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#414696 01/28/16 11:29 AM
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As an Orthodox catechumen I have had struggles with this, as I am coming from a very conservative Protestant background.

Orthodox view icons as "windows into heaven" or may I even say a portal of some type, and that "The honor paid to the image passes to the prototype" (Basil of Caesarea).

I am trying to understand this and don't mean to offend. That being said, I am very concerned. In venerating icons I want to know that I am actually dealing with the heavenly realms on the other side and not opening myself up to accessing another dimension that may be questionable.

Can I not pray to Christ, Mary and the saints without the use of icons? I don't understand the great emphasis on having to make that "connection" with them by venerate an image on an icon.

Littlepilgrim64

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Dear Little Pilgrim,
Your question is a good one; thank you for your honesty and goodwill.

Praying (or speaking) of an icon with a devotion TO the icon is forbidden. The materials in an icon are only particles and have no merit on their own except that it may be blessed by a priest. But the same is true of a gravestone of a loved one in a cemetery. One can go there and speak to the loved one; one's voice may be directed to the headstone but of course one is speaking to the beloved one.
Church Tradition gives an opportunity to speak to the one in the icon using the medium of this special representation.
But, you ask, WHY not speak directly, WITHOUT the iconic representation? Good question. It facilitates one's prayer, making it easier to "picture" the One to whom one speaks. If I pray before the icon of Christ saving the adulteress from stoning, it should start me contemplating if I am judgmental or merciful, am I harsh and in need the counsel of the Holy Spirit, whom I have addressed through prayer.

That's an easy example, a tougher reasoning to you may be praying before an icon of, say, St Peter. One must have a knowledge about Peter, of his weakness and of his faith; his strength and his love for and confidence in the Christ. Then one can draw on the inspirations and returned prayers from the Apostle.

I hope this makes sense and is helpful.

Christ is amongst us!

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Thank you for your clarification, Paul.

Something else that I am confused on is that if say, for example, I have an icon of the Theotokos in my home, is she at all times somewhat present in my home through the icon, or is it only when I pray and ask for her intersession that I am making a connection to her? Perhaps I'm overthinking things.

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I don't think I can answer well, maybe someone else can.
We pray in that the Holy Spirit is "everywhere present and filling all things" but that doesn't apply to our Loving Mother.
My best answer to your question is "I don't think so, but she hears and responds when we pray to her."

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At the risk of opening up a contentious can of worms, I'll jump in here. The definition used by Fr. Bertha of the Eparchy of Passaic is "The portrayal of the presence of the person portrayed." If you think about that definition it would seem to imply the presence of the Holy One in some sense. Also, St. Basil's dictum that the veneration given to an icon passes to its subject would also indicate a contact far different than that of western religious art, which can inspire wholesome thoughts and piety, but does not claim any special contact. There has recently been a discussion on the Iconography section of the forum concerning three Russian icons which may be helpful. There is a suggestion to read "The Meaning of Icons" by Lossky and Uspensky; that's a good place to start.

Also, your concern about inadvertently getting involved in idolatry is understandable with your background. This is a valid concern; there are so-called "icons" out there which are clearly un-Christian. I have seen examples of such treatment for Gandhi, Harvey Milk, Jonathan and David as a gay couple and even Gregory Rasputin! But if you stick with icons of approved patterns (Christ, The Theotokos, recognized saints, holy events and so on) and have them blessed upon the altar during a Divine Liturgy, there is nothing to worry about and a lot to gain by incorporating them into your prayer. Also, the priest should be knowledgeable enough to refuse a blessing for any questionable material. And remember, you are not worshiping the icon; the icon is rather a special conduit to the person portrayed. A prayer for the intercession of the Theotokos before her icon and the veneration with a kiss , or simply holding the image in your hands during prayer, can intensify your prayer or even simply serve as a comfort if you are praying about something devastating in your life.

There is an old Russian proverb that runs, "Before any foul deed, take out the saints." The meaning is that one should remove the icons from any area where one wishes to indulge in some sin. Two implications: first, we really don't want the icons to "witness" our sin; second, by the time we get the icons away from the area, presumably we would think better of our nefarious plans and we end up avoiding the sin altogether. Removing the icons is just too much work to go through simply to indulge some passing passion! Perhaps this could serve as a sort of intro to your relationship with icons, a very practical thought concerning the cloud of witnesses in your own home.

Sorry to run on so long. I have a kind of "thing" for icons and tend to run on and on and on and on...

God bless you on your journey, Little Pilgrim!

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Thank you both, PaulB and bwbyzman, for helping me to gain some headway into understanding these things!

I will look into the work you suggested by Losskey and Uspensky with regard to icons, bwbyzman.

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The icon is a prayer. You are not praying to it, but rather joining the prayer.

hawk


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