Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Fun Facts: Orthodox Christian Icons

Orthodox "Fun" Facts, if you will: explaining certain aspects of Orthodox iconography. Icons depict people and events of Christian history.

As a Youth Director, I find myself often using Orthodox icons as a main focus when teaching.  Examples include our Church School/Sunday School lessons for our High School Juniors and Seniors, Family Night Program Teen Discussion Series, JOY Club activities, and OCF & YAM lessons.

I usually prepare hand-outs with a printed copy of an Orthodox icon, whether it be a lesson on a Feast in the Life of the Church, Life of an Orthodox Saint, or parables and events during the Life of Christ and His Ministry.  While the use of an icon is proposed as one aspect of the lesson; it seems to take on a life of its own when I'm teaching.  During our Church School lessons, the teens main questions or comments relate to the icon shown in class or on our hand-outs.

One such lesson dealt with the Great Feast of Theophany (Baptism of our Lord).  I was holding an icon of Theophany and one of my teens asked "who/what are the figures at the bottom in the water under Jesus?"  Turning the icon in my hand for a better look, I had a genius moment thinking to myself: I HAVE NO IDEA!

Theophany of our Lord
I decided to do some research and found out that in the bottom of most Theophany Icons, little creatures appear to be fleeing from the feet of Christ. This is a reflection of the words of the Psalmist regarding the Messiah (Christ): "the sea saw and fled, the Jordan turned back" (Psalm 114:3).

The Icon of the Nativity of our Lord:

Nativity of our Lord
In this icon is depicted St. Joseph the Betrothed conversing with an "old man" in the bottom left corner.  This old man represents the devil and his attempt at confusing and tempting Joseph of this great miracle, the birth of the Son of God.  He is beset with new doubts regarding this birth, and these doubts are delivered to him by satan in the form of an old man, as recorded in the Protoevangelium. The devil suggests that if the infant were truly divine He would not have been born in the human way.

The Icon of Ascension:

Ascension of our Lord
In this icon depicting the Ascension of our Lord (40 days after His glorious Resurrection), our Lord was taking into Heaven. As the Acts of the Apostles tell us, "...He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as He was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 'Men of Galilee,' they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, Who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven."

This icon is truly a "double icon" meaning that it depicts two events: the Ascension and also the Second & Glorious Coming of our Lord. Our clue to this meaning is the fact that one man who is depicted was not actually present at the Ascension. In the lower right, up front of the icon is the Apostle Paul (dressed in blue and red next to the Theotokos). We know from Scriptures that St Paul was not part of Jesus' following during His earthly ministry, but converted later on in the Early Church.

Icons of Martyr Saints:

St Barbara
St Catherine

St Edward
Saints who have been martyred are usually depicted holding a cross in their hand to symbolize and relate their
strong defense of their Faith even in the face of death.

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

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