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You should not be reading this...

Talk given to Lutheran group at St. Luke Orthodox Church
during Lent 2001 by Alexandria Lukashonak

Icon of the Theotokos

Orthodox Christianity and Iconography go hand in hand -- you don't get one without the other, and so today, I'd like to introduce you to Icons - particularly to the Icon of our Lady of the Sign which is the one you see on the wall of the sanctuary, the one that greets you as you enter our church. The Icon of the Virgin Mary Theotokos, which means birth giver of God, is seen as the heart of the church offering us her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

An icon of the Theotokos looms over the altar in St. Luke.

In Old Testament times, the temple was the place where God dwelled. With the incarnation of Christ, He came to dwell among us and in us. His Mother becomes the new temple and as such she is given an important place in the church.

Before I go on, I'd like to tell you a little bit about what icons are and what they are not:

An icon is a form of Holy Scripture. It represents a true account of a holy person or event, which actually occurred. Icons date back to Genesis 1: 26 humanity was created in the "icon" or "image" and likeness of God, but God had not yet become incarnate and had no visible, physical form. With the incarnation of Christ, that physical form became visible and was able to be depicted. The icon that we see here today is actually a copy of one, which was found in the catacombs dating back to the first century.

As we all know, the bible was not available in the early days of the Church. Even after the word of God was put into writing, it was virtually impossible for the average person to own a copy of the various scriptures. They had to be hand copied on vellum and were very expensive. In addition, the literacy rate in many countries was not high enough for the masses to read the scripture. The Church met this problem early on by adapting iconography, already developed in the first century, to a teaching use. Almost the entire bible would be painted in a manner, which was strictly regulated so that it correctly portrayed the scripture and these icons decorated the walls of churches to the extent that, in some churches, there would be no bare walls left. Iconography, in fact, became another language.

There was a period of time in the 8th century when rulers in the East (Leo III and Constantine V) attempted to subject the Church to their rule. In order to gain control of the Church, they attacked zealous Christians, especially monks, who defended the integrity of the Church. Their attack was specifically aimed at the veneration of icons. Eventually they were defeated and the proper use of icons was confirmed by the Council of Nicea held in 787, long before the church became divided.

Icons are not humanistic drawings of holy persons. They are not sentimental, personal revelations but are called upon to be true and faithful to the spiritual and ascetic qualities of the persons depicted, that is, the true reality of the person as he or she was created to be, unmarred by sin. This is actually what being a "Saint" is all about.

Icons are objects of reverence or respect and veneration or honor. This is very different from worship. We do not worship icons, rather, when correctly made and used in worship, icons give a greater understanding and awareness of spirit and truth and lift the soul upward in adoration of God and his creation. Honor rendered to the image ascends to its prototype and he who venerates an icon, adores the person.

The Icon of our Lady of the Sign which greets you upon entering St. Luke's is so named because she is the sign of the Incarnate Christ coming to us. In Isaiah 7:14, we read: "The Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin shall be with Child and shall call his name Emmanuel (God with us )." It is also known as the Platytera, a Greek word meaning "more spacious than the Heavens." In a hymn from St.Basil's Liturgy, we sing: 'For He made your womb more spacious than the heavens."

The Mother of God is shown with her hands upraised in prayer, and she is offering us her son, Jesus, usually shown in a mandula over her bosom. (A mandula is an oval circle representing the universe and showing that Jesus is the Creator of the universe.) The many winged angels, the cherubim, shown on either side of Mary indicate that she is higher than the angels Again, we sing: " more honorable than the cherubim and beyond compare, more glorious than the seraphim, you gave birth to God the Word. "The letters at the top of the icon stand for Mary, Mother of God, and the letters on either side of Christ are his initials.

The letters in Jesus' halo stand for "O Own" meaning "I am," the name given to him on Mt. Sinai. The placement of this icon in the church is important. It is displayed in the dome over the altar because Mary who presents Christ to the world, also represents us in worship before God and is seen as a model in prayer to her Son, who we are all called to love and worship.

I'd like to close with the words of Peter Gillquist concerning his reaction during one of his early encounters with Icons. (This is taken from Again Magazine, Volume 9, No. 4.)

"I remember entering a church sometime ago and seeing a picture or icon of Mary with open arms front and center on the wall (apse) just behind the altar. My first impulse was to wonder why Christ was not featured at that particular place in the church though he was shown in a large circle that was super imposed over her heart. When I asked why she was so prominently featured, the Christian scholar with me explained: 'This is perhaps one of the most evangelistic icons in the entire church. What you see is Christ living as Lord in Mary's life and her outstretched arms are an invitation to you and me to let him live in our lives as he does in hers.' The power of that icon stays in my mind to this day, for she has set the pace (standard) for all of us to personally give our lives to Jesus Christ.

Icon of the Nativity

Icons in the altar at St. Luke

Written (Painted) by Cheryl Pituch a former Parishioner

An icon of the nativity is on the wall near the altar.

The icon of the Nativity of our Lord is on the North wall above the table of preparation. There is a relationship between the Nativity of Christ and the service of preparation which precedes the Liturgy. In the service the Holy gifts are prepared to be offered as Christ's birth is his preparation to be offered for our sins. The child is rapped in swaddling cloth which is symbolic of his grave rapping's. The icon depicts Joseph being tempted to put Mary away, the wise man, shepherds, angels and star from the East. Also can be seen are the midwifes washing the child Jesus and the barn animals.

The Crucifixion of our Lord

An icon of the crucifixion is on the wall near the altar.

This Icon on the South wall of the altar depicts Christ who said, "And I, If I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to myself." (John 12: 32) The Theotokos, Mary the wife of Clopas, Mary Magdalene, Apostle John and the St. Longinius are standing below the cross. From Christ's side flow blood and water which represent the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist. This is literally the forgiveness of sins that gushed out of Jesus' side; the water gushed unto regeneration and the washing away of sin and the blood as drink productive of life everlasting.

The Eucharist

An icon of the eucharist is on the wall behind the altar.

This Icon of the Eucharist is on the back wall behind the altar showing Christ giving Communion to His apostles. All the apostles are in attendance, including St. Paul who was historically not in attendance at the Lord's Supper. The icon is not of the Lord's Supper, but rather a mystical icon of the Eternal Eucharist which was celebrated in the past, is celebrated in the present and will be celebrated in the future in the Kingdom of Heaven. An open Gospel is present on the Altar with the words of St. Luke. Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, "Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me." (Luke 22: 17-18)