Icons

I know that there are a lot of things about icons which if understood give the viewer a richness of comprehension and if anyone here can provide me with some I would appreciate it.

All I really know now is that often one will see one eye higher than the other which indicates the dual natures of the Christ.

What else is there when looking at icons that one can see if one only knew how to “see”?

[quote=HagiaSophia]I know that there are a lot of things about icons which if understood give the viewer a richness of comprehension and if anyone here can provide me with some I would appreciate it.

All I really know now is that often one will see one eye higher than the other which indicates the dual natures of the Christ.

What else is there when looking at icons that one can see if one only knew how to “see”?
[/quote]

How about the three letters ‘O W N’ which are written in the cross of Christ’s halo? It is Greek for “He Who Is” and it refers back to the Old Testament relevation when Moses asked God: What is your name? God said: “I Am Who I Am.”

By putting this “He Who Is” in Christ’s halo it is a claim for His divinity, to be the “I AM.” It is also a claim that He is the “express image of the Father” who can never be seen.

Also, look at any icon of Christ as a babe with His most holy Mother. He will have a rolled up scroll in His hand. It is the scroll of the Old Testament which is now completed in Christ, rolled up in a sense. The “Verbum Dei” which was, until the Incarnation, the Scriptures of the Hebrews has been completed and fulfilled by this Baby who is Himself the Word of God, the “Verbum Dei.” This Child is greater than the Scriptures, and greater than the Temple.

[quote=Fr Ambrose]How about the three letters ‘O W N’ which are written in the cross of Christ’s halo? It is Greek for “He Who Is” and it refers back to the Old Testament relevation when Moses asked God: What is your name? God said: “I Am Who I Am.”

By putting this “He Who Is” in Christ’s halo it is a claim for His divinity, to be the “I AM.” It is also a claim that He is the “express image of the Father” who can never be seen.

Also, look at any icon of Christ as a babe with His most holy Mother. He will have a rolled up scroll in His hand. It is the scroll of the Old Testament which is now completed in Christ, rolled up in a sense. The “Verbum Dei” which was, until the Incarnation, the Scriptures of the Hebrews has been completed and fulfilled by this Baby who is Himself the Word of God, the “Verbum Dei.” This Child is greater than the Scriptures, and greater than the Temple.
[/quote]

Ah thank you so much - that’s exactly the kind of thing I was looking for and I’ve always wondered about the scrolls.

Along with the Greek letters O W N (omicron, omega and ni) the halo around Christ’s head will often have nine rays, two on one side of each letter and one on the other, which represent the nine ranks of angels.

Icons of Christ have him clothed in red with a blue cloak covering. Red dye was prohibitively expensive and only accessible to royalty or the very wealthy, while blue dye was very cheap and used by the common people. This represents Christ’s divine nature clothed in our humanity. Icons of Mary on the other hand show her clothed in blue with a red cloak covering. This represents her humanity as now being glorified, sharing in Christ’s divine nature.

Icons of Mary and the Christ child never show Christ as a baby, but more like a miniature adult. This is to show that while Christ truly was born a human, He was not a new person as we are but had always existed from before all ages.

Icons of the crucifixion show Christ standing on the cross despite being dead, not hanging from it. This is because Christ has defeated death by His death, death has not defeated Him. In death, Christ is victorius.

[quote=prodromos]Along with the Greek letters O W N (omicron, omega and ni) the halo around Christ’s head will often have nine rays, two on one side of each letter and one on the other, which represent the nine ranks of angels.

Icons of Christ have him clothed in red with a blue cloak covering. Red dye was prohibitively expensive and only accessible to royalty or the very wealthy, while blue dye was very cheap and used by the common people. This represents Christ’s divine nature clothed in our humanity. Icons of Mary on the other hand show her clothed in blue with a red cloak covering. This represents her humanity as now being glorified, sharing in Christ’s divine nature.

Icons of Mary and the Christ child never show Christ as a baby, but more like a miniature adult. This is to show that while Christ truly was born a human, He was not a new person as we are but had always existed from before all ages.

Icons of the crucifixion show Christ standing on the cross despite being dead, not hanging from it. This is because Christ has defeated death by His death, death has not defeated Him. In death, Christ is victorius.
[/quote]

Absoslutely fascinating - thanks so much. Another thing why do iconographers always depict “serious” faces - in western art we see smiling Madonnas, blissful Jesus’ - but I notice that icons are usually of “grave” faces. I’m sure there is a reason but I can’t figure out what it could be.

One thing you often notice is the figure has large eyes and a small mouth. The eyes see much but the mouth says little. I don’t know why the serious faces other than you are supposed to have an attitude of reverence when encountering an icon. They not only don’t have expression, but are very one dimensional, quite intentionally. Compare this to a plump, curvy baby Jesus by one of the Great Masters. Someone has already mentioned the red. You will often find divine figures wearing red socks if their robes are not red.

When someone writes an icon, they approach it prayerfully and with intention of creating a window to the divine. THere is a whole culture about iconography. We have a local Episcopal cathedral that has an iconography institute and they give talks and even teach people how to write an icon.

I’ve ordered several books from www.monasteryicons.com so that I have a better understanding of icons. I think they are very inspiring.
Lisa N

A Word About "Monastery Icons"
provided by Fr. Anthony Nelson

The “Light of Christ Monastery” and the Convent of the Virgin Mary in Borrego Springs, CA., formerly the “Gnostic Orthodox” in Geneva, Nebraska (Holy Protection Gnostic Orthodox Monastery and the St. John of Kronstadt Gnostic Orthodox Convent) are “monastic communities” of self-styled monks and nuns. They began in Oklahoma City in the 70’s, when their current “Patriarch” ‘Abbot Bishop George Burke’ showed up in town (newly run away in the dead of night from the Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Monastery in Boston, where he had attached himself) calling himself “Swami” something-or-other (I can’t begin to spell it).

He had been raised Church of God-Anderson, near Bloomington, Illinois, gravitated to Chicago and loosely affiliated himself with Roman Catholicism. After a while he began attending the Levitt Street OCA Cathedral, and later the Synod Cathedral, where he got himself baptized by Bishop Seraphim. He then migrated to California, where he joined with Yogananda, and worked P.R. for him. Then he went to Boston to Holy Transfiguration Monastery “to learn Orthodox monasticism” according to him. In Oklahoma City he started a Hindu community that grew to about nine monks and three nuns. One day, in the late 70’s, he announced to the brethren that they had “outgrown” the spiritual possibilities of Hinduism, and were going to become Christian. They then constituted themselves as the “Holy Protection Old Catholic Benedictine Monastery of the Primitive Observance.” The Swami got himself consecrated a bishop by the self-styled “Old Catholic” bishop at St. Hilarion’s Center in Austin, Texas (although he 'the former “Swami”'stated categorically that it was unnecessary, because he had been a Roman Catholic bishop during the Middle Ages in a previous life!).

Many may remember this group as having been featured on various prime-time news shows (P.M. Magazine and Real People) in the late 70’s/early 80’s as constituting the volunteer Fire Department in the little town of Forest Park, Oklahoma, and also as raising ostriches on the grounds of their property. I remember seeing them on television one night while I was living at St. Tikhon’s Seminary in Pennsylvania in about 1980, and wondering just what kind of “order” or “religion” they were. Little did I dream that I would come into intimate contact with them only a year or two later when I was assigned to Oklahoma City by the Antiochian Archdiocese.

In about 1981 “Bishop George” decided that they had outgrown Old Catholicism, and they became “Holy Protection Orthodox Monastery.” They dressed as Orthodox monks and did the services impeccably well, as George had learned in Boston. Then, in 1985 or so, they remodeled their chapel again and became “Coptic” serving their own version of the Liturgy of St. James and dressing in a form of Coptic monastic garb. They even succeeded in having Indian and Egyptian Coptic Christian clergy concelebrate with them, falsely claiming various kinds of non-Chalcedonian “Apostolic Succession” - claims which those Coptic Christians accepted without investigation.

I walked in on them one day and found them doing a curious service modeled after Hindu worship, in which they were offering fruit and flowers to the icons of Christ and the Theotokos in their chapel. The prayers were an interesting (although sacrilegious and blasphemous) blend of the Trisagion prayers and Hindu worship. During all of this, they maintained a second, secret chapel on the premises. Here they practiced magical evocation and demonolatry. I received into Orthodoxy several lay persons who were a part of their “secret Order” coming from various Protestant backgrounds. These particular individuals finally began to wonder if they were really “Orthodox” and “Christian” when, on a trip to Texas with the monks, they saw the monks and nuns bow down before the idol in the Hare Krishna temple in Dallas, and Abbot Bishop George refused to bless the food served in the Krishna restaurant because “it was already blessed, having been offered to the idol.” These former members of their cult and one former monk brought to me all of their secret rituals,vestments, history, and associated blasphemous and really frightening materials. It took me well over a year of working with these individuals to get them over their fear of the psychic and spiritual retaliation with which the Abbot had threatened them if they ever revealed the group’s secrets. I still have these materials, and they would be laughable in their sophomoric secret-society silliness if they were not so seriously believed and practiced.

(continued from above)

The group left Oklahoma under difficult circumstances in regard to legal problems concerning the estate of a novice (son of a powerful state politician) who died in India. All novices were required to make a pilgrimage to India to interview with, and receive the blessing of, one “Mother Anandamoy” ‘a Hindu holy woman’ who must approve them for membership in the Community.

One of their former monks who had left the group and took a job in Oklahoma City (and personally continued their occult practices privately) once made the statement: “Orthodox Priests are like camels. They carry a cargo of immeasurable worth, with no comprehension of its value.” The Daily Oklahoman, the largest circulation newspaper in the state, once carried a color picture on the front page of one of it’s secondary sections depicting one of their “priests.” He was shown sitting at a table during a regional “Psychic Fair” doing a Tarot Card reading.

On another occasion, after I had learned their secrets and forbade my parishioners to have anything to do with them, Abbot George announced during one of his sermons that he, in a previous life, had been one of the Christian Martyrs who suffered under Diocletian, and I (Fr. Anthony) was the Roman who led him to his martyrdom. He also claims that, during a pilgrimage to visit Mother Anandamoy in India, he was killed in a car accident in New Delhi, but because his “work” here was incomplete, was immediately reincarnated in his body and survived.

“Patriarch George” of the “Gnostic Orthodox Church” admitted in an interview in the Omaha World Herald that his “Patriarchate” covered only 5 or 6 acres. By the way, why they chose Nebraska is a mystery: Abbot Bishop George announced, following a visit to Hawaii for an international peace conference in approximately 1985, that the Goddess of one of the volcanos appeared to him and promised to give him the island if he would relocate his community there.

Apparently that offer was not good enough because, after first relocating in Nebraska, today they are the “Light of Christ Monastery” in California. They claim to be the exclusive remnant of a spurious so-called “Western Orthodox Church” descended from, the Syrian Jacobite (Monophysite) Church of the East.

They have one “iconographer” there who paints all their pictures (please, not icons). All are “blessed” with one of their occult rituals before being shipped, and they support themselves to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars per year selling the demonic things. Many Roman Catholic bookstores sell them but, happily, most Orthodox sellers of religious items have discovered who and what they are and no longer do business with them.

Please don’t buy their pictures they are spiritually very dangerous.

Some books by the abbot of Light of Christ Monastery.

Magnetic Therapy: Healing in Your Hands

[An Eagle’s Flight:

Autobiography of a Gnostic Orthodox Christian](http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0932104061/qid%3D929925702/sr%3D1-2/102-2796330-8372959)

an excerpt from the above book can be read here
kalimandir.org/library/libraryhome.asp?page=articles&item=07_imeet.xml

There is a conversation with the Abbot (audio) available here
Dr. Netherton and Abbot George Burke

Abbot George is the founder and guiding spiritual source for the Light of Christ
Monastery in Borrego Springs, Ca. He and Dr. Netherton sat together to discuss
the Abbot’s views and beliefs with regards to the many faiths and religions that
exist on the planet today. Abbot George is widely held to be one of the leading
authorities on theology, philosophy, and spiritual constructs in today’s
spiritual community. Among other dynamics, he discusses reincarnation as an
established fact within the Christian faith and the presence of spiritual
guidance as defined by the teachings of St. Thomas, one of the founders of the
eastern Christian churches. His knowledge is extensive and deep and his
presentation is inspiring.

Dear Lisa N,
as far as I can tell, the books in the catalog of monasteryicons are fine and are not the work of this “monastery”, but please do not buy their icons.

John.

[quote=HagiaSophia]Another thing why do iconographers always depict “serious” faces - in western art we see smiling Madonnas, blissful Jesus’ - but I notice that icons are usually of “grave” faces. I’m sure there is a reason but I can’t figure out what it could be.
[/quote]

We term this serious expression “joyful sorrow” and they are depicted thus because the church is one body. Thus although the saints have finished the race and have entered into glory, they are still in communion with the church militant and share in the struggles and sufferings of those christians who have yet to finish theirs. If one part of the body suffers, the whole body suffers. Another reason for their austerity is that icons are specifically designed to stir our spirits and not our passions, to enlighten and not to inflame.

John.

[quote=prodromos]Dear Lisa N,
as far as I can tell, the books in the catalog of monasteryicons are fine and are not the work of this “monastery”, but please do not buy their icons.

John.
[/quote]

No I am only interested in their books. I thought it was strictly a commercial catalog and not affiliated with any religious order. They do have some nice products but I wasn’t interested in the icons themselves. They looked a bit ‘cheesy’ for lack of a better word. I did purchase an antique icon from Russia.

Where would you suggest finding an authentic icon? The Mt Angel seminary in Oregon has one priest who’s been writing icons for some time. You can see them on the Mt Angel website. He did the icon for our Parish.

Lisa N

One other point – icons are not “pictures” or “paintings” of people. They are windows into heaven. As such, the representation of individuals uses a stylized approach (and the styles vary depending on whether you are looking at Greek, Arabic, Russian, etc. icons). As has already been noted, colors are important and speak to the reality this is being presented.

For icons in a church, there is a pattern. To the right of the holy doors is always the icon of Christ and going one further right is always John the Baptist. To the left of the holy doors will always be the icon of the Theotokas. Next to her is the icon for the saint protector of that church. The other positions are really up to the community to select. The second rank of icons will, normally, represent the apostles (Judas out, Mathias in). Behind the Holy Table you will usually find an icon of Mary (we have Mary enthroned).

Deacon Ed

[quote=Deacon Ed] To the right of the holy doors is always the icon of Christ and going one further right is always John the Baptist. To the left of the holy doors will always be the icon of the Theotokas.
[/quote]

Yes, standing at Christ’s right and left, the positions James and John asked for but Christ told them they were not His to give as they had already been given to others :slight_smile:

Fascinating!
My thanks to all of you for your enlightenment.

I have an icon of the Virgin and Child which I’ll try to describe.

On her left is an angel (in green) holding a spear and an object with a round object on top. Above the angel appear O 4P (joined together) M. Above that are M P.

On her right is an angel (in red) holding the three-tiered cross (I’ve forgotten the name of this particular cross, used by Eastern Catholics and Orthodox). Above the angel appear O 4P (joined) and a letter I would describe as a backward check mark. It is a diagonal with a “hook” on the top. Above that are O Y.

Jesus is losing one sandal, which is dangling by the strap. Next to Him appear the letters IC XC.

I’m sure I’ve done poorly as this description, but if you can, I’d love to know the name or title of the icon and what the (Greek?) letters stand for.

Thank you!

JMJ Jay

In nomine Jesu I offer you all Peace,

Just to say… **I LOVE ICONS! :smiley: **

I am an artist and I am beginning to study them. Does anyone have any books or websites they could offer to help me in understanding icons better?

Peace, Love and Blessings,

This was completely fascinating! I’m hooked…ok - someone else with knowledge, post please. (I am just captivated and will look at the Icons in my church differently now.)

[quote=chrisb]Does anyone have any books or websites they could offer to help me in understanding icons better?
[/quote]

Chris,

Here’s a few for starters:

An article by Bishop Nicholas Samra, the Auxiliary of the Eparch of Newton of the Melkites: Iconography In the Eastern Church

This is a simplified/condensed piece from a commercial site, but what it says is valid: Rules for Iconographers

A site from Saints Peter & Paul OCA parish in Meriden, CT, that gives a brief intro to Iconography and then goes on to display a number of icons and describe features of them. It also has a suggested reading list.

Al Green, an Orthodox layman, who has a variety of very interesting and worthwhile webpages, has a page, Icons & Iconography that offers a significant number of great links to sources (commercial and religious) for icons, as well as to articles, etc, on-line.

A series of excellent articles on Greek iconography is at the site of St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church.

[quote=Lisa N]Where would you suggest finding an authentic icon? The Mt Angel seminary in Oregon has one priest who’s been writing icons for some time. You can see them on the Mt Angel website. He did the icon for our Parish.
[/quote]

Lisa,

See above. I highly recommend that you use either a monastery, or commercial sites that offer the holy work of devout individual iconographers, such as Ray Mastroberte as your source.

The piece that John/Prodomos posted made mention of Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Brookline,MA; although Holy Transfiguration is itself a bit controversial, as it has aligned itself with a very conservative “non-canonical” Church within Orthodoxy, its monks write some very devout and beautiful icons.

As Deacon Ed has indicated, there are some very significant differences in iconographic representations as written in the Slav, Greek, Arabic, Coptic, Armenian, Syriac, etc. styles. It may be helpful to become familiar with each of these through reading and study to best know which you prefer - or, to just look and see which reach out to you.

A great site with some beautiful examples of icons in the Slav tradition is that of Dave Mastroberte, a young second-generation Orthodox iconographer, and friend of myself, Deacon Ed, and many of the other Byzantine Catholics here.

Brother Claude from Mt. Angel Abbey, whom you mentioned, writes beautiful icons, albeit some are a bit more Western in style.

St. Michael’s Melkite Greek Catholic Cathedral, the Cathedral of the Melkite Eparchy in Australia, has some brief articles and beautiful examples of the Arabic style of iconography at their website.

John/Prodomos presented a great piece above on the Gnostic Orthodox “monastery”. Father Lentz, an icographer and Catholic priest whose work you will find highlighted in a number of places, is also a very controversial figure in the Eastern community, having written (or, in his case, perhaps better described as painted) a number of icons that strain all the rules and precepts as to subject matter, style, etc.

Many years,

Neil

http://www.olphnm.org/newImages/oglady.gif

This picture Our Lady of Perpetual Help.(it has been said Saint Luke painted it)
It is Byzantine art.
Jesus is looking towards the instruments of His Passion carried by the Angels.
The Angel on the left is the Archangel Michael.
The other is the Angel Gabriel.
Gabriel carries the cross and four nails;Michael carries an urn containing the vinegar mixed with myrrh that was offered to Our Lord by the soldiers.
In the urn are also the lance and reed topped by a sponge.
In the picture there are some Greek capitial letters.
The four at the top refer to Our lady–the two on the left being the first and last letters of the word mother.
The two on the right being the first and last letters of the word God.
Immediately below these four letters are two futher groups of four letters, each indicating the names Gabriel & Michael.
The four letters near the Divine Child are the first and last letters of the Greek words for “Jesus” and “Christ”.
If you look at the foot of Jesus you will see that the sandal is coming off, this indicates the sudden fright He got at the vision of the Passion, and also turning to Mary His Mother for help.

Mary is a Mother of Perpetual Help to us now, but She was first a Mother to Christ.
He intrusted us to Her on Calvary.

That’s it precisely! Thank you Stephen! I didn’t recognize it as OLPH because the icon is done by an artist who depicted Our Lady with a different countenance. Everything is the same, except that she was given a more youthful, not so elongated face, and the eyes are a bit different.

Much obliged!

Jay Damien

May be of interest

goarch.org/en/ourfaith/articles/article8025.asp
goarch.org/en/resources/clipart/
oca.org/pages/orth_chri/Feasts-and-Saints/icons/index.html
oca.org/pages/orth_chri/Feasts-and-Saints/iconsmpoy.html

Excellent book

glenstal.org/graphics/icons.jpg

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