May 18th: What is an icon?

Today, we take a break from our history lessons, to learn more about icons themselves.

An icon is neither a portrait nor a work of art:  it is a prayer. It is a glimpse of heaven, making the eternal somewhat more tangible, more definite. An icon reveals who it represents and for that reason, it is considered not so much a "picture" but a "presence," a "window into heaven," through which the light of heaven can emerge and shine upon the world, and through which we can all be in communion with God.

Iconography holds its tradition from works done in monasteries or in forest hermitages, and there are different schools from which one can learn the specifics of writing an icon. The artist writing an icon does not only follow his imagination as source of inspiration, but uses patterns fixed by the rigorous traditions of the Church. On a plain background, free of any ornamentation, which could distract the attention, and with no expression of depth, the artist depicts a spiritual being.

Once the icon is finished, it is solemnly blessed by a priest and, for the faithful, becomes something quite different from what it was in the workshop of the artist: it becomes an object of special veneration because of the direct link to the Saint it represents.

Icons have always had special meaning for both the Eastern and the Western Christian Churches, bringing the faithful from both denomination together in their veneration of Jesus, Son of God, Mary, mother of Jesus, and many other saints and angels. During this month of May, may we deepen our knowledge of this unique and complementary aspect of the Eastern and Western Christian Churches, so that the beauty reflected in these icons may open us to a whole new understanding of God’s mysteries and graces.

Dominique Leboeuf