Thursday, 26 September 2013

Icon Corner

The icon corner (Greek: εικονοστάσι and Russian: Кра́сный у́гол - meaning red, bright-shining, or beautiful corner) is a small worship space prepared in the homes of the orthodox people.

An Orthodox Christian is expected to pray constantly. According to Bishop Kallistos Ware, "In Orthodox spirituality, [there is] no separation between liturgy and private devotion."Thus the house, just like the Temple (church building), is considered to be a consecrated place, and the center of worship in the house is the icon corner.Ideally, the icon corner is located so that it is visible when one first enters the house from the main entrance. Traditionally, when first entering the house, an Orthodox Christian would venerate the icons before greeting the members of the house.

In the past, whether in a village or in the city, every Orthodox family’s home would always have a shelf with icons, or an entire home iconostasis, located in the most visible place. The place where the icons were installed was known as the front corner, the beautiful corner, the holy corner or God’s place.
For Orthodox Christians, an icon is not just a depiction of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Mother of God, the Saints, or events from Sacred and Church History. An icon is a sacred image, i.e., it is outside the realm of ordinary reality; it is not to be confused with ordinary daily life; and it is intended only for communion with God. Thus, the primary purpose of icons is prayer. An icon is a window from our world, the earthly world, into the world above. It is God’s revelation in form and color.
In this way, an icon is not simply a family relic to be passed on from generation to generation, but a holy thing that unites all family members during communal prayer – for prayer in common can take place only if those standing before the icons have mutually forgiven one another’s offenses and achieved unity.
Today, of course, when the television set ­– which is itself a kind of a window into the motley world of human passions – has taken the place of icons in the home, the purpose of the family icon, the tradition of common prayer at home, and the consciousness of the family as the “little Church” have been lost.
Therefore, an Orthodox Christian today might ask: What icons should I have in my home? How should they be arranged? Can I use reproductions of icons? What do I do with old, dilapidated icons?
Some of these questions merit an unequivocal answer, while others do not demand any kind of strict recommendations.
Where should one place icons at home?
In a free and accessible place.
The terse nature of such an answer is prompted by the realities of life, rather than by the absence of canonical requirements.
Of course, it is preferable to place icons on the eastern wall of the room, because the “East” as a theological concept has special significance in Orthodoxy.
And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed (Genesis 2:8).
O Jerusalem, look about thee toward the east, and behold the joy that cometh unto thee from God (Baruch 4:36).
Moreover the spirit lifted me up, and brought me unto the east gate of the Lord’s house, which looketh eastward (Ezekiel 11:1).
For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be (Matthew 24:27).
But what should one do if there are windows or doors on the eastern side of one’s home? In that case, use the southern, northern, or western walls.
One should not combine icons with decorative objects of a secular nature, such as statuettes, various types of pictures, etc.
It is inappropriate to put icons on a bookshelf next to books having nothing in common with the Orthodox faith or that conflict with Christian teaching on love and charity.
It is absolutely impermissible to have icons next to posters or calendars depicting rock musicians, athletes, or politicians – the idols of the current age. This not only diminishes reverence for the holy images to an unacceptable degree, but also puts holy icons on par with the idols of the contemporary world.

The home icon corner can be decorated with live flowers. Traditionally, larger icons are often framed with towels. This tradition dates back to antiquity and has a theological basis. According to tradition, an image of the Savior miraculously appeared on a towel during His earthly life to help a suffering man. After washing His Face, Christ wiped His Face with a clean towel, on which an image of His Face appeared. The towel was sent to King Abgar, who was afflicted with leprosy, in the city of Edessa in Asia Minor. Upon healing, the ruler and his subjects adopted Christianity and the Image-Not-Made-By-Hands of Jesus Christ was affixed to a “permanent panel” and raised above the city gates.
In times past, August 29 (new style), the day the Church commemorates the translation of the Image Not-Made-By-Hands of our Lord Jesus Christ from Edessa to Constantinople in 944, was known among the people as the feast of the “canvas” or “linen Savior,” and in some places fabric and towels made of homespun yarn were blessed.
These richly embroidered towels were reserved for use in the icon corner. Likewise, icons were framed by towels for use during weddings and the Blessing of Waters. Thus, for example, after the service for the Blessing of Waters, when the priest sprinkled the icons with abundant Holy Water, people would wipe the icons with special towels that they would incorporate into the icon corner.

Which icons should you have at home?
It is essential to have icons of the Savior and the Mother of God. The Image of the Lord Jesus Christ, which bears witness to the Incarnation and to the salvation of mankind, and of the Theotokos – the most perfect of those who have lived on earth, who was made worthy of deification, and who is venerated as more honorable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim – are an essential part of the Orthodox Christian home. The icon of Christ ordinarily selected for prayer at home is a waist-length depiction of Christ Pantocrator.
Those with room for a greater number of icons in the home may supplement their icon corner with depictions of various revered saints.

Russian Orthodoxy has a strong tradition of special veneration for St. Nicholas the Wonderworker; almost every Orthodox family has an icon of him. One should note that, together with the icons of the Savior and the Mother of God, the image of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker has always occupied a central place in Orthodox Christian homes. People revere St. Nicholas as a saint endowed with special grace. This stems in large part from the fact that, according to the Church’s Typikon, every Thursday, when the Church offers up prayers to the Holy Apostles, is also dedicated to St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia.
Among the icons of the Holy Prophets of God, that of the Prophet Elias holds a prominent place; prominent among the icons of the Holy Apostles is that of the Sts. Peter and Paul, the chiefs among the Apostles.
Among the images of martyrs for Christian Faith, those encountered most often are icons of the Holy Great Martyr and Trophy-bearer George and the Holy Great Martyr and Healer Panteleimon.
It is recommended to have depictions of the Holy Evangelists, of St. John the Baptist, of the Holy Archangels Gabriel and Michael, as well as icons of the Feasts, to make a home icon corner complete.
The selection of icons for one’s home is always an individual matter. The best person to help one make these choices is one’s priest – the family’s spiritual father – and it is to him, or to another clergyman, that one should turn for advice.
As for icon reproductions and color photographs, sometimes it makes more sense to have a good reproduction than a painted icon of poor quality.
An iconographer should maintain a very demanding attitude toward his work. Just as a priest does not serve the Liturgy without due preparation, the iconographer must approach his service with full awareness of his responsibility. Unfortunately, both in the past and today, one often encounters vulgar examples of images that bear no resemblance to icons. Thus, if a given depiction does not evoke a sense of piety and a sense of contact with the holy, or if it is theologically suspect and its technical execution is unprofessional, it would be best not to purchase such an item.
However, reproductions of canonical icons, mounted on a firm backing and blessed in church, can occupy a place of honor in the home iconostasis.
How and in what order should icons be arranged?
Are there strict rules in that regard?
In church, yes. As to the home prayer corner, we may limit discussion to a few principal rules.
For example, a collection of icons hung without a sense of symmetry, without a well thought-out arrangement, evokes a constant sense of dissatisfaction with the arrangement and a desire to change everything – something that often distracts from prayer.
It is likewise essential to remember the principle of hierarchy: for example, do not place an icon of a locally-venerated saint above an icon of the Holy Trinity, the Savior, the Mother of God, or the Apostles.
Just as on a classic iconostasis, the Icon of the Savior should be to the right, and the Mother of God to the left.

 What should be our attitude toward holy things?
As one of the attributes of God (Isaiah 6:3), holiness is also reflected in God’s saints and in physical objects. Therefore, reverence for holy people and sacred objects and images, as well as personal striving for authentic communion with God, are manifestations of a single order.
And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the Lord am holy (Leviticus 20: 26).
Family icons have always been held in particular reverence. Following baptism, an infant was brought before and icon and the priest or master of the house would read prayers. Parents blessed their children with an icon to pursue studies, to go on extended journeys, or to engage in public service. As a sign of their approval of a wedding, parents likewise blessed newlyweds with icons. Moreover, a person’s departure from this life took place in the presence of icons.
It is improper to have arguments or to engage in rowdy or otherwise improper behavior before the images of the saints.
One should instill proper reverence for holy images in children from a very early age.

 What should you do if an icon’s condition has rendered it unfit for use and it cannot be restored?
Under no circumstance should such an icon, even one that has not been blessed, simply be thrown away. A holy item, even if it has lost its original appearance, should always be treated with reverence.
If the condition of the icon has deteriorated with age, it should be taken to church to be burned in the church furnace. If that proves impossible, you should burn the icon yourself and bury the ashes in a place that will not be sullied or disturbed, e.g., in a cemetery or under a tree in the garden.
The faces that look at us from icons belong to eternity. Gazing upon them, raise up your prayers to them, asking for their intercessions. We, the inhabitants of the earthly world, should never forget our Savior’s eternal call towards repentance, perfection, and the deification of every human soul.

Some families burn wax votive candles before the icons; however, the tradition is to burn olive oil. Electric lights are not appropriate for use as the light to burn before icons. The traditional oil lamps require an amount of attention which electricity does not, thereby directing our physical services and thoughts to God several times a day when we are required to trim the wick and refill the lamp with oil.
There are a number of different kinds of utensils designed for burning oil before icons. A very common one is the wick-float which utilizes cork to keep the wick and flame floating on the oil. The burning of oil before icons, its care and practice is described below:

1. The Glass. Any low, wide-mouth glass may be used for the lamp. Once used for this, however, the glass should not be reused for any other purpose. In Greece, most of the lamps are of clear glass, but colors such as red, blue or milk-colored are also used. [It is advisable to use a large enough glass so that the oil will last at least 10 to 12 hours.]

2. The Oil. The use of olive oil for the lamps is a tradition which we have received even from the time of our father Moses. The olive oil will burn best if left open and allowed to age (or even become rancid).

3. The Wick. To make a wick, use cotton string about one foot in length. Do not use coated or waxed string. Cotton string of about 6 ply will be thick enough. If the wick is soaked in vinegar it will burn brighter and cleaner. If this is done, the wick should be allowed to dry thoroughly before being used.

4. The Flame. The fathers of the Holy Mountain [Athos] have taught us to use a very low flame which they call apathes, passionless. The flame should burn steadily, not flickering. The lamp will burn six to twelve hours, depending mainly on the oil, but also on the size of the flame, the weather, etc. Before relighting the lamp, remove the excess carbon from the wick and twist the string slightly to shape the wick into a point. [Candle wax may be used to make a firm point for ease in "threading" the wick. It should be trimmed off before lighting.]

5. Cleaning. The napkin or tissue used to wipe the carbon and oil from the fingers should be burned in a separate place (the home censer is the best place) and not just thrown into the garbage. Be careful not to drip or spill the oil when lighting the lamp (St. Theodore of Studion imposed a canon of thirty prostrations on the church ecclesiarch who spills oil from the icon lamps). The glass should be washed periodically, and the oil replaced anew. The water in which the lamp is washed, as well as the old oil from the icon lamp, should not be poured down the drain. It is best, rather, to pour it under plants or trees, or an area that is not walked upon.

Pious Orthodox faithful take oil frequently from the lamp and bless themselves, making the sign of the Cross on their foreheads.

Understanding the Holy Spirit

The gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost "called all men into unity," according to the Byzantine liturgical hymn of the day; into this new unity, which St. Paul called the "body of Christ," each individual Christian enters through Baptism and "chrismation" (the Eastern form of the Western "confirmation") when the priest anoints him saying "the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit."

This gift, however, requires man's free response. Orthodox saints such as Seraphim of Sarov (died 1833) described the entire content of Christian life as a "collection of the Holy Spirit." The Holy Spirit is thus conceived as the main agent of man's restoration to his original natural state through Communion in Christ's body. This role of the Spirit is reflected, very richly, in a variety of liturgical and sacramental acts. Every act of worship usually starts with a prayer addressed to the Spirit, and all major sacraments begin with an invocation to the Spirit. The eucharistic liturgies of the East attribute the ultimate mystery of Christ's Presence to a descent of the Spirit upon the worshipping congregation and upon the eucharistic bread and wine. The significance of this invocation (in Greek epiklesis) was violently debated between Greek and Latin Christians in the Middle Ages because the Roman canon of the mass lacked any reference to the Spirit and was thus considered as deficient by the Orthodox Greeks.

Since the Council of Constantinople (381), which condemned the Pneumatomachians ("fighters against the Spirit"), no one in the Orthodox East has ever denied that the Spirit is not only a "gift" but also the giver—i.e., that he is the third Person of the holy Trinity. The Greek Fathers saw in Gen. 1:2 a reference to the Spirit's cooperation in the divine act of creation; the Spirit was also viewed as active in the "new creation" that occurred in the womb of the Virgin Mary when she became the mother of Christ (Luke 1:35); and finally, Pentecost was understood to be an anticipation of the "last days" (Acts 2:17) when, at the end of history, a universal communion with God will be achieved. Thus, all the decisive acts of God are accomplished "by the Father in the Son, through the Holy Spirit."

Orthodox Christology

The Orthodox Church is formally committed to the Christology (doctrine of Christ) that was defined by the councils of the first eight centuries. Together with the Latin Church of the West, it has rejected Arianism (a belief in the subordination of the Son to the Father) at Nicaea (325), Nestorianism (a belief that stresses the independence of the divine and human natures of Christ) at Ephesus (431), and Monophysitism (a belief that Christ had only one divine nature) at Chalcedon (451). The Eastern and Western churches still formally share the tradition of subsequent Christological developments, even though the famous formula of Chalcedon, "one person in two natures," is given different emphases in the East and West. The stress on Christ's identity with the preexistent Son of God, the Logos (Word) of the Gospel According to John, characterizes Orthodox Christology. On Byzantine icons, around the face of Jesus, the Greek letters '' —the equivalent of the Jewish Tetragrammaton YHWH, the name of God in the Old Testament—are often depicted. Jesus is thus always seen in his divine identity. Similarly, the liturgy consistently addresses the Virgin Mary as Theotokos (the "one who gave birth to God"), and this term, formally admitted as a criterion of orthodoxy at Ephesus, is actually the only "Mariological" (doctrine of Mary) dogma accepted in the Orthodox Church. It reflects the doctrine of Christ's unique divine Person, and Mary is thus venerated only because she is his mother "according to the flesh."

This emphasis on the personal divine identity of Christ, based on the doctrine of St. Cyril of Alexandria (5th century), does not imply the denial of his humanity. The anthropology (doctrine of man) of the Eastern Fathers does not view man as an autonomous being but rather implies that communion with God makes man fully human. Thus the human nature of Jesus Christ, fully assumed by the divine Word, is indeed the "new Adam" in whom the whole of humanity receives again its original glory. Christ's humanity is fully "ours"; it possessed all the characteristics of the human being—"each nature (of Christ) acts according to its properties," Chalcedon proclaimed, following Pope Leo—without separating itself from the divine Word. Thus, in death itself—for Jesus' death was indeed a fully human death—the Son of God was the "subject" of the Passion. The theopaschite formula ("God suffered in the flesh") became, together with the Theotokos formula, a standard of orthodoxy in the Eastern Church, especially after the second Council of Constantinople (553). It implied that Christ's humanity was indeed real not only in itself but also for God, since it brought him to death on the cross, and that the salvation and redemption of humanity can be accomplished by God alone—hence the necessity for him to condescend to death, which held humanity captive.

This theology of redemption and salvation is best expressed in the Byzantine liturgical hymns of Holy Week and Easter: Christ is the one who "tramples down death by death," and, on the evening of Good Friday, the hymns already exalt his victory. Salvation is conceived not in terms of satisfaction of divine justice, through paying the debt for the sin of Adam—as the medieval West understood it—but in terms of uniting the human and the divine with the divine overcoming human mortality and weakness and, finally, exalting man to divine life.

What Christ accomplished once and for all must be appropriated freely by those who are "in Christ"; their goal is "deification," which does not mean dehumanization but the exaltation of man to the dignity prepared for him at creation. Such feasts as the Transfiguration or the Ascension are extremely popular in the East precisely because they celebrate humanity glorified in Christ—a glorification that anticipates the coming of the Kingdom of God, when God will be "all in all."

Participation in the already deified humanity of Christ is the true goal of Christian life, and it is accomplished through the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Fixed Great Feasts

January 7 – The Nativity of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ
January 19 – The Baptism of Our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ
February 15 – Meeting of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ in the Temple
April 7 – The Annunciation of Our Most Holy Lady, the Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary
August 19 – The Holy Transfiguration of Our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ
August 28 – The Dormition of our Most Holy Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary
September 21 – Nativity of Our Most Holy Lady the Mother of God and Ever Virgin Mary
September 27 – The Universal Elevation of the Precious and Life-Creating Cross of the Lord
December 4 – Entry into the Temple of our Most Holy Lady Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

St. Nilus the Myrrhstreamer of Mt Athos on the Last Times

A Prophecy by St. Nilus the Myrrhstreamer of Mt Athos, Greece in the year 1651

After the year 1900, toward the middle of the 20th century, the people of that time will become unrecognizable. When the time of the advent of the antichrist approaches, people's minds will grow cloudy from carnal passions, and dishonour and lawlessness will grow stronger. Then the world will grow unrecognizable.

People's appearances will change, and it will be impossible to distinguish men from women due to their shamelessness in dress and style of hair. These people will be cruel and will be like wild animals because of the temptations of the antichrist.


At that time the morals and traditions of Christians and of the Church will change. People will abandon modesty, and dissipation will reign. Falsehood and greed will attain great proportions, and woe to those who pile up treasures. Lust, adultery, homosexuality, secret deeds, and murder will rule in society.

At that future time, due to the power of such great crimes and licentiousness, people will be deprived of the grace of the Holy Spirit, which they received in Holy Baptism, and equally of remorse. THE CHURCHES OF GOD WILL BE DEPRIVED OF GOD-FEARING AND PIOUS PASTORS, and woe to the Christians remaining in the world at that time; they will completely lose their faith because they will lack the opportunity of seeing the light of knowledge from anyone at all. They will separate themselves out of the world in holy refuges in search of a lightening of their spiritual sufferings, but everywhere they will meet obstacles and constraints.

And this will result from the fact that the antichrist wants to be lord over everything and become the ruler of the whole universe, and he will produce miracles and fantastic signs. He will also give depraved wisdom to an unhappy man so that he will discover a way by which one man can carry on a conversation from one end of the earth to the other. At that time, men will also fly through the air like birds and descend to the bottom of the sea like fishes. And when they have achieved all this, these unhappy people will spend their lives in comfort without knowing, poor souls, that it is the deceit of antichrist. And the impious one! -- he will so complete science with vanity, that it will go off the right path and lead people to lose faith in the existence of God.

Then God will see the downfall of the human race and will shorten the days for the sake of those few who are being saved, because the enemy wants to lead even the chosen into temptation, if that is possible ... then the sword of chastisement will suddenly appear to kill the perverter.