22 December 2016
To the uninitiated, the icon is beautiful artwork. The colors are rich and verdant – vivid yet transparent – illuminated. Burnished gilding reflects the light back on itself; night-dark indigo and deep vermilion gently glow.
Yet these depictions of saints and holy figures – these icons – are not painted; they are written. They are not meant to be admired for their beauty – although they certainly are beautiful, they are meant to be engaged with. They are created for dialogue, conversation, and introspection. According to the Eastern Orthodox faith, these icons are not just the images of saints, angels and holy figures, but their very presence.
Just outside of the village of Palmyra is the Skete of Saint Maximos the Confessor – an Eastern Orthodox monastery and chapel. Two monks – Father Kyril and Father Mefodii – live at the skete and lead services in the chapel there. The chapel is filled with light; sunshine from without pours in through large windows; inside, candles flicker and the gilded icons gently glow. In the company of saints, congregants sing the liturgy in conversation with the cantor and the priest; myriad tiny bells on the censer chatter as perfume fills the air. Icons line the walls; a screen of icons on tall stands divides the chapel.