Thursday, July 8, 2010

From Iconoclast to Iconophile

I originally wrote this blog post back in November of last year, so its a little out of date. However, to change anything in the post would betray the flavor and the feeling of what I wrote. So here goes:

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.


  1. It is interesting for me to read about your transformation Jennifer, especially the part about your transforming spirit. No comments or condemnations on my part - just watchful waiting and wondering at what it all means in light of past discussions and words written in anger in the past.

    In peace,

  2. Really, I hope that my conversion to the Orthodox Faith will manifest itself mainly in love for God and love for others. My priest has mentioned this a few times and I think its so true: "Learning to shut up is a tremendous spiritual discipline." Couldn't agree more. So I hope you'll see less controversy and certainly a less contentious spirit. Lord have mercy!

  3. No one lives in a vacuum. Our lives are not stagnant, but ever changing, organic, and fluid. I would hope that we would all become better with time. But for my part, I have always found Jennifer to be fiercely loyal, kind, and sincere. I for one, would hope that never changes.

  4. Don't worry. It won't :-) I might pick fewer fights, but that doesn't mean I won't stand up for the truth or for my loved ones.

  5. I actually found your loyalty and sincerity to be very admirable qualities. We should all be so fortunate to have such defenders in our lives. Anne seems the same. And of course as Anne mentioned all of our gifts, treasures and qualities manifest themselves differently hopefully as we grown in grace, years and wisdom. With that I am in total agreement, and again I wish you peace and blessings on your new faith journey.

  6. I think it also worth mentioning that the decision that I made that led to all of these "past discussions and words written in anger" is not something that would be condemned in the Orthodox Church. So, her feelings about that, I know are unaffected.

    In my opinion what led to the harsh words and hurt feelings had nothing at all to do with Jennifer's spirit, and everything to do with what she (in my opinion rightfully) perceived as an attack on someone she loves. So, I can't imagine any transformation on Jennifer's part changing that.

    There's more I'd like to say, but since this is Jennifer's blog and not mine, and since both she and I would like to pick fewer fights, I'll let it go.

  7. I have no doubt that "feelings about that" are unchanged. So are mine.

    Yet at the same time I can honor the loyalty and sincerity behind them and continue to wish Jennifer peace in her faith journey.

    BTW I also love your template choice- very nice. And I think it reflects your new faith chapter very well.

  8. Thank you, Elena. I wish the same for you.