On June 25th, 2019, the icons from a workshop at St. Mary the Virgin’s Anglican Church in Regina, Saskatchewan, were blessed after a week of prayer and painting. There also appeared in the bulletin a note about the week and icons, which Fr. Schroeder has kindly permitted to be published here. I hope you will enjoy his honest and insightful perspective as much as I did. —Symeon
A Word from the Rector.
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us.” (1 John 1.1,2)
This last week St. Mary’s hosted an icon painting workshop with iconographer Symeon van Donkelaar of the Conestoga Icon Studio in Conestoga, Ontario. Participants in the workshop included representatives of the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian and Anglican Communions. It was a most intense, blessed, holy, prayerful, purifying, humbling, and illuminating time, which involved us in a deep and extended physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual struggle. It was a work that was undertaken with much fear and trembling but conducted under the guidance and loving, watchful eye of a master. This morning’s service brings the week to it’s proper conclusion and climax as we bless the icons that have been placed on the altar.
What is an icon?
That’s a very good question, which we can only answer once we have answered the prior question: “What is the world?” In the modern view, the world is a place that is filled with objects which we possess, manipulate and consume. It is a view that is wrecking havoc on the earth. In the classical, sacramental world-view of the Church, the world is God’s good creation (Genesis 1.31), which reveals His glory (Psalm 19.1, Romans 1.20), which has been given to us as a means of communion with God (Genesis 2.16a, 3.8a), and which God has filled with His Presence through the Incarnation of His Son Jesus Christ( Psalm 139.7-10).
In theological terms, an icon, such as we made this week, is a witness to the Incarnation. As the Seventh Ecumenical Council in 787 A.D. proclaimed, “Icons do with colour what Scripture does with words.” Icons are not merely “pretty pictures.” That would be a modern view. Icons are church furnishings and liturgical objects which, along with the Book of the Gospels, the Processional Cross, the Chalice and Paten, Altar and Font, are an integral part of the worship of the Church, serving the prayer of the Church. The subject matter of icons includes Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary and Mother of God, the Saints, biblical events and the Feasts of the Church. Icons have been variously described as “portals” or “windows” into the Kingdom of God. They hold before us a vision of our redemption and a transfigured creation, and mystically participate in that redemption and creation. This is something however that will only be seen by the “pure in heart” (Matthew 5.8). To pray with and before an icon is to seek that purity of heart which enables us to see, to encounter God, and so be changed ourselves into the likeness of the One in whose image we have been created. As St. Paul wrote, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” ( 2 Corinthians 3.18).