Icons seem a bit odd to us Westerners. When someone like me buys an icon, we usually do it because we like the artwork. We do not understand what it means to “venerate” an icon. I think that the best way for me to explain how the Orthodox think about icons, is to compare it with how you and I might feel about a Bible. First of all, notice that I capitalize the word “Bible.” That sets it apart from a dictionary or an encyclopedia. Secondly, I would ask, “How do you feel about throwing a Bible away in the garbage?” For the Orthodox these icons are more than just artwork ... they are the stories they represent. Icons don’t just remind the faithful of the story they represent they are an embodiment of that person, that story – they evoke a visceral response. So, I hang these icons in a place of honor in my home.
For me, they represent two very special trips I have taken, to two very special places. The first was my trip to Israel. I have many wonderful photos from that trip, and I bought several pieces of artwork as well. But it only seemed right, to purchase an icon of The Holy Family – Mary, Joseph, and Jesus - when I was in Bethlehem. It is now one of several Nativities that are displayed in my home year-round.
The second is from my trip to Greece. Our first two nights in Greece were spent in Thessaloniki (Biblical Thessalonica). My son James and I spent a wonderful evening walking along the seawall in Thessaloniki and then enjoying dinner watching the sun set over the bay. We also toured the church that was named Aghios Dimitrios. So, when I saw this icon of Demetreus of Thessaloniki I wanted to have it.
Demetreus was a Roman born in Thessaloniki in 280 AD to Christian parents who were part of the Roman ruling class. Demetreus became a soldier and then proconsul of Thessaloniki. In 306 AD, he was killed for his faith in Christ during the persecutions of Galerian. In this icon Demetreus is depicted subduing the gladiator Lyaeus, who had killed many Christians.
In our Scripture passage today, the Apostle Paul reminds us that these bodies we have - and this life that we lead - are just “images” or “icons” of the much greater reality that will be. Don’t be worried! Have faith in God and have faith in Jesus. He is the way, the truth, and the life!
Thanks be to God!