from knowing these amazing ways in which God is at work through holy icons. So, please share the stories that your children will benefit from hearing so they can be encouraged, as well!)

Here are a few examples of miracle-working icons and their stories, as well as information related to miracle-working icons:

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What would you do if some of the icons in your prayer corner miraculously began streaming myrrh? Read this account by Subdeacon Nectarios himself, of what happened in his home. In the account, you’ll read about two streaming icons (each with different-smelling myrrh), a cat, a “doubting Thomas” who ends up with a mouthful of “proof,” and a few of the miracles that the miraculous myrrh have wrought. Glory to God! http://www.orthodoxhawaii.org/icons.html

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The Kardiotissa Icon of the Mother of God, at St. George Orthodox Church in Taylor, Pennsylvania, has been exuding myrrh ever since it was anointed with the myrrh of the Hawaiian Iveron icon in October of 2011. Many, many lives have been changed as a result. Read some of the miracles that have happened, as accounted in this homily: http://www.schwebster.org/sermons/2014-sermons/the-miracles-and-wonders-of-god-the-crying-icon-of-taylor-pa

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“Over the past ten years there have been many miracles; some I’ve heard about and some I haven’t. There have been many physical healings, external, and there have also been many spiritual, inner healings. Through this Icon many of the faithful have experienced radical transformations in their lives. It’s as if people become liberated from the ‘old man’ and ardently strive towards God.  When the Icon is present in various churches, monasteries and homes, one senses a renewal of love for the Mother of God; almost immediately many people approach for confession, spiritually reborn through a feeling of repentance.  I’d like to say that the Mother of God helps our believers sense their sinfulness before Her Son, Jesus Christ.”

Read this and more of the story and miracles of the copy of the Iveron icon of the Mother of God (the same one whose copy was sent to Hawaii and began myrrh streaming there, and when that one in turn visited the Kardiotissa icon in Pennsylvania it began exuding myrrh as well), which was brought to Canada from Mt. Athos by a Chilean convert to Orthodoxy here:  http://www.roca.org/OA/120/120k.htm

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“One can go on for a very long time listing the different holy Icons of the Ever-Virgin Mary and Theotokos and all the wonderful countless miracles of our Panagia. It is, however, important for all Orthodox Christian believers to always seek the holy intercessions of the Mother of God and to turn to Her for aid, healing, comfort and salvation.” Read some of the miracles in this article: http://saintandrewgoc.org/home/2014/8/25/the-miraculous-icon-of-panagia-portraitissa-the-keeper-of-th.html. Then, spend some time praying and asking the Theotokos to pray for you and your loved ones – and the whole world!

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Watch this 8-minute video that shows miracle after miracle, mostly related to icons, which God has granted through His Holy Orthodox Church. Set to parts of the Vespers service chanted by Eikona, this video could be a wonder-filled way to end a day! (We recommend that you watch it before showing it to your children, so you know what they will see and can be prepared to answer related questions.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-AOO903CZA

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Throughout history, icons of the Mother of God have worked miracles. This article shares the commemoration days of many icons of the Theotokos, along with some of the stories of miracles attributed to those icons, set throughout history. These stories are not as recent as some of the above, but they are still miracles and well worth learning about! To read about an icon of the Theotokos and/or a miracle attributed to the icon, click on the month, then which of the days of that month you’d like to read about: https://oca.org/saints/icons-mother-of-god

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“Venerating a miracle is also a way of acknowledging the importance of its context. A weeping icon is amazing, but it’s obviously not meant to distract attention away from the liturgical, sacramental, and doctrinal life of the Church. If anything, a miracle should amplify the importance of Church practices and teaching, for the God who causes the miracle is also the God who established these as markers of his ‘new and everlasting covenant’ with mankind.” Read more about responding to miracles wrought through icons in this article:  http://myocn.net/miracle-greece-weeping-icon-mean/

Gleanings from a Book: “A Gift for Matthew” By Nick Muzekari, Illustrated By Masha Lobastov

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of sitting in the nave of my home parish while listening to Nick Muzekari read aloud his first picture book, “A Gift for Matthew.” I had already read the book, so I was familiar with the story. Nevertheless, I enjoyed hearing it read aloud with the author’s own inflections. Story lover that I am, I also savored hearing some of the stories behind the book. While listening I happened to glance upwards and I discovered that Mr. Muzekari was reading the book beneath the icon of St. Matthew! Although unplanned (at least as far as I know), it was the perfect spot for this reading to happen!

“A Gift for Matthew” is the story of a young boy named Matthew who is privileged to visit a monastery for a day to observe and assist a monk in the process of writing icons. Brother Justin welcomes Matthew and incorporates him into the writing process, teaching him about icons and how they are made. The wording of the book concisely explains the process in easy-to-understand terminology, and takes the reader through the writing of the icon step by step, through Matthew’s eyes. By the end of the day, Matthew is reluctant to leave the monastery because he is enjoying the experience so much. Brother Justin’s invitation for Matthew to return the next day cheers him, as does the gift he discovers in his backpack when he arrives home.

In case you also enjoy background stories, here are a few stories behind the story:

  1. The author told us that it was while he was reading a picture book about icons that he got the idea for this book. He thought to himself, “It’s great that there are books for children about icons. But why isn’t there a book for children that explains the icon writing process?” and the idea behind “A Gift for Matthew” was born. In my opinion, this book fills the gap perfectly.
  2. To any reader who delights in the beyond-the-story details included in the illustrations of any great picture book, Muzekari would point out the monastery cat, Paizousa. Her name is Greek (παιζουσα) and it was chosen because it means “she who plays” (in this context, it means “she who plays tricks”). The cat’s name is fitting, for the author wanted to add a touch of humor into the story, and this fuzzy trickster does just that in the illustrations without adding a single word to the text. Paizousa can be found snoozing, snooping, and, yes, even getting into trouble in many of the illustrations of Matthew’s time at the monastery. I have enjoyed finding her and observing what she is doing at each moment in the story!

This book is a great read for Orthodox Christians of all ages, but especially for children. The illustrations are simple yet beautifully lifelike. Both the storyline and illustrations work together well to portray the tale, drawing the reader in while effectively teaching them about iconography without them even realizing that they are learning.

Author Nick Muzekari lives in Hatfield, Pennsylvania, with his wife and their five children. He likes to convey truth, mystery, and beauty through stories. He has also founded and published a literary/art magazine for Christian teens. “A Gift for Matthew” is his first picture book.

Illustrator Masha Lobastov is a classically educated figurative artist. After graduating from the Russian State University for Humanities of Moscow in 1996, she moved to the U.S.A. to continue her artistic goals. She is known for painting portraits, especially those of children. Masha has also collaborated with Ancient Faith Publishing and authors E.C. Johnson and Jane Meyer, illustrating “And Then Nicholas Sang,” “What Do You Hear, Angel?” and “The Hidden Garden.”

Listen to an Ancient Faith Radio interview with author Nick Muzekari about “A Gift for Matthew” here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/exlibris/a_gift_for_matthew

Purchase the book here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/a-gift-for-matthew/

Follow along on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/giftformatthew

Find age-leveled lesson plans for teaching children about icons (intended for use before/during/after a visit to the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Massachusetts, but useful even if the field trip is not possible) here: http://museumofrussianicons.org/en/education/family-school-programs/for-teachers-k-12/. Lessons range in topic from the symbolism in iconography, to the science of writing the icons, to the art of iconography, even the math applied to the writing, and more!



Go on an icon hunt in your home or parish! Print this reproducible page so that your child(ren) can keep track of the icons that you find. http://www.scribd.com/doc/173729877/I-found-Icons

Find line-art patterns for writing icons here: http://www.betsyporter.com/patterns.html

Read more about icons!

  1. “What is an Icon?,” a picture book by St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery, explains what they are. It can be found here: http://www.stanthonysmonastery.org/ccp7/index.php?app=ecom&ns=prodshow&ref=3WHAT_EP.
  2. “Pictures of God,” John Skinas’ multi-leveled picture book explaining icons in a way that children can love and understand (which also happens to be the book that Muzekari was reading when he got the idea for “A Gift for Matthew”) can be found here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/pictures-of-god-a-childs-guide-to-understanding-icons/.
  3. “From God to You,” also by John Skinas, can be found here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/from-god-to-you.

Watch an 8-minute video that shows the complete process of writing an icon (of St. Nicholas), from preparing the wood through the finished product here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZh6geY4hMc

Children interested in writing their own icon may want to consider attending an iconography camp program such as this one: https://avcamp.org/summer-camp/sacred-arts-camp/iconography-camp/.

Gleanings from a book: “From God To You” by John Skinas

“The icon is a place of meeting where you and God can gaze at each other from the two sides of eternity.” ~ John Skinas, From God to You: The Icon’s Journey to Your Heart, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2014, forward.

John Skinas’ latest book, From God to You: The Icon’s Journey to Your Heart, by Ancient Faith Publishing, August 2014, takes young readers on a journey through the history of icons. Using icons as examples, the narrative offers a glimpse into Orthodox Christian history while explaining what icons are, and how/why they are written.

In the body of the book, each spread focuses on one icon. The spread consists of one full-color icon, its title, something specific to notice/look for in the icon, and a child-friendly explanation of the part of history which that icon was selected to represent. These descriptions not only help the readers to better understand part of Church history: but they also tie the icon back to the present, so that the reader can better understand what the icon depicts and how it applies to his/her life.

The book is geared towards children of many ages. It can be perused by very young children, who will love the beautiful icons on its pages. Slightly older children will enjoy seeking  the specific items that the “notice this” note points out in every spread. Older children will enjoy reading the descriptions for themselves and learning about icons throughout history. The whole family would benefit from reading these descriptions together and discussing them. (If used in this way, a family could enjoy at least 12 devotional times based on the spreads in the book!) Grownups and children alike will enjoy reading this book and growing together in their faith through having read it.

“…Burned, smashed, and buried, icons have endured a great deal as they’ve made their way from God to you. They’ve reached you because He wants them in your church, in your home, and in your hands. But most of all, God wants you to keep His image in your heart…” ~ Skinas, first page

John Skinas’ book, From God to You: The Icon’s Journey to Your Heart, is available from Ancient Faith Publishing athttp://store.ancientfaith.com/from-god-to-you-the-icons-journey-to-your-heart/ .

The Sunday of Orthodoxy ~ the first Sunday of Great Lent

What better way to begin the arduous journey of Great Lent than to celebrate our faith and to remember that we are not alone? The Sunday of Orthodoxy allows us to do both. On this day, we celebrate the victory of the true Faith over iconoclasm. We also rejoice in the blessing of being able to be surrounded by visible reminders of the Church Triumphant: those who have gone on before us, enduring the race well until the end; who continue to intercede on our behalf.

This is an exciting and memorable Sunday for our children! Throughout the service, they are able to see all the extra icons others have brought along to church, and anticipate the celebration at the end. Many of the children then join in the parade of icons, even carrying their own icon as we re-enact the Sunday when the icons were restored to the churches. Finally, the children can join in as we all speak (or read) together; getting louder and louder as we go. (We are actually noisy in church!)

It would behoove us as parents to prepare our children for that final portion of the celebration, since it succinctly sums up the Sunday of Orthodoxy in a few sentences. Before we go to church, let us take a few moments to review this affirmation with our children. We can read these sentences together as a family, and explain their meaning to our children. After reading them, let us discuss with our children why it is important to say these words together with other Orthodox Christians around the world. If our children are able to read, let us help them sound out all the words in advance, so that they can better read along on Sunday. If the children cannot read, let us repeat the ending multiple times along with them, so that it becomes familiar enough that they can loudly say as much as possible, together with the rest of us:

As the prophets beheld, as the Apostles have taught,…as the Church has 

received… as the teachers have dogmatized,…as the Universe has agreed,… as 

Grace has shown forth,…as Truth has revealed,…as falsehood has been 

dissolved,…as Wisdom has presented,…as Christ Awarded,…thus we 

declare,…thus we assert,…thus we preach Christ our true God, and honor as Saints 

in words, in writings, in thoughts, in sacrifices, in churches, in Holy Icons; on the 

one hand worshipping and reverencing Christ as God and Lord; and on the other 

hand honoring as true servants of the same Lord of all and accordingly offering 

them veneration. 

(Louder) This is the Faith of the Apostles, this is the Faith of the Fathers, this is 

the Faith of the Orthodox, this is the Faith which has established the Universe.

The Sunday of Orthodoxy is different from other Sundays. It should be, for it reminds us of a very important event that influences our everyday life. Because of the triumph of Orthodoxy, our lives are able to be infused with icons: those visible, tangible reminders of the presence of Christ and His Saints in our lives. It is a day rightly celebrated. Let us do all that we can to prepare our children to celebrate it along with us.

For more information:

Read more about the Sunday of Orthodoxy at http://lent.goarch.org/sunday_of_orthodoxy/learn/.

Hear more about the Sunday of Orthodoxy and the importance of icons at Fr. Thomas Hopko’s podcast at http://www.ancientfaith.com/announcements/the3. Listen to Fr. David Smith’s explanation at http://myocn.net/icons-and-the-sunday-of-orthodoxy/.

Be challenged to better see God by listening to Fr. Andrew Damick’s podcast at http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/emmaus/sermon_mar._24_2013_sunday_of_orthodoxy_seeing_god

Find the order of the celebration at http://www.allsaintsorthodox.org/resources/library/Sunday_of_Orthodoxy.pdf.

Learning About Icons

One of the blessings of our Orthodox faith is the visible reminder of the presence of Christ, the saints, and the angels. In our churches as well as our homes, we have beautiful icons which help us to remember that we are not alone as we struggle in our faith: Christ, the saints, and the angels are indeed present around us, all the time. The icons help us to “see” their presence; and also help us to learn more about them and how they can point us to God. Each icon is full of symbolism and stories.

Father Noah Bushelli, of St. Philip Antiochian Orthodox Church in Souderton, PA, has taken his young parishioners by the hand and led them through the beautiful icons in their church. He has helped the children of his parish to better understand and appreciate the beautiful icons in their midst. Some of his children’s homilies explaining their parish’s icons can be found in his podcast, at http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/letthechildren.

Many of these same icons are found in our own parishes or homes, as well. Let us take time to look at the icons with our children, asking them what they can tell us about each one, and helping our children to learn even more about each icon. The icon writers have blessed all of us by putting a visible image on ideas and stories from long before there were cameras available to record these important events. Let us take advantage of the blessing, and allow the icons among whom we live to speak into our lives so that we, along with our children, can become more like God.