How many icons can you find at the monastery? In the weeks leading up to Sunday, November 12, 2017, I was finding this out as I helped the sisters’ community to prepare for a class on icons for the Youth Ministry of Sunday Assembly. This was not the only thing I learned during the preparation. Being Protestant, I knew only a little about the symbols in icons that are necessary to be able to ‘read’ the story presented or the identity of the person. Our focus for the class was to give the students a basic understanding of the common symbols that they could use to understand a wide variety of icons, as well as an introduction to praying with the icons.
The students that gathered were all part of the ministry of faith formation for preteens and teens that meets once a month. They started by identifying common themes in icons from the monastery: such as Mary and baby Jesus or hands raised in a blessing. The students then learned about some common symbols and used that knowledge to figure out the story of the hospitality icons hanging in the community dining room. These two icons show Abraham and Sarah bringing food to three guests, which are later revealed to be angels. The three angels were interpreted in the Middle Ages to be the Trinity, and this icon is based on an original by Russian painter Andrei Rublev in the 1400s. The class ended in the oratory on the lower level of the monastery with a prayer and minute of silence in front of the icon of Jesus.
Here are some fun facts that I learned about icons!
- John the Baptist is the only human depicted with wings
- The image of Jesus with his hair parted in the middle was originally adapted from depictions of Zeus.
- Halos are circles of God’s uncreated light radiating from the faces of the holy.
- Only Jesus has a cruciform (cross-shaped) halo.