January 11, 2013 by Orthodox Whitehorse
Just before Theophany, the St. Nikolai of Zhitsa Mission received a gift from one of its members – this beautiful icon of the Holy Nativity of our Lord, God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. This particular icon was painted by the noted Canadian iconographer, Hieromonk Vladimir.
Growing in Communion with God inspires generosity. So it isn’t surprising that it is a tradition in the Orthodox faith for believers to commission and give icons to those they love. This gift-giving is most often done in honour of Baptism and Marriage, and at other special times in a person or community’s life. At Baptism, the child or adult being united to Christ is sometimes given an icon of their patron saint. After the Crowning of a Marriage, the newly-wed couple is often given their own “Household Icons” or “Marriage Icons,” of Christ the Saviour and the Most Holy Theotokos. The new couple will stand before these icons, and will pray to the Lord, establishing the foundation of their home and family in the Kingdom of God.
Festal icons of the Nativity are not only important to the celebration of that Great Feast itself. They are also traditionally placed near the Table of Oblation, also called the Table of “Proskomedia” or “Prothesis.” This is where the priest prepares the Holy Gifts of Bread and Wine prior to the Divine Liturgy.
“He is the image of the invisible God.” (Colossians 1.15)
This verse, from the Holy Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians, provides the Scriptural basis for the role of icons in the Orthodox Church. The original Greek work translated here as “image” is actually eikon, the same word as “icon.”
Later, in its Seventh Ecumenical Council (787 A.D.), the Orthodox Church made it clear that icons are necessary and essential because they protect the full and proper doctrine of the Incarnation. While God cannot be represented in His eternal nature (“…no man has seen God“, John 1:18), He can be depicted simply because He “became human and took flesh.” Since Jesus Christ, in His full humanity, accepted a material body, material images can be made. In so taking a material body, God proved that matter can be redeemed. He lifts our common humanity, uniting it in Himself to God, making it Spirit-bearing. If human physicality can be indwelt by the Spirit, so can the rest of the physical Creation, although in a different fashion. Of all Creation, only the human person is created in the image of God, and called to be transfigured into the likeness of Jesus Christ. All other things and objects can, in Christ, be blessed, so that they point to and bear witness to God’s grace.
“I do not worship matter, but the Creator of matter, who for my sake became material and deigned to dwell in matter, who through matter effected my salvation…” —St. John of Damascus