Icons Within Our Lives
Icons, from the Greek word eikon meaning “likeness”, “image”, “representation”, have been central to Orthodox Christian worship since the first century - both as devotional and educational tools.
Devotional as they are manifest prayers and an affirmation of the incarnation of God and signifiers of the mystical union (and the promise of our own transfiguration) celebrated in the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church.
Icons aid us to concentrate our thoughts and prayers as we ask the Saints or Holy Person to intercede on our behalf with God.
Educational by way of illustrating the earthly life of Christ, the Theotokos, His Disciples, the Apostles, the Martyrs of the Church and significant historic events of the Church. These are revered in the Church on special days and in accord with the feasts such as the Nativity, Easter and Pentecost. In days of lesser literacy these would have been essential teaching aids; they still can have that purpose being the visible life of the invisible Church.
The icon is a complexity of meanings. The wood is the tree of life – as well as representing the cross itself. The red framing of the icon is the Old Testament - the Testament of the Law. The recessed centre being the window to Heaven through which the Divine is revealed (thus the reverse perspective) – and therefore represents the New Testament being the Testament of Grace. Colours are equally symbolic. Red is earthly and blue is the Divine. Thus Theotokos being of high-borne earthly status is cloaked in purple red, whilst giving herself to the Divine - the blue wimple and dress. Christ is the Divine and cloaked in blue, taking earthly existence - the red inner shirt. The gold is Divine light - the everlasting light of God. This symbolism enhances the icon giving it a greater depth of meaning for both contemplation and prayer.
The iconostasis within an Orthodox Church divides the earthly from the heavenly; the icons on which are the windows into heaven. The rood screens in English churches once (before the reformation) had a similar purpose. The icon representing the feast and / or Saint of the day is placed in the middle of the nave so the congregation can truly participate in the service and rhythm of the Church year.
Traditionally at home an icon corner is set aside for daily prayer and contemplation so that we may gain fellowship with God. Many households have an icon of a favoured Saint or biblical event.
Newly painted icons of ‘Christ the Pantocrator’ and ‘Theotokos of Kazan’ are an integral part of Orthodox weddings; after the ceremony these are given to the couple as a blessing and for their icon corner. Similarly icons are given at Baptisms, Christenings and name days.