Monday, April 20, 2009

Taxes and Ikons

April 15, 2009, Tax Day in the U.S.

“Demetri, what about our taxes?” I asked, panicked, about three days before we were scheduled to come here.

“They’re done. I did them while you were in North Carolina.”

“But I haven’t signed anything…”

“I signed for you.”

“You WHAT?”

“Mr. Fleming [our tax preparer] said it would be okay. I hope you don’t object?”

“Is it legal?”

“He says it’s no problem.”

“Well, then, I certainly don’t object! To have the taxes all done without my having to know anything about it, now that’s what I call a dream come true. Just don’t make a habit of signing stuff for me.”

A book entitled: Ikons, Meditations in Words and Music has been lent to us by a dear friend. It’s in English, and the authors are John Tavener and Mother Thekla. Tavener apparently is an immigrant to England, from some Orthodox country.

It’s such a good little book that I hope to share snippets of it with you. Starting with this one, which although a wee bit snarky, has some good points:

I am a little diffident on the question of embarking upon the subject of ikons because, as so many old Orthodox, I am, to put it mildly, somewhat ‘touchy’ on the subject. Nothing irritates me more than being told brightly or earnestly by visitors that they do love ikons, or that they have such a lovely ikon, or, worst of all, that they are learning to paint ikons, or even worse than the worst, that they are teaching others to paint them. So, perhaps, just for once, I should like to take a deep breath and say something of what ikons really mean to us. If I am somewhat harsh and exclusive in my pronouncements I beg to be forgiven, for it is difficult for a tiny minority to keep its integrity of faith.

* * *


Ikons Are NOT works of art.
Ikons are NOT realistic.
Ikons are NOT in accordance with individual creativity.
Ikons are NOT holy pictures.
Ikons are NOT religious greeting cards.
Ikons are NOT objects of superstition (NOT good luck charms in motor cars).

A couple of pages later, Tavener adds that “The Ikon to be an Ikon as we understand it, must be a real Ikon, that is painted strictly within the tradition and blessed by a Priest of the Orthodox Church.” Otherwise, it is NOT an ikon. This is why he bristles at the suggestion that visitors to the Church are painting Ikons, or teaching others to. Those are not ikons.

Tavener also explains why ikons must not be painted realistically.

However, human beings are inclined to idolatry and superstition. To prevent this where Ikons are concerned, the Church has preserved over the centuries the purity of the stylized Ikon. Nothing is permitted that might allow a realism that could lead us to forget that Ikons only represent: they are not. This is why statues are forbidden as is anything ‘natural’ that might confuse the medium with the Truth within the medium.


I am often surprised by the way people treat Ikons. It may help to remember that they are blessed and should therefore be treated with due reverence. When we approach to venerate Ikons in Chburch or at home, we should approach reverently but modestly. An over-indulgence in bowing and crossing oneself can be as distracting as ill manners; we should avoid touching the Ikon, or pointing out an interesting characteristic by a dab of the finger; we should kiss it tentativelyh, in the nearest corner, with the least emotional or ritualistic show possible and withot any suggestion of possessiveness.

If it is necessary to transport an Ikon from one place to another, it should be wrapped in a clean cloth, and if more than one Ikon is carried at the same time they should be placed face to face. We are carrying or touching or venerating holy objects, blessed by the grace of the Holy Spirit, representing in a Mystery Christ himself, either directly or through his Saints. It is a dreadfully uncomfortable feeling when visitors poke a finger on an Ikon saying, ‘What does this bit mean?’

I promise, subsequent snippets from this book won’t be snarky at all!


Anonymous said...

Anastasia, please check the phone number you posted when you got to Greece. I have been told repeatedly (in Greek and English)that it does not exist. The cell phone number has rung through once so it may be okay, but I have obviously not been able to get through to you that way either. Thanks. S

DebD said...

Anastasia - I think you're right that the author is a bit snarky. I've used icons, both in church and at home as a way to teach my children our faith. When going up the venerate it, I've quietly shown my youngest what the icon is and told him a bit about it. Why would this type of "pointing" be considered disrespectful? Are we not to teach our children the faith?

I can certainly understand his bristling at non-Orthodox taking the stuff they like from the church's tradition for their own enjoyment/devotion or whatever, but I'm not sure that can be helped anymore. It would be like telling Protestants they can't have our Bible, KWIM?

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Yes, I now what you mean. I don't think he objects to pointing so much as *touching* while pointing.

S, the contact info I gave was totally off base and I am going to correct it in a special post right now.

Dixie said...

Thanks for the information on icon manners. I frequently have had an inclination to touch the corner of an icon after venerating and praying before the icon. A few times I did allow myself a lingering touch (in the manner of touching a person on the arm when talking to them). I will fight that inclination from now that I know better.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Well, Dixie, that's Tavener's opinion. He may not be correct.