Grace Episcopal Church is blessed to have two beautiful icons currently displayed in our Narthex. “Sweet Kissing” and “Christ Blessing” were produced by St. Isaac of Syria Skete, a small monastery in Wisconsin. The two pieces of artwork were purchased through a donation to Grace Church, following a property survey done during our “Magnetic Church” workshop in 2011. That survey suggested more religious symbols throughout our facility. The art was selected by Grace member Julie Grossman and our Rector, the Rev. Todd McDowell.

The word “icon” comes from the Latin and Greek words for “image.” Religious icons are pictorial representations of our Lord, Jesus Christ. They also depict Biblical scenes, parables and images of other Holy figures, including the Virgin Mary and the Saints. Icons are described as “the visual theology of the church” and “windows into Heaven.”

The use of icons has been a source of debate throughout history, but they are now widely used throughout the Anglican/Episcopal Church. Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, discusses the controversy in the introduction of his book, The DWELLING of the LIGHT, Praying with Icons of Christ. Williams says icons are not meant to portray photographic realism. Instead, he says, they are human actions that seek to be open to God’s action.

“It doesn’t seek for photographic realism; like the lines of a diagram, the lines of an icon tell you what it is in the subject matter that is significant, that conveys God’s working. And you need to look and pray with that in mind, to look patiently and not analytically, and allow yourself to be ‘worked on’ – perhaps we should say, allow yourself to be looked at by God, rather than just looking at something yourself.” (xviii)

Here are descriptions of the icons in Grace’s Narthex, as provided by St. Isaac of Syria Skete:

“Glykophilousa” (Sweet Kissing)
Iconographer: Monk Michael of Athos (late 20th Century)

The Monk Michael of Mount Athos painted this Greek “Sweet Kissing” (in Greek “Glykophilousa”) icon in 1988. The theme of tender embrace embodied in this icon is very popular in icons of the Virgin Mary with her child, Jesus Christ. Here the Lord of Lord and King of Kings is, in His human nature, reaching out to all people dedicated to Him in their love of God, by tenderly placing His cheek next to the Virgin’s cheek, and reaching up with His left hand to sweetly touch her chin. He looks at her with love, for the Lord says through His Prophet David, “With the merciful Thou wilt show Thyself merciful, and with the upright man Thou wilt show Thyself upright. With the pur Thou wilt show Thyself pure; and with the forward (archaic English for stubborn) Thou wilt show Thyself unsavory” (2 Samuel 22:26-27).

Thus the Lord sees the inward secrets of each heart and responds accordingly, showing mercy, uprightness, purity, stubbornness and also love. This explains His extraordinary love poured out on the Virgin Mary, for she loved much. May we learn from her how to better love Him Who loved us from the beginning.

“Christ Blessing”
Iconographer: N. Lionda (late 20th Century)

Christ blesses us with His right hand, His fingers formed into the shape of the Greek letters IC XC,” the abbreviation in Greek for Jesus Christ, and He holds in His left arm a jewel-studded Book of the Gospels. From the prototype of the first icon of Christ, miraculously made by the Saviour Himself, He is traditionally shown with a short beard and having long dark brown hair with reddish highlights, parted in the middle. His expression is serious but merciful, to evoke from us a serious and loving response, for the Truth is both sober and yet hopeful for us.

Christ is shown with an outer blue robe, symbolizing the Humanity that He put on at His Incarnation, with an inner red robe, representing His Divinity that remains for all eternity. In the cross in the nimbus, or halo around His head, are the Greek letters for “I AM.” This reminds us that although Incarnate in time, Jesus Christ is God before the ages, even before Abraham, and He is the same God Who spoke with Moses face to face. May we frequently ask His Blessing upon all our works, feelings, and thoughts, so that we may be blessed indeed!

Learn more about St. Isaac of Syria Skete at www.skete.com.

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One Response to The gift of icons

  1. Michell Morrow says:

    Really nice descriptions and explanations. Let’s chat about putting a tab for “art of Grace” or something similar. We need one place to compile all these sorts of things for the various pieces around the church … the Tiffany and other art glass, the altar piece, the beautiful wall hangings, etc. Other churches even have printed brochures for people touring the church. Thanks

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