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.
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
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.
Icons in the altar at St. Luke
Icon of the Nativity
Written (Painted) by Cheryl Pituch a former Parishioner
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
The Crucifixion of our Lord
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.
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:
St. Basil the Great and St. John Chrysostom
The icons of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great are located
under the windows above the Altar. They were placed there to honor the two saints who
revised the ancient apostolic Liturgy of St. James. (To view the Divine Liturgy page with complete text please
click here) These two revisions
of the Liturgy are the most frequently used liturgies in the Orthodox Church and are
named after these two church fathers.
To view the Life of St. Basil the Great, please
To view the Life of St. John Chrysostom, please
Iconastasis or Icon screen
The Iconastasis or Icon screen was made by Rob Ketchmark the husband of
one of our parishioners. The icons on the Iconastasis were painted by Heather MacKean who
resides in Portland, Oregon. An Iconastasis is a trademark for Orthodox Churches. They are
patterned after the wall in the Jewish temple which separated the woman's court from the
sanctuary. This shows our connection with the Old Testament. The icons on it signify our
unity with Christ, His mother and all angels and saints.
Icons of Christ and the Theotokos
The Icon on the left of the Altar table is of the Virgin and Child which
commemorates the Incarnation of Christ and His first coming. The Icon of Christ on the
right commemorates the Apocalypse (Second Coming) of the risen Christ. The Altar table
which separates the two icons represents our time in which we communicate with God through
His Son who is given to us in the Eucharist (Holy Communion).
Icons of St. Luke & St. Innocent
The second to the right and left on the Iconastasis are icons of St.
Luke and St. Innocent. According to the parish tradition, the patron saint of the parish
appears to the left of the Virgin and child (Greek) or to the right of Christ (Russian).
Usually in the Greek tradition St. John the Baptist appears on the right of Christ. By
putting St. Luke on the left as in the Greek tradition and St. Innocent to the right as in
the Russian tradition we signifying the Pan Orthodox nature of St. Luke Parish.
Icon of Archangel Michael & Archangel Gabriel
The Archangels Michael and Gabriel appear on the two deacons' doors on
the far left and right of the Iconastasis. They are placed on the doors as guards
signifying that this is a holy place and to enter with fear and trembling. Michael, in
Hebrew, means "Who is Like God." St. Michael is depicted with spear in hand with which he
attacks Satan. He is considered to be the guardian of the Orthodox faith and fighter
against heresy. He is the leader of the angelic army and when Satan fell away from God and
carried half of the angels with him it was Michael who arose and cried to the unfallen
angels "Let us give heed! Let us stand aright; let us stand with fear, and the whole
angelic army sang aloud "Holy Holy Holy Lord God of Sabaoth: Heaven and earth are full of
Your glory." ( See Joshua 5:13-15 & Jude 9)
Gabriel means "power of God." St. Gabriel is the herald of the
mysteries of God, especially the mystery of the Incarnation and all those that are linked
with it. He is the angel who announced to Mary, "Rejoice highly favored one, the Lord is
with you blessed are you among women" (Luke 1:28)
Icons of the Royal Doors
The Royal Doors witness to the good news, the Gospel of salvation. The
icon of the Theotokos and the Angel Gabriel at the center of the doors proclaim the first
good news when the Angel announced to Mary that she would be with child of the Holy Spirit
and give birth to a Son who would be Emanuel-God with us. ( Luke 1:24-36) Mary, because of
her Virginity is called, in Liturgical text, The Closed Door. The second announcement of
the good news, Christ's resurrection, came through the four Evangelists, Matthew, Mark,
Luke and John. These icons are placed around the Annunciation icon. The icons of David and
Solomon appear on the Royal doors because of their kingship and kinship to our Lord.
Solomon is mentioned in the scripture in the construction the temple doors. (Kings 6:32 &
Chronicles 3:7) The doors also refer to the coming of Christ when the "King of Glory will
come in." (Psalm 24:9)
Icons of the Theotokos and Angel Gabriel
Tradition says that the Angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary while
she was spinning yarn and announced to her that she would give birth Jesus Christ
(Luke 1:31) The icon shows Mary with yarn in her hand. A verse from the Canon of St.
Andrew or Crete describes in a poetic way the story of the Annunciation. "O pure Virgin,
the flesh of Emmanuel was formed within your womb as a robe of crimson is spun from
scarlet silk. We proclaim you to be truly the Mother or our God."
The Four Evangelists
The center of the royal doors are adorned with icons of the four
evangelists. St John and St. Luke are on the left with St. Mark and St. Matthew on the
right. For more inforamtion on their lives please use the links below.
To view the Life of St. Luke the Evangelist, please
To view the Life of St. Mark the Evangelist, please
To view the Life of St. John the Evangelist, please
To view the Life of St. Matthew the Evangelist, please
Icons of Soloman and David
At the top of the Royal Doors are depicted the Prophet David and the Prophet Solomom.
The icons of David and Solomon appear on the Royal doors because of their kingship and kinship to our Lord.
Solomon is mentioned in the scripture in the construction the temple doors. (Kings 6:32 &
To view the life of the Prophet David, please
To view the life of the Prophet Solomon, please
Pentecost (The decent of the Holy Spirit)
The Icon between the ceiling and arch is of Pentecost (The decent of the Holy Spirit) which
occurred 50th days after Pascha when the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles in the form
of fiery tongues. (Acts 2: 1-4) The Icon portrays the historical event which occurred in
Jerusalem in 33AD. St. Paul is depicted in the lower left of the icon. At that time he was
not a follower of Jesus Christ and not in attendance on Pentecost. He received the gift to
the Holy Spirit when he was baptized in Damascus. This icon transcends Pentecost and
symbolized the decent of the Holy Spirit on the entire Church - past, present and future.
Mandelion or Icon Not Made With Hands
The Icon at the very apex the arch is called the Mandelion or Icon Not
Made With Hands. It is the face of Jesus Christ which mystically appeared on the napkin
which was used by St. Veronica to wipe our Lord's face on his way to Golgotha. The holy
napkin was sent by the Apostles to Abgar King of Edessa who was gravely ill for the
purpose of healing him. It was placed in a niche above the city gates of Edessa. This
began the practice of placing this Icon at the entrance of the Church or over the Holy
To view the Life of St. Veronica, please
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Sabaoth
Painted under the arch over the altar are the words "Holy, Holy, Holy
Lord God of Sabaoth." (Isaiah 6: 3) These words are proclaimed by the Seraphim who are six
winged angels who fly around the house of the Lord as described by the prophet Isaiah. The
Seraphim are depicted at the top of the arch, above the Icon of the Theotokos in the apse,
in the window wells and along the sides of the arch.
The word "Sabaoth" means hosts, almighty or Jehovah the God of the
unseen armies of angels. This shows a parallel between the house of the Lord in heaven and
the presence of Christ in the Church.
Icon Of St. Luke
The Icon of St. Luke was given in memory Evangeline and Edward Saad for the 25th anniversary of St. Luke Parish. This Icon is displayed in the Narthex of St. Luke Church. It shows St. Luke painting ( writing) the first Icon of the Theotokos. It is the wonder working Theotokos Icon of Tikhvin thought to be actually painted by St. Luke. The original of this Icon was brought to Chicago in 1949 by then Archbishop John when he fled from Russia after the World War II. It was returned to the Monastery of Tikhvin in 2004.
To view The Wonder-working Tikhvin Icon Of The Mother Of God, please click here
The iconographer is Cheryl Pituch one of the founding members of St. Luke parish.