by St. Nikolai Velimirovic
First - because our faith is light. Christ said "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12). The light of the vigil lamp reminds us of that light by which Christ illumines our souls.
Second - in order to remind us of the radiant character of the saint before whose icon we light the vigil lamp, for saints are called "sons of light" (John 12:26, Luke 16:8).
Third - in order to serve as a reproach to us for our dark deeds, for our evil thoughts and desires, and in order to call us to the path of evangelical light; and so that we would more zealously try to fulfill the commandments of the Savior: "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works" (Matthew 5:16).
Fourth - so that the vigil lamp would be our small sacrifice to God, Who gave Himself completely as a sacrifice for us, and as a small sign of our great gratitude and radiant love for Him from Whom we ask in prayer for life, and health, and salvation, and everything that only boundless heavenly love can bestow.
Fifth - so that terror would strike the evil powers that sometimes assail us even at the time of prayer and lead away our thoughts from the Creator. The evil powers love the darkness and tremble at every light, especially at that which belongs to God and those who please Him.
Sixth - so that this light would rouse us to selflessness. Just as the oil and wick burn in the vigil lamp, submissive to our will, so let our souls also burn with the flame of love in all our sufferings, always being submissive to God's will.
From the March 2013 issue of The Word
Eight years ago, David DeJonge came to St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church in Grand Rapids to photograph the wedding of Jamie Abraham, a parishioner of St. Nicholas. David is a very well-known photographer, having completed portraits of many notable Americans (including President Gerald Ford, Henry Kissinger, John McCain, Antony Scalia, Newt Gingrich, Jesse Jackson). Being keenly aware of images, David was struck by the icons recently painted by iconographer, Fr. Theodore Koufos. This first encounter with Orthodox icons was the beginning of a spiritual journey that led to his chrismation in the Holy Orthodox Church. David was again engaged to return to St. Nicholas several times to photograph the installation of other icons with the intent of producing a historical picture-book for the parish. It was through his labor and the icons that David discovered the saints who lived from apostolic times down into the twentieth century.
by the late Archpriest Peter E. Gillquist
Originally from The WORD magazine, February 1990, reprinted in DIAKONIA Spring 2013
Shortly after we moved to Santa Barbara, California, we re-decorated the house, painting the living room and papering the dining room. As we moved the table and chairs back into the dining area, along with the antique hutch that lined up against the west wall, I began to ponder what should go on the wall opposite the hutch. The space was somewhat limited.
Wait a minute, I thought to myself That’s the east wall. Let me find an icon of Christ and another of Mary for either side of the window.
From early times Christians would establish an “icon corner” in their homes, preferably using a corner on the east wall — east being the traditionally biblical direction from which the Son of Righteousness would appear at His second advent. Though this would technically not be an icon corner, I did want to establish the Lord’s presence in our dining room.
The Ikonostasis: Its meaning in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy in Eastern Orthodox Churches everywhere
by Fr. Michael Buben
from The Word, February 1958
Every Orthodox Christian upon entering his Holy Temple for worship sees first a partition dividing the Sanctuary (altar) from the central Body of the building. What is the story for this partition called Ikonostasis?
The Ikonostasis, its present form and ritualistic purpose is a development in the Church, which traces its foundation to the beginning of Old Testament History. During the Theocratic reign of the Hebrews, God Himself, through the lineage of Abraham (Exodus 25, 1-4: Chronicles 28, 19) and Abraham’s descendants, gave instructions and laws by which mankind could receive redemption from the downfall. We read the following instructions given by God to Moses -
“And thou shalt make a vail of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen of cunning work: with cherubims shall it be made. And thou shalt hang it on four pillars of shittim wood overlaid with gold: their hooks shall be of gold upon the four sockets of silver. And thou shalt hang up the vail under the taches, that thou mayest bring in thither within the vail the ark of the testimony: and the vail shall divide unto you between the holy place and the most holy” (Exodus 26, 31-33).
We learn that the ARK was to be placed behind the vail with an altar on which were to be placed two golden Cherubims who were to guard the Ark of the Testament with their wings. The curtain (vail) was to divide the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies! (Sanctum a Sancto Sanctorom.)
by Fr. Paul N. Tarazi
from The Word, April 1983
The Sunday of Orthodoxy is a gathering of commemoration, a commemoration of a bright victory, the victory of the Orthodox Faith at the 7th Ecumenical Synod of Nicaea in 787. Yes! A festivity of victory! This is after all what Orthodoxy Sunday is all about. However, it is to my eyes highly symbolical that, already since its inception in 843, this festivity has taken place on the 1st Sunday of the Great Lent.
In the eyes of the world any feast without meat, eggs and dairy products cannot be a full scale festivity; it is indeed puzzling — if not insane — to celebrate a great victory in such a meager way. But for us, this celebration is held at the beginning of Lent as an ever reminder that it is Pascha (Easter) —the Feast of Feasts, our only ultimate Feast — which is the fulfillment of Orthodoxy. Any other festivity or celebration is by the same token wanting and incomplete until our eyes have seen Jesus Christ, the Joy of our hearts, risen from the dead, smashing down forever sin, sickness and death, and bestowing His Life upon all those who have lost life.
by Janet Jaime
We are each uniquely blessed with gifts from God. Some of us have many gifts and others, only one. My gift is iconography. When we offer our gifts to God, we are really only returning what was given to us, that which we do not own nor can take credit for. God provides us, out of His creation, the materials needed to create.
When making Holy Bread, for example, we use the gifts from the earth – wheat, yeast and water, with a pinch of salt – and return it back to God as an offering which we made with our hands. In iconography, our materials are also taken from the earth – pigments, precious minerals, animal hide glue, whiting, wood, gold and eggs – to create, with our hands, an image to be venerated, an icon created as an act of devotion and prayer to God.
Sometime after I became Orthodox, my priest, Fr. Constantine Nasr, suggested that I should learn how to write icons. He said this in a very matterof- fact way, and through his encouragement gave me an open door into a wonderful world.
I began to observe icons closely and soon realized that they appealed to my particular temperament, which is naturally drawn to doing tight, detailed work. At that time I was an illustrator who worked in a photo-realistic style.
I rather naively didn’t see such a great leap between being slavishly accurate in representing detail recorded by a camera, on the one hand, and being slavishly obedient to the rules of iconography, and following prototypes, on the other hand. Icons, I observed, were classically rendered subjects that obviously required a detailed, exacting, time-consuming process. What a perfect fit for me, a lover of anything tedious, I thought.
“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims [H]is handiwork. Day pours out the word to day, and night to night imparts knowledge.” (Ps 18: 1–2)
Both the Fathers of the Church and modern behavioral scientists have long inquired into the psycho-spiritual process of knowing. Both sources suggest the strong effects that images and our interaction with the natural world have on this process. Through experiencing the important role of icons in prayer and everyday life, the Orthodox Christian gains a practical understanding of the relation between the body, soul, and spirit and how sense perception can help or hurt us in our journey to perceive God’s living presence.
Perception and the makeup of the creature
The focal point is the spirit
God created mankind of not only body, but also soul and spirit . Consider the spiritual meaning of God’s creation of mankind as recounted by the writer of Genesis (2:7): “… then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” We can consider that the word ‘spirit’ as describing the soul. As Solomon, the son of King David and the writer of Ecclesiastes writes (12:7): “… the spirit returns to God who gave it.” The prophet Zechariah, almost 500 years later, during the time when the Jews were under the captivity of the Persians in Babylon, said: “Thus says the Lord, who stretched out the heavens and founded the earth and formed the spirit of man within him.” (12:1). St. Paul tells the Corinthians “If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.” (1Cor 15:44).
By Cindy Egly
There are approximately five million Eastern Orthodox Christians in America (Nabil, 2000). A minority in a nation dominated by Protestants and Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox culture has maintained strong familial and cultural identities. Understanding something about them, being able to lay aside preconceptions and ethnocentricity to view life from the Orthodox Christian’s perspective will allow the onlooker an opportunity to increase in understanding not only of the Eastern Orthodox Christian but of human nature. It is this author’s intent to introduce the reader to an insider’s perspective of iconography in the life of an Orthodox Christian, in the hope that understanding will increase.
A legend passed down for nearly 2000 years describes the first icon. At the time when Christ was traveling to Jerusalem where He would experience the trial and crucifixion, King Abgar of Edessa sent for Jesus. Christ could not go to the King, so instead He sent a linen cloth on which He had dried His face. The story continues that the cloth carried to the King had an impression of Christ’s face on it. The King’s illness was healed when the cloth was taken to him. This first icon, “not made by human hands”, began a tradition of portraying Christ and the saints in pictorial fashion. (Benz, 1963). The entire town of Edessa treasured this first icon, that is the linen cloth with Christ’s face imprinted on it. It was widely acknowledged throughout out the East and still written about in the eighth century (Ouspensky, 1978).