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A Beginner’s Guide to Icons


Woven all through the Gospels is the interaction between religion and seeing. Is seeing believing? Or can we first need to consider with a purpose to see? That theme rests on the coronary heart of a lot preaching and biblical instructing. If we’re trustworthy with ourselves, most of us would possibly merely say together with the daddy in Mark 9:23: “I do consider, Lord: assist my unbelief.” As with so many different points, Holy Mother the Church provides us with assist for our dilemma. In this case? The Church gives us holy icons, maybe the best reward of Eastern Christianity to the Body of Christ.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2557): “‘I need to see God’ expresses the true want of man.” Humans are visible learners and seekers. But as a result of God is past our pure perceptual skills, we first needed to get hints about Him via the prophets of the Old Testament as a result of “thou canst not see my face: for man shall not see me and stay” (Exodus 33:20). Pagans made idols in each human and animal types to depict their gods, however the Israelites have been forbidden to take action. The Incarnation of Christ modified every thing.

Without attempting to be flippant, let’s put this in twenty-first century phrases. Before Christ’s look on earth, we might by no means “take a selfie” with God; nevertheless, as a result of Jesus was and is each God and man, he shared our flesh and blood bodily actuality in time and area—God (within the second Person of the Trinity, the Word made flesh) may very well be seen. And if He may very well be seen, he may very well be depicted. Thankfully, our long-ago Christian brethren had a well-developed sense of the holy and have been cautious about how they visually introduced Our Lord. That understanding resulted in icons and iconography.

But not everybody was able to embrace this improvement. Some appeared again to the prohibitions underneath the previous covenant and perceived idolatry in using icons. Those two competing concepts led to greater than 100 years of precise violence and competing official edicts within the Byzantine Empire, with peace solely coming after vigorous theological debate and the Second Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in A.D. 787, and culminating within the “Triumph of Orthodoxy” over iconoclasm in A.D. 843. The two primary theologians defending icons have been Ss. John Damascene and Theodore the Studite. They confirmed that icons are honored, not worshiped, and that the veneration is just not for the fabric (paint, wooden, and so forth.) of the icon, however for the holy particular person portrayed. As the Catechism places it, “Christian iconography expresses in pictures the identical Gospel message that Scripture communicates by phrases. Image and phrase illuminate one another” (1160). While within the Latin West we have now stained glass and statutes to assist us concentrate on God, the East makes use of icons for that divine objective.

The “guidelines” about icon portray, show, and veneration arose within the Christian East. Iconographers have “canons” to information them in portray—or “writing,” as many want to place it—protecting every thing from correct supplies (egg tempera on board is most well-liked) to preparations of figures and scenes. Because icons are primarily works and objects of devotion, iconography by no means developed in the best way Western portray did. But just like the well-known icon of the Theotokos we now know as Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Eastern sacred artwork is more and more appreciated within the West. One main Catholic artist and teacher with a lot to say about icons is David Clayton, whose writing can discovered on the New Liturgical Movement and his personal web site, The Way of Beauty. Clayton has made it his mission to assist the curious perceive artwork and its relationship to religion.

Those new to icons shouldn’t be intimidated. Here are some (hopefully) helpful ideas and solutions to FAQs.

  • Where can I purchase icons? Most respected Catholic bookstores and provide shops will carry sacred artwork, together with icons. Eastern Catholic church supply stores will definitely carry them. Keep in thoughts that technically most icons in the marketplace are reproductions or prints. Hand-painted icons price fairly a bit extra. Original icons might be discovered on locations comparable to eBay and Etsy and, as at all times (particularly with icons coming from abroad) caveat emptor.
  • What do I “do” with my icons? The very first thing is to get it blessed by a priest. (Unless you might be certain this has already been executed.) Icons are sacramentals, identical to rosaries, scapulars, and so forth. Then it’s a must to discern how the icon would possibly match into your devotional life. You can cling a vigil lamp or put a candle close to it, and you may put collectively an “icon nook” which turns into a spotlight of your prayer, meditation, and contemplation. Usually icons are kissed, which might additionally imply kissing one’s fingers after which touching the icon. Don’t get hung up on “doing every thing proper.” Think of the icon as a part of your dialog with God. Be respectful. And perhaps having God or a saint “watching” you can be useful in preserving your resolutions!
  • Are there totally different kinds of icons? Yes. While there are parameters iconographers typically observe, there are totally different colleges of iconography in addition to cultural expressions. For occasion, icons from Egypt and Ethiopia usually depict figures with outsized eyes.
  • What ought to I search for in an icon? Let God communicate to you. Is there a saint you’re feeling particularly drawn to? Maybe an icon will enable you to meditate on her life, virtues, and charism. Perhaps a selected type will draw you, or a scene from the lifetime of Christ or Our Lady. Icons assist us conform ourselves to God, however they don’t seem to be one-size-fits-all.
  • Can I paint my very own icons? Like any religious endeavor, it’s advisable to get coaching and steering from somebody achieved within the artwork. The curiosity in icon portray has grown in recent times, and there at the moment are many workshops and retreats on iconography.

With all this in thoughts, let’s return to our opening theme: Is seeing believing? St. John Damascene wrote: “The fantastic thing about the photographs [icons] strikes me to contemplation, as a meadow delights the eyes and subtly infuses the soul with the glory of God” (CCC 1162). Is believing seeing? The Catechism solutions that for believers: “sacred pictures [icons] in our church buildings and houses are supposed to awaken and nourish our religion within the thriller of Christ” (1192). Whether an icon sparks perception, or by coming to religion we will totally respect the religious classes of icons, we must always be grateful for one other reward from heaven.

Image by Anna Davidovskaya on Shutterstock



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