Icons and America

Icons seem to be a controversial topic in our country. Aside from the various theological arguments to support  icons in worship, there are several practical benefits. Through the years in other Orthodox countries, they were used as an important way to teach the faithful about Christianity. Icons are in picture, what the gospels are in words. Not everybody had access to Bibles, and not all persons were literate. In either case, icons served as a wonderful way to teach people about the key events of Christ and His ministry.

In modern American life, there are very few illiterate followers. But, our youth are not actively reading the Bible. Another issue in my mind is that our kids are bombarded with images from the world and a society which is in constant moral decay. I reluctantly let my teen watch the Teen Choice Awards on network television Sunday. The heroes of our youth are not the types of persons we want our children to emulate. Miley Cyrus and Kristen Steward just posted a very alarming blog, which was published in the Wall Street Journal about “sexual fluidity”.


Essentially, they say that they don’t want to feel “boxed in” to being categorized as heterosexual or homosexual, etc. They should be able to self identify their sexual preference on any given day without being labelled.

These might be extreme examples of teen idols, but few Hollywood stars or professional athletes live the example that we would encourage our children to follow. Yet, how many young people hang up enormous posters all over the walls with pictures of their favorite athletes or actors? Aside from the two actresses mentioned, look at the examples of famous athletes. We have heard about the escapades of Tiger Woods. Wilt Chamberlain bragged about having 10,000 sexual partners. Magic Johnson was well on his way, contracting HIV along the way. Michael Vick went to jail for abusing animals. Mike Tyson was jailed for rape. Bill Cosby is being accused of the same by multiple women. How many baseball players cheated by using illegal substances? Lance Armstrong, thought to be a great hero, admitted to be a fraud and a cheat. The list could go on and on.

What Christian parent, regardless of tradition, wouldn’t rather have their children hang images of Christ, the Virgin Mary, or great Saints on their walls instead?

We are all called to emulate Christ. Icons represent either an image of Him, or a representation of one of his stories: healing the blind, baptism, transfiguration, entry to Jerusalem, or many other great stories from the Bible.

The Holy Virgin and the Saints are examples of those who have lived Holy Lives in Christ. What child doesn’t love the story of Saint Nicholas, who gave away all of his material possessions to children and those in need. The great Saint Vladimir was instrumental in bringing Christianity to the Slavs. It is said that today 80% of Orthodox Christians globally are Slavic. Talk about spreading the word of Christ! The list of Saints who lived great examples of a life in Christ could go on and on too. Which example do we want for our children? The choice is clear.

So while we are being bombarded with images on magazines, television, video games, billboards, and the like that represent, sex and acquiring material trappings of this world, let’s surround ourselves with Icons that reflect the teachings of Christ.


5 thoughts on “Icons and America

  1. Extremely well written expose on Icons in a modern use setting!

    As a ‘recovering’ Protestant, and now extremely happy Orthodox Christian, I was constantly amused to see those criticizing Icons when their Protestant Churches (and homes) are adorned with modern paintings and images of Christ, his disciples, praying hands, etc. And then what?

    Of course, Islam also finds tremendous offense with Icons. Witness the destruction in Syria now of the gorgeous Churches and the precious Icons. But, now even in all Moslem controlled areas, what was once forbidden, i.e. any use of images, pictures, etc, has been replaced with the militaristic leaders photos.

    Mostly, non Protestants are completely un-fazed by Icons. I remember visiting an open house once that was for sale, and seeing dozens of beautiful Icons on the walls. I asked the obvious question. So, are you Greek, Antiochian, or other Orthodox Diocese? “Oh no, we are not practicing Christians. We just love this type of art.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The forum of depravity is one of great scientific “achievement “. Television. We are given choices intentially be Our beloved savior Jesus Christ. Parental relationships with our children shape the choices they make: TV shows, friends, education, etc. if we parents compromise our values our message will be that of permissiveness and great conflict over time will ensue between parent and child especially if parents do not completely adhere to the values and virtues bestowed upon us. One Icon or a hundred in the home is not the primary source of teaching since, as you said, we have access to many media outlets as a literate society. The Godly guidance we provide is the most permanent even as society challenges and mocks our “extreme” Orthodox purposeful way of life.


    1. Icons are likely not the primary source of teaching, but they are a source. Parental guidance is important, but who spends more time with our children? Teachers and friends have much greater access than do we. So icons are a source and an example. We need all the tools at our disposal. Icons keep us mindful of who we are while in our home.

      Since you mentioned parental example, doesn’t it send a positive message when our sons and daughters see us hang an icon instead of so many other things we could choose to adorn our walls?

      Fr. Peter Gillquist of blessed memory spent countless years in campus ministry. He said one of the most positive experiences he remembers was a boy who hung the Theotokos in his dorm room. His roommate hung playboy posters. The roommate asked why he hung the icon. The orthodox boy said, “you’ve got your lady and I’ve got mine.” The roommate felt embarrassed and took the nudy pictures down.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. The bottom line is the balance gets tipped toward the ways of popular society allowing Orthodoxy to become the exception. And only the exceptional Orthodox can overcome it as the roommate demonstrated. Orthodoxy is fascinating and we must be Orthodox consciously and on purpose.

        Liked by 2 people

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