Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Thursday, July 8, 2010
Kursk-Root Icon (c. 13th Century)
I used to be a pretty hardcore iconoclast. I believed that any image, whether carved, painted, sculpted, or “written” was a violation of the Second Commandment. The commandment does not simply forbid the worship of images, but their very making as well. I’d go over to Heather’s house and feel all uncomfortable because she had so many “idols” hanging around. I was mortified that she had her children color line drawings of icons. I was content with the barren, white walls of my Reformed church, but at the same time, acutely aware of the double standard when it came to flannel graphs and illustrated Bibles used in Sunday School.
Of course, my iconoclasm formed completely out of ignorance and a prideful unwillingness to consider the actual Orthodox teachings regarding icons.
If you invited me to venerate an icon of the Theotokos back in July, I would have laughed in your face and been offended by the invitation. But God has worked a wonder in my heart and in my mind. He has changed my mind, about everything, but most especially, the beautiful spiritual reality of icons.
Heather visited me one night soon after I started really considering Orthodoxy. She showed me images of weeping icons and I watched in awe. There is no scientific explanation for the phenomenon. An icon is simply wood and paint (or a print with glue). The wood is not so thick so as to hide some kind of mechanical doo-dad used to make the icon spew myrrh. They just do it. God performs a miracle. Its as simple as that. I found myself very impressed by weeping icons. They actually testified to me of the truth of Orthodoxy, in a small but significant way.
The other day, I found out about the Kursk Root icon which was being venerated at the Serbian Orthodox Church in Irvine. Not a weeping icon, but a wonder-working icon! And this icon is old- 750 years and maybe more. As I read about its history, I became more and more intrigued. I knew I had to see it (cuz its old!) and to venerate it (cuz its holy!).
I arrived at this little mission church last night and quickly found myself surrounded by Orthodox Christians of all stripes- Serbians, Russians, Greeks, Antiochians, some head covering, most not, priests in cassocks with big bushy beards, male laity with big bushy beards, children, babies, families, people with bags of icons for blessing, folks from St. Paul’s, non-English speakers, the elderly… we all had one thing in common: devotion to the Theotokos. God has healed many people, spiritually and physically, by using this icon, including St. Seraphim of Serov. I was overwhelmed to be there.
The clergy and choir performed (I know that’s not the right word, but I’m not sure what else to use) the Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos. I’ve never heard this service before, but I understood from Heather that its just beautiful. And it is. I can’t really describe the affect that hearing this service had on my heart… but for the first time, I felt real genuine love for the Theotokos. I felt that I knew her. I felt real devotion.
And to be surrounded by people who had such an incredible understanding of what it meant to be in the presence of this incredible piece of church history- something that God has used for 700 years to heal people and to forge a deeper spiritual connection. Some people cried during the Akathist. Many people bowed before this icon and lay their heads upon it when they stood to kiss it.
The whole evening was incredibly moving for me. I am so glad I went. I was able to go alone which meant that I didn’t have to run after kids and that I could actually concentrate and pray during the service. I only wish I had known to bring my icons or my prayer rope to be laid upon the icon and blessed.
Even as I write this, I am stunned by my own words. The Lord has brought me so far these past three months. I am completely shocked. I can honestly say that, for the first time in my life, I actually have a real relationship with God. I know that He loves me. I am certain of it. I now know the plan he has for my life- to be united with Him and commune with Him. When I pray, I believe he is listening. There is a purpose and a fervency to my prayers that has never before been present. When I was a Calvinist, I saw no point to prayer. Why pray? It doesn’t change anything. We pray because God commanded us to, but it really has no effect on anything.
I am ashamed to have once believed that. I do not know how I lived without regular prayer.
My deepest desire is to join the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church this upcoming Pascha. My most fervent prayer is for my husband to come alongside me and that we can raise our children in the Church. I long to be a full member of Christ’s Church- to consume His Body and Blood… Heather said to me a few weeks ago: “You know, we have never ever had the Eucharist. We have never truly taken communion.” Those words pierced my soul because she was right.
As time goes on, as I learn and experience more, and as I see how my life and spirit have changed as a result of embracing Orthodoxy, I become more and more certain of its truth. This is the Church. I must be there.
O Most Holy Mother of God, intercede with your son on my behalf! You know my heart, O Mother of all Christians. I desire with all that is in me to be united with your Son. Pray for me!
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us.
No parent should have to bury their child.
Just over a year later, my very oldest and best friend went through the same thing with her latest pregnancy. The diagnosis for her baby was terminal as well. She had to bury her most beloved and wanted baby Sarah. I’d just passed the year anniversary of my own daughter’s death and to go through this with my best friend was absolutely devastating. If I wouldn’t wish this pain on my worst enemy, imagine how it feels to have your best friend go through this hell.
No parent should have to bury their child.
A little over a month after Sarah’s death, my dad died. My very dear, beloved grandma (my dad’s mom) told us both (my friend and me) that now she understood the pain we felt when we lost our children. She had to bury her son. She was like us now… a loss mom.
There is an emptiness in the heart of a loss mom that no words can describe…
Fast forward nearly six years… The walls of my hardened heart have collapsed and I am an open vessel, willing and ready to embrace Orthodoxy with my heart and soul. But there was Mary, venerated and adored by the Orthodox, something my Calvinistic sensibilities still fought against, even though I no longer held to those beliefs.
It hit me one day as I meditated on her. She had lost her own Son. She, who had nursed him, comforted him, taught him, fed him, sang him to sleep every night… he died. She knew it was going to happen. She didn’t try to stop Him. She simply treasured her knowledge in her heart. She loved Him more than anything or anyone in the world. Even though she knew He would rise again on the third day, she stood at the foot of His cross and wept. She saw His pain and prayed for him.
Mary, the blessed Theotokos, buried her child… as my grandma buried hers… as my best friend buried hers… as I buried mine.
Mary knows what it is like to lose a child and yet hope in the resurrection. She is a loss mom, like me. And she is now so very dear. She is teaching me so much of grief, hope, and perseverance. Even though Jesus is alive, he had ascended into heaven and she was left to live out the rest of her days without her precious son. In a way, she still lost him. But she continued on. She ministered to people. She told people of her hope and her joy. She is much beloved and has so much to teach all of us who have suffered this kind of pain.
Thank you, O Theotokos, for the life of faith you lived and for the strength you showed all of those who came to know you. Pray for us loss moms, you who understand our hearts. Hold our dear, departed children in your arms, O Mother of God, for they have found a home in you.