I’m not sure you’ll find any of this written in books about the Orthodox faith – it’s only an oral tradition, and I’m not sure you can exactly call it a “tradition.” All I can say is that I’ve “heard” it more than once. And I’ve seen it’s truth.
It has to do with icons – with them finding us – which is not to be confused with us finding them.
There is a common tendency, not surprisingly, to want to rush out and buy lots of icons when you first discover Orthodoxy. At one point my icon corner at home looked busier than an ecumenical council, with at least as many saints in attendance! I enjoyed the company, but most of the icons were there simply because I owned them. If I liked one, I bought it.
This, of course, is a function of icons (mounted prints) not being expensive – and – if you learn to decoupage, less expensive still.
What I heard once, was, “Don’t look for the icons. They’ll find you.” Now, of course, this is not a rule and is not written anywhere. But I started paying attention to the advice. I cleaned up my icon corner, gave many icons away, and left up what seemed important to me.
Over the years icons have “found” me. Some were icons of saints I did not know but needed to know. One was an icon of Christ, quite small, that I found in a junk shop in South Carolina. I say He found me, because all of the junk around the icon seemed to disappear and I saw Him. There was nothing for it but to buy the icon and take it home. It remains among my favorite icons of Christ.
I’ve heard many stories since of icons “finding” people. Not all the icons I own have such stories – but there are many with such stories – stories of relationships – in this case between sinner and saint. And it is such stories that say more about why we pray with icons than the theories of “hypostatic representation” that I could lecture on should you like.
If you read the stories of some of the great icons – many have just this quality. One is found floating in the ocean, another at the root of a tree. One seems to insist on being hung on the doorway rather than in the Church. Others have fled countries during times of revolution only to return to massive crowds and adulation – like a returning monarch, or Christ on the road to Jerusalem.
None of the little icons in my “beautiful” corner have such large stories, but many have their own small stories – each of which binds me ever deeper to the company of heaven, drawing me out of my all-too-willing sojourn in hades – calling me home (“higher up and further in!”).