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.