When an Icon Finds Its Home

tikhvin.jpg

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!”).

Comments

  1. Fatherstephen says

    The picture is of the Tikhvin Icon of the Mother of God during its return to the Tikhvin monastery. The crowds that greeted it throughout its journey in Russia have no real counterpart in America. There is nothing religious that we feel this way about.

  2. says

    Fr. Stephen,

    I have to admit I tend to shudder when I see pictures of icons in processions, though I think that the problem is me, and not the icons. I grew up in Taiwan, where the dominant religion is a mixture of Buddhism/Taoism/Animism, and there are lots of idols which are processed through the streets, much like in the picture above, though with more pomp and firecrackers and gongs and even sometimes blood, so that the idol can see its territory. Growing up in a Christian family, it got rightly ingrained that idoletry is wrong. But along with that everything associated with idol worship, ie incense, bowing, processing, praying to any other but God, etc… was also seen as wrong. With icons and the saints, I am slowly learning to understand and appreciate them, but I still do flinch when I see pictures like the one above.

    I am assuming though that the Orthodox do not walk in procession with icons for the same reasons that the Taiwanese walk in procession with idols. I am not totally sure why the Orthodox walk in procession, so I was wondering if you could explain that?

    Also, what about the Catholic, or even perhaps WR Orthodox use of statues instead of, or along with icons. (I’m actually not too sure if WR Orthodox use statues, and whether or not they are used the same as icons. Please forgive and correct me if I’m wrong on this.) Is this icon/statue difference just a cultural difference? Why do the ER Orthodox not use statues? Are there times when devotion to icons or statues become too obsessive? Thanks.

  3. Fatherstephen says

    The original prohibition in the East to statues was precisely because they were too reminiscent of pagan statues. The theology, highly developed, of icons, saw them as “Windows to Heaven,” as making present (hypostatically) what they represent. Processions are done many times in Orthodoxy (they’re called for far more than we do them in the West). Originally, they were very popular parades through the streets of the city, that included stops (stations) for prayers. It was a means of blessing the bounds (something done in England with holy water and prayers). During some battles, icons were marched along the battlements of Constantinople, more than once witnessing the defeat of enemies. No different than the use of the ark of the Covenant.

    Processions, in one sense, are similar to certain aspects found in some pagan areas. In non-liturgical Christianity, the faith has become complet