122: Celebrating Orthodox Icons in Lent

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S
t. Irene (shown above) is among the iconic images that Orthodox writer Father Gabriel Jay Rochelle tells us about today in this special week devoted to the start of Great Lent for Orthodox Christians.
    Remember that you also can join our ongoing reflection at Our Lent, a special page devoted entirely to this Christian season.
    WANT TO READ MORE about Orthodox Great Lent?
    We are setting aside this special week, here at ReadTheSpirit, to celebrate
Orthodox writers. This is Part 3 in this series. If you missed the earlier pieces, you can read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.

 Within this week’s series, you’ll find a number of important cultural bridges. For example, the icon at right, below, depicts St. John of Damascus — a brave and eloquent
defender of icons against harsh criticism in the 8th Century. His writings were
so important that he became a highly respected figure in both the
Western and Eastern churches. More than 100 years ago, he was declared
a Doctor of the Church by the Vatican, a title of great honor in the
Roman Catholic Church.

    Father Gabriel, who wrote today’s story and also wrote Part 2 of our series, is developing the Orthodox Mission in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Today, he tells us about the significance of icons and the celebration, coming up this Sunday, of Orthodox traditions related to these beautiful images.
    He calls today’s piece:

“IMAGE AND ICON”

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     We call the little pictures we click on our computer screens “icons.”  We call Hollywood and TV celebrities “icons.” You’ve seen controversial news coverage in recent years concerning celebrities’ images — from Janet Jackson to Mel Gibson. These stars are cultural “icons.”
    The word icon originally meant “image” — and we are adrift in a sea of images. Many of these images represent nothing important, so they are negative rather than positive because they are void of meaning.

    But there is another meaning of icon.
    Icons are the two-dimensional pictures in all Orthodox and some other churches.
    As Orthodox, we point out to visitors that these icons do not contradict the commandment against graven images. First of all, we do not depict God “who dwells in unapproachable Light.” And, we do not make idols of these images — but we honor the reality of what they depict, which St John of Damascus (675-749) called the “prototype.”

    Here’s the relationship, according to St. John of Damascus: An icon is to a person as the written word is to the Gospel. We do not worship the image but we venerate the saint, whom God glorified. No one confuses the image with the reality.
    Since Christ, “the image of the invisible God,” came in the flesh, he may be depicted in an icon. We also depict the saints in whom Christ is manifest, especially Mary the Theotokos or “God-bearer,” and we depict scenes from their lives.
    Icons light up the Holy; they are buoys and markers on the sea of faith.

    In the 8th Century, conflict arose between iconoclasts, who smashed icons that the faithful held sacred, and iconodules, who saw in and through icons a revelation of divine love.
    To the eye of faith, the icon is a window through which we see God and through which God sees us, addresses us and calls us. The iconodules won the day, although it took almost two centuries to end the controversy. The Council of Ephesus in 787 resolved the issue, but it took until 842 to end the controversy.
    Orthodox Christians annually observe this victory, called The Triumph of Orthodoxy, on the First Sunday in Great Lent.

    This is a wonderful observance. When we stand and pray before icons, we gather with the saints in the Body of Christ. Father Michael Westerberg of New Haven Connecticut puts it this way: “In church, I am surrounded by my friends.”
    What a way to see it! Here is St Nina and St Seraphim — there is St Irene (pictured above) and St Athanasius. They lived and died for the faith. They enhance our lives and lead us into the fullness of faith.
    Over against icons stand those negative images that bombard us through a variety of media. Sacred icons show us, silently, the holiness found in the humble pursuit of God’s Way of peace, justice, and love.

     One last secret of the icons is this: They are signs of who we are, because you and I are made “in the image and likeness of God.” Hence the icons show us people just like us who, forgiven and restored by Christ and full of the Spirit, demonstrated that image and likeness in a clear and refreshing way.
    St Irenaeus long ago said that the highest image of God is a human being, fully revealed.
    This is the goal the icons express for all of us.

(THUS ENDS Father Gabriel’s story.)

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SEND an Icon E-Card — or LISTEN to Orthodox hymns!
     We’ve been offering BONUSES each day to provide a better window into the Orthodox world.
    Yesterday, in Part 2 of this series, we provided a link to some traditional Orthodox recipes by a Coptic Christian writer — all appropriate dishes to enjoy during the no-meat, no-dairy fast of Great Lent.
    TODAY, we’ve got a link to Iconograms, an E-Card Service of the Department of Internet Ministries of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of  America.
     Visitors to Icononograms can begin customizing their messages by selecting an icon from a database made up of hundreds of holy images. Each Iconogram E-Card functions both as a greeting card and a teaching tool. Along with a personalized message, each card provides an Orthodox description of a saint or feast related to the icon. The message also includes a suggestion of an appropriate hymn for the feast.
    The icon shown at right is suggested for Orthodox Sunday cards — or you can choose another image from the database.

     The Greek Orthodox site also offers other online resources, including audio clips you can play to hear many hymns for Great Lent. NOTE: The Hymns page starts with the final days of Great Lent, at the top — but you will find hymns associated with Orthodox Sunday lower on the page. Just scroll down to see all the offerings.

    Plus, the Archdiocesan site offers The Ark, a 24-hour Internet radio stream of Orthodox music and meditations.

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