Icon, Part 1: The Nativity of the Theotokos

 

September 1 marks the start of the liturgical year of the Orthodox Church. This goes back both to the Romans, who assessed a tax called the Indiction on this date, and to the Jewish calendar, with Rosh Hashanna marking the new year at about this same time. As this is the start of the liturgical cycle of great feasts and great fasts, I’ve decided to put out a series of posts on one of the most recognizable features of Orthodoxy: The Icon.

There are 12 Great Feasts in the Orthodox liturgical year, plus Pascha (Easter), which is the Feast of Feasts (there are also 12 in Catholicism, but with differences). In this series, each part to be posted close to the feast, I’ll be looking both at the event commemorated, and at its iconographic depiction. Through this series I will also try to lay out the functions of icons, their liturgical use, and their accepted proper forms both historically, and as they have developed throughout time (and have both departed from, and returned to their older roots in the process). Here and there I’ll fill in with some additional posts on related topics, certain saints, and the major other icons. Our first selection, corresponding with the first of the Great Feasts, is the Nativity of the Theotokos, which occurs on the eighth of September, just a few days hence.  (Nota Bene: any errors in this series are my own fault.)

The liturgical year in part follows the lives and ministries of two people, Jesus and his mother Mary, as well as significant events in the lives of the Apostles, and of the Church itself. Two of the Marian feasts mirror or foreshadow similar feasts of Christ. Thus we have the Nativity of the Theotokos, and later the Nativity of Christ; and we have the Presentation of Mary at the temple, followed later by the Presentation of Christ at the temple. These two foreshadowing events of the Marian feasts, however, do not celebrate events depicted in the Gospels of the Bible we know today, but events that nonetheless entered the Christian cannon at a very early date. These events are told in the apocryphal gospel of James (The Protoevangelium of James), which, while not accepted into the formal cannon of scripture, is nonetheless considered to illustrate something that was spiritually true or necessary, even if not completely verifiable.

The Feast

In the case of the Nativity of the Theotokos, as Mary had to have been very special to have been chosen by Gd for his Incarnation on Earth, so it must be reasoned that her own parents had to have been special and godly too, so this feast celebrates her parents, and her own birth, as a foreshadowing of Christ’s coming.

In the Protoevangelium of James, Mary’s parents are named Joachim and Anna. Of Joachim we are told little, but we can infer that as Mary and Elizabeth (mother of John the Baptist) are first cousins, Anna must have been the sister of Elizabeth’s mother. In a pattern familiar to any reader of The Old Testament / Torah, Joachim and Anna are said to be old and barren, and well past the point of child-bearing years. As with Abraham and Sarah before, and Elizabeth and Zacharias yet to come, Mary’s conception and birth is itself a miraculous gift to her parents (though the Orthodox do not refer to it as “immaculate”).

What is the spiritual meaning of the feast? I’ll leave it to the words of Father Thomas Hopko (of blessed memory):

The fact that there is no Biblical verification of the facts of Mary’s birth is incidental to the meaning of the feast. Even if the actual background of the event as celebrated in the Church is questionable from an historical point of view, the divine meaning of it “for us men and for our salvation” is obvious. There had to be one born of human flesh and blood who would be spiritually capable of being the Mother of Christ, and she herself had to be born into the world of persons who were spiritually capable of being her parents.

The Icons

Icons serve several purposes in Orthodoxy. They are not meant to be realistic depictions of events, but rather, coming from a time prior to general literacy, meant to illustrate the spiritual truths of events or people. They are pure symbolism, and the symbols must follow certain conventions so that their meanings are understandable to all, and all must point to Christ. The dangers of overly realistic depictions are that of sentimentality, or attachment to a specific image in the mind’s eye as being the “authentic” one, which would in turn lead the viewer to latch on to that image above all others. Think how jarring it is to see an actor in a film depicting someone you know well, especially if the depiction is poorly done – you have trouble moving past that actor’s portrayal and so never engage fully into the story. So it is with iconography – by remaining at the symbolic level, you can, and indeed must focus on the narrative and spiritual truths depicted, and need not be stalled at the superficial level.

Some conventions to bear in mind:

  • The perspective of the image may be distorted, or even inverted. Figures, shapes, and objects at the back may be the same size, or even larger than the foreground images.
  • Even if the events depicted occurred indoors, all icons depict everything out of doors. This is because nothing is hidden from Gd. If an event did occur indoors, then a drape will be laid across the top of the image.
  • Time is flattened. Multiple things may be shown all at once, out of sequence, with the same people shown multiple times.
  • The colors worn by people have their meanings too.
  • Not all icons of an even may show exactly the same things. Some will leave out some details that others include, but they all will show the major event itself.

I’ll bring up other conventions, as well as differences in traditions (such as Byzantine, Russian, and modernist) throughout the series as appropriate.

The traditional icons of the Nativity of the Theotokos all depict Anna laying in her bed, with the infant Mary swaddled and laying in a cradle of some sort, or about to receive a bath, or perhaps both separately. Anna is attended by midwives and may or may not be still pregnant, but Joachim is not by her side at her bed. Joachim may be shown elsewhere in one of several ways: receiving the news of Mary’s conception from the Archangel Gabriel, embracing Anna in joy of their good news, admiring his daughter at her cradle, at a distance fretting over Anna’s labors, or with Anna and Mary together elsewhere. The focus of the icon is nearly always on Anna herself, often in her birth pangs.

Regardless of the details, the story is always the same. Anna has / is giving birth to Mary, the future Theotokos, and her arrival in the world is something Christians celebrated and marked at a very early period in church history. Why is Mary called Theotokos? Theotokos is a Greek word which means “the birth-giver of Gd”. Gd, the infinite I Am, chose her to be the vessel of His incarnation, His becoming, for a time, a living and breathing human being like us, in the form of his son, Jesus Christ.

For more on the feast:
OCA Nativity of the Theotokos
OCA Saints Lives
GoArch Nativity of Theotokos

There are numerous books on icons, but I’ll give 2 favorites:
The Open Door, by Frederica Matthews Green
Beyond the Image, by Katherine Khorey and David DeJonge (you can get it cheaper on Amazon, but this is the author’s own site, which also sells icons)

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There are 30 comments.

  1. Nanda "Chaps" Panjan… Inactive

    Skip, for Latin Catholics, the new liturgical year starts in Advent…Are you thinking of a tie to Rosh Hashana? Just curious….Wonderful post!

    • #1
    • September 4, 2018, at 9:17 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  2. SkipSul Moderator
    SkipSul Post author

    Nanda Panjandrum (View Comment):

    Skip, for Latin Catholics, the new liturgical year starts in Advent…Are you thinking of a tie to Rosh Hashana? Just curious….Wonderful post!

    Like I said in the intro, any errors are my own. I’ll make corrections in the morning. Thanks!

    • #2
    • September 4, 2018, at 9:20 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  3. OmegaPaladin Moderator

    What makes an icon different from a stylized painting? A stained-glass window?

    Do you pray to an icon?

    I come from a protestant background, and icons are up there with Eucharistic adoration on the eyebrow-raising list

    • #3
    • September 4, 2018, at 9:22 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  4. SkipSul Moderator
    SkipSul Post author

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):

    What makes an icon different from a stylized painting? A stained-glass window?

    Do you pray to an icon?

    I come from a protestant background, and icons are up there with Eucharistic adoration on the eyebrow-raising list

    Your first question is actually a more complicated question than you might at first think, and there are several different ways to approach it. There are rules for how an icon should be made, in what sequence and steps it should be written (it’s really called “icon writing”, not painting, when you get into it), and when it shifts from merely a painting to an icon. For one thing, it’s not an icon until you write the saint’s name, or the event on the icon. A painting of, say, Saint Nektarios isn’t an icon of Nektarios until it says “Saint Nektarios” on it.

    As for whether a depiction is a “true” icon, that can be a matter of conjecture. Is it venerated? Do its viewers find spiritual truth in it, a connection to Christ? This is not an idle question, especially when modern would-be iconographers bring forms and designs for modern saints. The Romanovs, for instance, were canonized as saints for their martyric deaths, but iconographers have not settled on any convention for that. Some of this is “eye of the beholder”, some is awaiting the verdict of evidence and history (wonder-working icons will hopefully be a post unto themselves).

    Stained glass can definitely be iconographic, and numerous Orthodox churches use it.

    Are icons prayed to? No, not as such. The people they depict are, however, venerated through their icons (not worshipped), and we pray in front of our icons. Both the Orthodox and Catholics (and some Lutherans and Anglicans) do ask, through prayer, for the intercession of the saints. One modern hang-up is the very “pray”. Today it has a very narrow definition in its usage, but its full meaning is “to ask”. You can see that usage all the time in Shakespeare, and that’s how we use the term. We ask, but it’s not prayer in the same sense as praying to Christ.

    I’d have to double check the attribution, but I think it was St. John of Damascus who said something to the effect of “If you take two beams and make them into the shape of the cross, I will venerate the cross. If you pull them apart, I’ll burn them for firewood.” The icons are nought but created materials, made of paint and wood, but they can depict the holy and ineffable.

    • #4
    • September 4, 2018, at 9:40 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  5. OmegaPaladin Moderator

    My sci-fi sense is imagining a future of virtual icons, icons for icons, and chapels made in cyberspace.

    • #5
    • September 4, 2018, at 9:47 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  6. Mike Rapkoch Member

    Nanda Panjandrum (View Comment):

    Skip, for Latin Catholics, the new liturgical year starts in Advent…Are you thinking of a tie to Rosh Hashana? Just curious….Wonderful post!

    Yea. Old Skip had me confused for a moment, but I’ll skip any criticism(-:

    • #6
    • September 5, 2018, at 1:41 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  7. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member

    Beautiful information. Thank you so much for putting this together and sharing.

    Do you consider icons sacramentals? In Catholic thinking, for example, a rosary that hasn’t been blessed can be sold, but a blessed rosary is a sacramental and should be treated differently.

    Is the act of writing the name done with any ceremony or liturgy or blessing?

    For example, any priest can bless a Rosary in any way he chooses. My favorite blessings had always been by our Ghanian priest. He never made them short and he always made me want to sing and dance to the Lord as he prayed over me and my item for blessing.

    • #7
    • September 5, 2018, at 3:04 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  8. danok1 Inactive

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):

    Beautiful information. Thank you so much for putting this together and sharing.

    Do you consider icons sacramentals? In Catholic thinking, for example, a rosary that hasn’t been blessed can be sold, but a blessed rosary is a sacramental and should be treated differently.

    Is the act of writing the name done with any ceremony or liturgy or blessing?

    For example, any priest can bless a Rosary in any way he chooses. My favorite blessings had always been by our Ghanian priest. He never made them short and he always made me want to sing and dance to the Lord as he prayed over me and my item for blessing.

    My experience is that icons are consecrated by a priest. I don’t know the exact “method,” but when I had an icon of the Resurrection consecrated, it remained in the Sanctuary for forty days.

    • #8
    • September 5, 2018, at 5:48 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  9. SkipSul Moderator
    SkipSul Post author

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):

    Beautiful information. Thank you so much for putting this together and sharing.

    Do you consider icons sacramentals? In Catholic thinking, for example, a rosary that hasn’t been blessed can be sold, but a blessed rosary is a sacramental and should be treated differently.

    Is the act of writing the name done with any ceremony or liturgy or blessing?

    For example, any priest can bless a Rosary in any way he chooses. My favorite blessings had always been by our Ghanian priest. He never made them short and he always made me want to sing and dance to the Lord as he prayed over me and my item for blessing.

    I’d have to ask for the details on how this is done. I’ve seen it done in different ways. In one church here, for instance, icons are sometimes placed on one of the kiots in the narthex for veneration by the parishioners over the course of several weeks. It’s something I’ve been meaning to ask my priest about.

    Sometimes, though, merely being in contact with, or the presence of other already consecrated, holy, or wonder-working icons has an effect all its own. See here, for instance:

    https://orthodoxwiki.org/Orthodoxy_in_Hawaii#A_Miracle_in_the_Islands

    • #9
    • September 5, 2018, at 6:29 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  10. SkipSul Moderator
    SkipSul Post author

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):

    My sci-fi sense is imagining a future of virtual icons, icons for icons, and chapels made in cyberspace.

    You know, @titustechera has at times suggested such a future. When people immerse themselves deeply into cyber worlds and games, how does one reach them? Perhaps there will be cyber missionaries, intrepid preachers of the faith who will take the time in these virtual worlds to witness?

    • #10
    • September 5, 2018, at 6:33 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  11. SkipSul Moderator
    SkipSul Post author

    Nanda Panjandrum (View Comment):

    Skip, for Latin Catholics, the new liturgical year starts in Advent…Are you thinking of a tie to Rosh Hashana? Just curious….Wonderful post!

    Mike Rapkoch (View Comment):

    Nanda Panjandrum (View Comment):

    Skip, for Latin Catholics, the new liturgical year starts in Advent…Are you thinking of a tie to Rosh Hashana? Just curious….Wonderful post!

    Yea. Old Skip had me confused for a moment, but I’ll skip any criticism(-:

    OK, fixed. Thanks!

    • #11
    • September 5, 2018, at 6:37 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  12. Titus Techera Contributor

    If I were to hazard another suggestion–why not make games out of Biblical stories? The Old Testament is full of the dramas of heroes & villains, both oriented to faith & aware of the complexities of human nature.

    • #12
    • September 5, 2018, at 6:43 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  13. SkipSul Moderator
    SkipSul Post author

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    If I were to hazard another suggestion–why not make games out of Biblical stories? The Old Testament is full of the dramas of heroes & villains, both oriented to faith & aware of the complexities of human nature.

    This has been tried here and there… and really not done well at all. Too often it has been the usual case where the developers of such games are really just making pale imitations of the regular games, but reskinned with more acceptable garb. If we can find a talented game developer, and one who knows how to tell stories in that milieu, then the possibilities open wide.

    • #13
    • September 5, 2018, at 6:54 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  14. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member

    Jonah, the VeggieTales Game?

    (My kids liked it…)

    • #14
    • September 5, 2018, at 6:57 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  15. Titus Techera Contributor

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    If I were to hazard another suggestion–why not make games out of Biblical stories? The Old Testament is full of the dramas of heroes & villains, both oriented to faith & aware of the complexities of human nature.

    This has been tried here and there… and really not done well at all. Too often it has been the usual case where the developers of such games are really just making pale imitations of the regular games, but reskinned with more acceptable garb. If we can find a talented game developer, and one who knows how to tell stories in that milieu, then the possibilities open wide.

    Yeah, it would take a strange combination of events. Storytellers would have to be found & trusted; conservatives & Christians would have to have some interest in popular culture; there’s a lot of philistinism getting in the way, to say nothing of the ideological barriers…

    It seems reasonable to first found & fund institutions that try to do worthwhile stuff in popular culture. Only later, when you have some judgment & experience, can you undertake serious projects. But that’s not the American way–some enterprising guy might show up with some idea about how to go to market quick & achieve an impressive success…

    I try to do things the slow way. First dealing with popular culture & getting a good grasp on storytelling & its relationship to society. If I have any success with the writing, the podcasts, college lectures, &c., I’m looking to start talking about computer games, too. I’m also looking to do a podcast series that might teach interested audiences–perhaps especially Christian conservatives–what Flannery O’Connor meant when she said, Christian art still has to be good art. Maybe people will be interested in supporting me, even though I don’t have any promises to make about quick success.

    • #15
    • September 5, 2018, at 7:01 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  16. Joseph Stanko Member

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    If we can find a talented game developer, and one who knows how to tell stories in that milieu, then the possibilities open wide.

    Back in the days of Pac-Man and Oregon Trail one talented developer could write a whole game, but modern games are nearly as expensive as Hollywood movies, with large staffs to do all the graphic art, rendering, motion capture, voice acting, music, sound effects, level design, play testing, and so forth.

    • #16
    • September 5, 2018, at 9:45 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  17. Titus Techera Contributor

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    If we can find a talented game developer, and one who knows how to tell stories in that milieu, then the possibilities open wide.

    Back in the days of Pac-Man and Oregon Trail one talented developer could write a whole game, but modern games are nearly as expensive as Hollywood movies, with large staffs to do all the graphic art, rendering, motion capture, voice acting, music, sound effects, level design, play testing, and so forth.

    Sure, but there are also all sorts of indie games & small developers. You don’t have to plunge into making a blockbuster.

    Here–the guy who directed Black Panther had made a small studio movie before that, Creed, & before that an indie or two. The actor who played the villain in BP was in all those movies. It’s possible in Hollywood still to rise. So also in games…

    • #17
    • September 5, 2018, at 11:10 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  18. Instugator Thatcher

    SkipSul: to the Jewish calendar, with Rosh Hashanna marking the new year at about this same time.

    The Jewish civil year maybe. The Jewish new year was moved to 14 days prior to Passover in the book of Exodus the start of the month of Abib (or Nissan).

    • #18
    • September 6, 2018, at 7:28 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  19. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member

    Instugator (View Comment):
    The Jewish civil year maybe. The Jewish new year was moved to 14 days prior to Passover in the book of Exodus the start of the month of Abib (or Nissan).

    ??

    “L’Shana tovah,” which is what you say at Rosh Hashana, which will be celebrated this year starting Sunday night, means Happy New Year!

    Rosh Hashana means “head of the year,” literally.

    Here’s more about the month of Nisan.

     

    • #19
    • September 6, 2018, at 9:07 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  20. Instugator Thatcher

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):
    Here’s more about the month of Nisan.

    Like I said

    Instugator (View Comment):
    The Jewish civil year maybe. The Jewish new year was moved to 14 days prior to Passover in the book of Exodus the start of the month of Abib (or Nissan).

    Wikipedia entry:

    Nisan …, and on the Hebrew calendar is the first month of the ecclesiastical year and the seventh month (eighth, in leap year) of the civil year. 

    Emphasis added.

     

    • #20
    • September 6, 2018, at 11:34 AM PDT
    • Like
  21. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member

    The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, starts on Sunday.

    The first of Nisan is not a festival that is celebrated by most Jews.

    See here for more about the first of Nisan

    • #21
    • September 6, 2018, at 12:39 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  22. Joseph Stanko Member

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    Sure, but there are also all sorts of indie games & small developers. You don’t have to plunge into making a blockbuster.

    Sure, I suppose you could start with a Biblical adaptation of Flappy Bird. Perhaps Flappy Holy Spirit?

    • #22
    • September 6, 2018, at 4:32 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  23. Instugator Thatcher

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):

    The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, starts on Sunday.

    The first of Nisan is not a festival that is celebrated by most Jews.

    See here for more about the first of Nisan.

    I never said it was celebrated. I said it was the start of their New Year. 

    The source document is Exodus 12.

    They treat it as the start of their ecclesiastical year. The first festival of the year is Passover (encompassing three festivals: Preparation day – Nisan 14, Passover – Nisan 15, Waving of the sheaf of First Fruits – after the regular Sabbath, thus always on a Sunday).

    • #23
    • September 6, 2018, at 5:35 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  24. Nanda "Chaps" Panjan… Inactive

    Instugator (View Comment):

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):

    The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, starts on Sunday.

    The first of Nisan is not a festival that is celebrated by most Jews.

    See here for more about the first of Nisan.

    I never said it was celebrated. I said it was the start of their New Year.

    The source document is Exodus 12.

    They treat it as the start of their ecclesiastical year. The first festival of the year is Passover (encompassing three festivals: Preparation day – Nisan 14, Passover – Nisan 15, Waving of the sheaf of First Fruits – after the regular Sabbath, thus always on a Sunday).

    Easy there, ‘Gator; no harm, no foul…You have such a beautiful smile; it works better than a snarl. :-)

    • #24
    • September 6, 2018, at 5:49 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  25. Instugator Thatcher

    Nanda Panjandrum (View Comment):

    Instugator (View Comment):

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):

    The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, starts on Sunday.

    The first of Nisan is not a festival that is celebrated by most Jews.

    See here for more about the first of Nisan.

    I never said it was celebrated. I said it was the start of their New Year.

    The source document is Exodus 12.

    They treat it as the start of their ecclesiastical year. The first festival of the year is Passover (encompassing three festivals: Preparation day – Nisan 14, Passover – Nisan 15, Waving of the sheaf of First Fruits – after the regular Sabbath, thus always on a Sunday).

    Easy there, ‘Gator; no harm, no foul…You have such a beautiful smile; it works better than a snarl. :-)

    Sorry if I gave that impression – no snarl at all. 

    Just leaped out at me in the OP.

    • #25
    • September 6, 2018, at 6:13 PM PDT
    • Like
  26. Nanda "Chaps" Panjan… Inactive

    Instugator (View Comment):

    Nanda Panjandrum (View Comment):

    Instugator (View Comment):

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):

    The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, starts on Sunday.

    The first of Nisan is not a festival that is celebrated by most Jews.

    See here for more about the first of Nisan.

    I never said it was celebrated. I said it was the start of their New Year.

    The source document is Exodus 12.

    They treat it as the start of their ecclesiastical year. The first festival of the year is Passover (encompassing three festivals: Preparation day – Nisan 14, Passover – Nisan 15, Waving of the sheaf of First Fruits – after the regular Sabbath, thus always on a Sunday).

    Easy there, ‘Gator; no harm, no foul…You have such a beautiful smile; it works better than a snarl. :-)

    Sorry if I gave that impression – no snarl at all.

    Just leaped out at me in the OP.

    Forgiven and forgotten, dear ‘Gator; great to have you ’round again. :-)

     

     

    • #26
    • September 6, 2018, at 7:19 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  27. Kim K. Member

    While traveling in Athens last year I saw many, many icons. There seemed to be a church on every other corner and they were all uniquely beautiful. I saw many people kiss the glass over the main icon in each church, cross themselves and then light a candle. 

    Many icons were made of metal with a hole for where the faces, which were painted, would be. I even bought a small one of Mary and Child to use as a Christmas tree ornament. Sorry if that is an Orthodox sacrilege. My kids and husband found it a little strange – something like a small idol. But I think it’s beautiful and it certainly is a great remembrance of my trip.

    • #27
    • September 6, 2018, at 8:22 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  28. Nanda "Chaps" Panjan… Inactive

     Not disrespectful at all; I’ve seen many such uses – and have some that are similar myself. (Skip, what say you?)

    • #28
    • September 6, 2018, at 9:38 PM PDT
    • Like
  29. Judge Mental Member

    Finally got to this. Excellent work, Skip.

    • #29
    • September 7, 2018, at 12:39 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  30. SkipSul Moderator
    SkipSul Post author

    Kim K. (View Comment):

    While traveling in Athens last year I saw many, many icons. There seemed to be a church on every other corner and they were all uniquely beautiful. I saw many people kiss the glass over the main icon in each church, cross themselves and then light a candle.

    Many icons were made of metal with a hole for where the faces, which were painted, would be. I even bought a small one of Mary and Child to use as a Christmas tree ornament. Sorry if that is an Orthodox sacrilege. My kids and husband found it a little strange – something like a small idol. But I think it’s beautiful and it certainly is a great remembrance of my trip.

    I don’t think any would see it as sacrilegious to do that. You’ll find icons in all sorts of places.

    The practice of overlaying an icon with a metal shield is pretty old. Originally it was done to protect very old and well loved and venerated icons from the wear and tear of use, to say nothing of candle smoke, incense, and the grime of age. 

    The shield is called a Riza. Sometimes they can be extremely ornate. Sometimes they are also criticized as being too ornate too, and thus detracting from, or needlessly concealing the icon underneath. Considering that some surviving icons are upwards of a millennium old, though, the riza can be a necessity. In the last 200 years or so, many icons were deliberately made with rizas as an artistic statement or affectation.

    This one’s riza is quite recent, as prior ones were stolen or discarded or lost, but the icon is very very old (exact age is uncertain). This is the Kursk Root Icon. It is Russian, but smuggled out of Kursk to first escape the Bolsheviks, then the Nazis, and it finally was smuggled to the US in the 1950s, where it has remained since. It visited Columbus this past April, which is where I was able to see it. It is reputed to be a wonder-working icon.

    https://orthodoxwiki.org/Kursk_Root_icon

    http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/icon_kursk_e.htm

    • #30
    • September 7, 2018, at 8:59 AM PDT
    • 5 likes