Saturday, November 10, 2007


The icon that you have hanging on your wall is more probably a copy of a true icon than an icon itself. A true icon should be made after prayer and fasting. They are created on wood that was primed with glue mixed with chalk. Gold leaf is applied over a red or dull yellow base over which tempera paints are applied then gold details and finally a transparent varnish. Most of the ones we see are prints plastered on wood.

Icons are in a class of Church art all their own. In fact they are part of the Tradition of the Church and have very legislation governing their appearance. Unlike much of Western Church art that can be fairly fluid depending on what a particular artist is trying to get across, producing an icon is much closer to writing out Scripture, there is not the artist’s trying to emote something he feels about the faith, it is rather a bringing to life of a strict language of faith.

Often those of the Western Church fail to see the significance of icons. It should be noted that they are not mere pieces of art. For example a painted picture of the Virgin Mary and an Icon of Mary and Jesus are two very different things indeed! Though we treat sacred images with the kind of respect we might treat a portrait of an honored member of our family, because icons are tools used to incarnate divine and not sensual matters, they deserve the kind of respect that we would offer, for example, the cross on Good Friday or as when the priest kisses the Gospel at mass.

One does not venerate the picture itself or the materials from which it is made, but the ideal that lies behind. That is why icons can look so odd to western eyes. It is not this world that it is trying to present, but the next. One Byzantine priest explained to me that when one gazes upon an icon, one should look through the eyes of the saint depicted into heaven itself. For these reasons icons are to be treated with more reverence than other pieces of sacred art.

More on icons next week.

Some information for this post came from Michael Schauzer’s article, “Driven to Abstraction” in the July-August 2007 edition of “This Rock”.


Vincenzo said...

"More on icons next week."

I'm looking forward to it. Thank you Father for this enlightening article.

Adoro te Devote said...

Yesterday morning I had the great blessing of being in the presence of Father Loya (of TOB fame) who is an artist, an icographer, and for those who don't know, a Byzantine Priest.

And as part of his 20 minute segment, he discussed an icon, the Trinity.

I'd seen the icon before, think I saved it, but I'd never really SEEN it until he pointed out a couple lines...and now I'm in love.

Iconography is AMAZING!

Maybe I should pursue a contemplative career in iconography...hmmmmmmmm.......


Or not...

Anonymous said...

lol, Adoro.

Fr. V., you've given a couple of needed "aha!" moments of greater understanding, here. Thank you. I know that if there were a Byzantine Rite around here, I'd be leaning heavily toward it, if not on it. The reverence there is something we've strayed too far from, tho' perhaps that seems mostly so here on this coast, I don't know. Of course I am one that always found icons too harsh and/or too ugly (sorry, Easterners--I can be stupid that way), and that was enough to tell me I wasn't seeing clearly, and looked into it a bit. But Fr. V's contrasts here have helped more than a book did, and more than some conversations and a Greek Mass did. I'll be thinking about all this, because it would be helpful (for lack of a better word) indeed to have something as potent as the veneration of the Cross a little more often throughout the year.