Kissing Snowmen, or My Current Understanding of Icons
I put away the winter decorations in my classroom yesterday. Even if the weather is not yet giving way to spring, the calendar is, and I am glad of it. Among my collections is a snowman called… you guessed it… Frosty. He has been part of my life since I was a child, a poster of sorts that was a Christmas decoration in my childhood home. On Frosty’s tummy can be seen a pencil scrawl where I wrote my name when I was in about second grade.
I have been visiting an Eastern Orthodox Church for around six months. As a history geek and Christian, it has been enjoyable and fascinating. I grew up in a very evangelical “non-denominational” church. In my life, I have spent time experiencing the Church of Christ, Christian church, charismatic, Mennonite and Presbyterian traditions. Eastern Orthodoxy is like none of those, because all of those come from the Reformation. Orthodox Christianity is the oldest breed of Christianity there is; your great-great-great grandpappy’s church. :-) The Catholics broke off from the Orthodox ‘back in the day.’ It is been a treat to peer into the rich history of Christianity, and I am grateful for it.
Many things involved in Eastern Orthodox practice are spot-on with what I already believe; have believed for years. A few things I have found to be not troubling, but unnecessary. One of these practices is venerating icons. Please understand that to the Orthodox mind, venerating an icon or a saint is much, much different than worship, which belongs to God alone. Also know that I have spent zero time on my own researching iconography; what I know can be learned by participation in the life of any Orthodox church. Icons have also been a part of Christian practice from early, early days. (No exact date… see the lack of research??) :-)
According to my experience, the Orthodox say that icons reflect the glory of God to the viewer. They say that we ourselves are icons, as we were made in the image of God. (Genesis 1:26) I rather like that idea. It seems to me that icons are good reminders of Jesus and the ‘Great Cloud of Witnesses,’ (Hebrews 12:1) but as I said earlier, unnecessary.
There were students in my classroom while I was undecorating. As I took the Frosty off of the bulletin board, I told the kids how he had been part of my childhood. I showed them my second-grade handwriting. As I turned away from them to put him away, my heart welled up with joy as I remembered the really fun times of Christmas when I was a kid. With a spring in my step, I kissed that snowman.
Then, it dawned. Frosty is reminder of the glory of Christmases past--an icon of my Christmases. From now on, when I put up my Christmas tree, or Nativity set, or Advent wreath, when I dye Easter eggs or see a cross necklace, I’ll see an icon.
And when I see an icon, I hope I will start to feel some of the joy and lightheartedness that came right before I laid a spontaneous smacker on the old, cold man. Because they are, in fact, a reminder. :-)