Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Windows into Heaven

These three icons are the only hand-painted icons in my collections.  At the top are our wedding icons, painted by Fr. Ted Koufos, and below is the icon of my patron saint, The Holy Right-Believing Prince Alexander Nevski, painted by Archbishop Alypy (Gamanovich).

The wedding icons are on the mantle over our fireplace, in what my wife calls "the Russian zone."  On the mantle are an icon of St. Nicholas from Bari, an icon of St. George (my father's patron saint), another icon of the Theotokos, a samovar, and our wedding candles.  Hanging above the mantle is a wooden shield emblazoned with the Imperial Great Seal.

Most of the artwork in our house is iconography.  Each room has at least one icon in it, on its east wall (except the bathrooms and the laundry room), but we do not have a traditional icon corner.  I have been very adamant about my icons, which Tina has accepted with good grace.  Her father is a Baptist preacher, and she has evolved very stringently Protestant views (Cromwellian, as I like to describe them) and so she was quite unnerved by icons initially.


  1. "which Tina has accepted with good grace." is such a short explanation!

    Regarding icons, I was traumatized by a my first visit to an Orthodox church. We drove several hours to a mission church in Alabama. I was told that I needed to cover my hair, which, I had a huge black scarf that was too big and so heavy that it kept falling off during the service. After the service, we had the privilege of having a conversation with the priest, a big guy, very lax, from California. (Altar boy has a little case of hero worship in regards to priest, but I promise you, I'm steadily chipping away it.)

    Well, first of all, the scarf? Priest said I didn't need it. My initial reaction was, "You don't even know your own crazy church rules?" I've since learned that a lot of rules are made to suit the community the church is in.

    Second of all, there was one lady that stayed. I tried to pay attention, but the priest+Tina+Alex conversation quickly became Alex <3's Priest conversation. That's a typical Alex+Tina+Person conversation result. It's just our personalities. This lady, with her hair all done up like some Muslim chick, was Praying... To... An... ICON! She was holding some artificial flowers wrapped together with aluminum foil at the base. (Cue crazy aluminum foil hat that allows you to communicate with aliens.) To my horror, not only did she PRAY to a picture, but she PROSTRATED herself before it several times. Then, she made an OFFERING of the bouquet. I tried to subtly signal to Alex that we needed to get the Hell out of Dodge (i.e. This Devil's Den).

    Eventually we were both safely in the car, with the doors locked (I did end up getting kinda frantic.), in an all but empty gravel parking lot. It looked like any other country Baptist church. It was not. It had incense. Ok. They turned the lights out. Ok, I didn't see any kids smoochin'. No pews. Sure. The head scarf? When in Rome...

    The bowing.

    My body was on high alert with full adrenaline from the bowing during the service. I had very much considered not following suit, and I was conflicted and upset that I hadn't just left the church, that I had succumbed to peer pressure. I mean, the Priest came over and incensed me! I bowed to a human being! (Like most Americans, I have a quiet fascination with royalty, but I hope I never meet Elizabeth because I'm not bowing to her. That would be awkward. I'm sure she'd figure some graceful way to deal with it, but no need to take chances, right?) Still, bowing to a person is not an unforgivable sin. I don't think they're anything more than human beings, and I give them no more credence. Me, God, and Alex can work this out later.

    Then, the lady worshiping the "graven image." That was it. I am ashamed to admit it, but, the question, "Am I going to Hell for this?" got more brain time than it warranted...

    You can imagine what the L-O-N-G ride home was like. I'll spare you the painful details, but this was a key event in developing a way to deal with icons. Eventually, it came to light that the Orthodox church doesn't want it's parishioners interacting with icons the way that lady was.

    I don't bow to icons or people. I shake priests hands instead of asking for a blessing. (This doesn't offend them. They don't actually expect the groupie like behavior Alex exhibits. I get extra room for being non-Ortho, too.) Icons, as a way to help illiterate people remember Bible stories or moral stories, are fine. Interacting with icons is where I get all fidgety. The most interaction an icon is getting from me, is facing East while Alex blesses some food.

  2. Oh, yeah, to emphasize, I rushed Alex into the car, said, "Get in!" he questioned twice, "GET IN THE CAR!" and then I kept repeating, "Lock the doors! Lock the doors! Lock the doors!" until he did. THAT was how freaked out I was.