Contributor Sr. Esther, she is a Benedictine Spiritual Direction and ready to take on more people.
The word Icon means Image
The person who paints icons is known as an iconographer and iconography means icon writing. However, this is not a strict terminology since we often use the term icon painting. In addition there is a secret interior prayer revealed through the iconography practice.
Icon painting is interior prayer in itself. It requires effort and ability to paint, which comes also with practice of both painting and praying. Secret interior prayer is revealed in icon images when an artist conveys in paint his/her own outlook, emotions, impressions, moods and comprehension. The persona of an icon painter is absorbed by living faith and, ideally, Orthodoxy. However, the aim of the iconographer is to express or reveal the soul or the spiritual essence depicted in Christ, the Mother of God, an angel or a saint.
Secret Interior Prayer
So when we are looking at saints in icons we see a person transfigured in Christ. When we view Christ, we see Him as the image of God in human form. In Mary we see the “God bearer.” Icons are aids to contemplation and prayer for our God-given nature to pray.
However, not all icons draw people to interior prayer; it seems that icons either attract or detract people from prayer; one either is drawn to them or not.
For those who are drawn to them it is needful to know that the icon is a prototype of the person represented.The icon image exists to connect you. This can be an aid to do so throughout the day by placing an icon on one’s desk, over the kitchen sink, or in the car or traveling with a small icon card.
When praying at home one can have a small icon corner and light a candle to illumine the icon to provide an atmosphere of prayer. For some people just looking attentively at an icon and let God speak to them is a form of prayer
Liturgy and Iconography
Above all icons are part of worship in the Orthodox Liturgy, and hours of prayer. Within the Liturgy itself icons and frescoes in the church are seen by the eyes, incense is smelt, and the singing of parts of the Office and hymns are heard by the ears. The senses of a person are taken up to a higher realm in an atmosphere of prayer. During the Liturgy people may feel free to light candles before a specific icon with a holy kiss it to express devotion and veneration. This is not worshiping an icon but venerating the person the icon represents. As St Basil puts it: “the adoration of the icon passes to the prototype, that is to say to the holy person represented.”
The person represented will show not an earthly portrait, as in a photograph. Rather, a transfigured person living in the light of God. So the iconographer wants to express the Divine nature with which Christ and the saints are endowed and the inner reality which endows them. This is done by a certain symbolic use of forms and colors. A person is viewing an icon like a vehicle or window for meeting the Divine presence. Ouspensky puts it: “like a door opening on to the divine life to the Christian.”
Iconographers and the Soul
John of Damascus affirmed that “icons are theology not only in words but in images,”. He said that when my thoughts torment me and prevent me from reading I go to Church. I can also gaze at an icon and be held, my soul is moved to praise God; I contemplate the martyr’s valor…and his zeal inflames me…I adore and pray to God through the martyr’s intercession and communion. This this can be done with an image of Christ, the Mother of God, or any saint as an aid to draw us to a deepening our interior prayer and Presence within.
Sr. Esther, commending myself to your prayer
Sister Ester and I met on Linked In. She is an iconographer who is continually learning in practice, teaching and delighting in undertaking this art form. An objective to spread this knowledge and create an ecumenical monastic community for the advancement of interior prayer
For more information about Mary Jane Miller’s meditations in Mexico and her wonderful ministry, visit San Miguel icons. Find out about her books on lulu. You can follow Mary Jane on Facebook. Mary Jane’s workshops have been suspended due to Covid. Stay tuned at Sacred Icon Retreats. I am offering Thursdays in the studio again.