Ponder These Things – Praying with Icons of the Virgin. pt.1

This Tuesday will be walking through three Marian Icons using Archbishop Rowan William’s book Ponder Theses Things – Praying with Icons of the Virgin.  Growing up Methodist, both the idea of icons and praying with/to Mary were completely foreign to me. In many ways, these things still are foreign to my Christian devotional and prayer life. As explained by the Roman Church: “Christian Iconography expresses in images the same Gospel message that Scripture communicates by words. Image and word illuminate each other.” Catechism 1160. As such, Icons are intended to be more than mere paintings or pictorial representations. Rather, an Icon is to be a “window into heaven” and give us a connection to the transcendent majesty and mystery of God. This window is opened through the deep symbolic representations displayed in the Icons – colors, hand gestures, and the direction of the eyes. ++Williams’ discussion and our lesson on Tuesday will look at these features. Some good brief discussions on praying with Icons are from Aleteia and Orthodox Christian Fellowship

As to Mary, Advent is the ideal time to engage with the Holy Mother of God.  For it is through Mary that the Incarnation occurs. In the early  5th century the prevailing Christian controversy was how we thought of the Incarnation – were the two natures of Jesus (Divine and Human) separate and distinct (like oil and water) or were the natures inextricably intertwined (like sugar and water)? The result was the third great Ecumenical Council which convened in Ephesus in 431 and which declared that the divine and human nature of Jesus were both without confusion but without separation – they were intertwined.  To emphasize the coming together of the two natures in the Incarnation, the Council declared Mary as the “Theotokos” or “Birth-giver of God.”  It is for this reason that Mary is venerated and why the Icons of Mary are never without Jesus.  

There are five main types of Marian Iconography. We will be looking at three of these this week:

– The Guide (Hodegetria): In this type, Mary is holding Christ and pointing toward Him, as a guide to God and salvation.

– Tender Mercy (Eleusa): In this type, Mary holds her Son, who touches his face to hers and wraps at least one arm around her neck or shoulder. She represents the Church of Christ, thereby displaying the fullness of love between God and man, a love that can only be achieved within the bosom of church, the Mother.

-Praying (Oranta)/Lady of the Sign (Panagia): In this type, Mary is shown with arms in the ornate position, with Christ enclosed in a circle in her womb. “Of the Sign,” is a reference to the words of Isaiah 7:14, “The Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel.”

If you have time this weekend, please read through the attached chapters by ++Williams and walk through the icons with him.  Hopefully, you will catch a glimpse of heaven itself.

Dinner is at 6. The menu is grilled cheese. Discussion about 6:45. Hope to you here.

It is truly meet and right to bless you, O Theotokos,
Ever-blessed and most-pure mother of our God.
More honourable than the Cherubim,
And beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim,
Who without corruption gave birth to God the Word,
True Theotokos: we magnify you.

Hymn to the Theotokos from the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom

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