Dear Fellow Iconographers:
With world catastrophes like the Hurricane devastation in Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, and earthquakes in Mexico, we have so many urgent applications for our prayers during our icon writing practice. May God continue to send help in many forms to those people afflicted by violent storms. Provide homes, food and safety, O Lord, and bring forth your victory and hope where there is despair and destruction, we humbly pray.
Recently, during the Healing Icon writing Retreat I gave at Holy Cross Monastery, we daily put our prayer requests in a basket on the Icon table and prayed over them during our prayer times together. The subject for the retreat was the Archangel Raphael, and we completed the icons in time to be blessed on the feast day of St. Michael and the Archangels! Each day we spoke about different aspects of the story of Tobit, Tobias, and Archangel Raphael and contemplated the healing aspects of the story, from the fish trying to bite Tobias’ foot, to Archangel Raphael bringing transforming a dangerous woman into a suitable wife. Our Icons are reminders for us of God’s intervention in our lives, and the role his heavenly angels play in bringing His divine will into the experiences of our lives.
In working to understand and define what is meant by American Iconography, I think that religious freedom plays an important role. This country was founded, in part, on the hopes and dreams that new settlers from many different European countries had for freedom to worship in their individual ways. They wanted to express their ideas of how God manifests in their lives and form communities to worship and pray together. There was a great diversity of expression in the Christian communities, and yet each was given the space to develop and grow, peacefully.
Ideally, America is still that country that respects and allows for individual religious freedom. Just as Icons are meant to depict a transfigured reality, I think we iconographers are asked to call forth the best in our worlds, to stand for positive change, and to show others how we can pray and experience God even in a very troubled world.
In Icon writing, we look for examples from the early centuries in order to understand and be inspired by the universal spiritual truths they contain. The American philosopher, John Dewey says of a work of art, eg. the Parthenon, that it ” is universal because it can continuously inspire new personal realizations in experience.”…”The works that fail to become new are not those that are universal but those that are “dated”. He goes on to say “The enduring art product may have been, and probably was, called forth by something occasional, something having its own date and place. But what was evoked is a substance so formed that it can enter into the experiences of others and enable them to have more intense and more fully rounded out experiences of their own.” (Taken from “Art as Experience” by John Dewey)
All this to say that an Icon writer must not only use examples from the past, but must also be able to convey the action and presence of God and the saint depicted through his/her prayers and spiritual efforts of today in order to be an authentic Icon.
Early Celtic Prayer from St. Patrick’s Breastplate
Christ as a light illumine and guide me. Christ as a shield overshadow me.
Christ under me, Christ over me, Christ beside me on my left and my right.
This day be within me and without, lowly and meek yet all powerful.
Be in the heart of each to whom I speak, in the mouth of each who speaks unto me.
This day be within and without me, lowly and meek yet all powerful.
Christ as my light, Christ as my shield
Christ beside me on my left and my right. Amen.
May God bless you and keep you until next month,