From God's fullness we have all received, grace upon grace
“Praying with icons”

“Praying with icons”

In my March article, I imagined Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Trinity as a depiction of three friends sitting round a table enjoying each other’s company and holding the fourth side of the table open for us to join them.

So (although I am aware that others have much more to say, for example and not least Rowan Williams in The Dwelling of the Light: Praying with Icons of Christ as well as our very own Dean) here is an offering about praying with icons that I hope gives a few hints.

First, it is important to say that praying with icons does not mean praying to them or worshipping the image. The Eastern Churches treat them with reverence because they are reminders that the pray-er is coming into the presence of God. They might be considered as doors through which we enter into the presence or windows through which we are gazing on God.

Most simply, icons can help us focus our prayer time, to collect ourselves and to return to seeking God’s presence whenever we get distracted. We might light a candle before an icon as a bridge between our previous activity and our prayer.

Icon of virgin and child. Image credit: falco on Pixabay.

Often, icons present scenes from the scriptures, especially events in the life of Jesus. Many depict Jesus, or Mary presenting her son, as gazing directly at the pray-er, inviting eye contact as a way into encounter and relationship with the person of Jesus. The French priest John Vianney, also known as the Curé D’Ars, described prayer as “I look at God, and God looks at me.” Icons provide a physical medium where we may dwell in the presence of God, to accept the gaze of Jesus and to gaze back at him.

Many icons portray saints of the church, now a “cloud of witnesses” held in the heart of God, inviting us in to meet them in the presence of the living God. Sitting before an icon of a saint, we might become aware of how God has been working through grace in the lives of countless people, and is now working in us. Icon means ‘image’, so in a sense, we are all created as icons of God.

This is only a small start. There are many resources online providing information about iconography and icons, introducing the language and rules by which they communicate meaning and tell a story – not necessary to know but helpful and enriching – and many photographs of icons that you could print on card to try out this way of praying. There are also several icons in the Cathedral, which you may like to seek out.