There are no hard-and-fast rules for prayer with an icon. The icon represents the presence of the person depicted, as if they were there in the room with you. It is a contemplative, centering sort of prayer technique, quiet and deep. Many people set up a “home altar” or Russian “red corner” for their icon. “Red” means “beautiful” in Russian. Light a candle. Hold the icon in your hands. Icons are made to be touched, kissed, venerated.
In a sense, praying with an icon is similar to the practice of lectio divina, using an image of God instead of Scripture passages. Every icon is an image of God and His Goodness.
An icon is an expression of the Gospel in line and color, attesting to spiritual truths and mysteries that are difficult to put into words: the Trinity, the Incarnation of God, the transfiguring power of God’s Grace, the eternal Kingdom of God, etc.
Here is one approach to praying with an icon:
Simply set aside 3 or 5 or 30 minutes to sit in a quiet, restful place with a chosen image. Sit with the same icon for several days/weeks as part of your regular prayertime.
Gaze at the icon, and allow it to gaze back at you. Allow yourself to be in dialogue with the Person depicted in the icon, or simply rest in his/her presence.
If you are so inspired, notice the details, be conscious of what they suggest to you. What things resonate with you–
and which bother you? Reflect on these things.
Listen with your heart to what God is telling you through the image, and respond in prayer.
Another way: some people like to add mindful breathing to their prayer process. Many will use the Jesus prayer and breathe in and out with the words, while gazing at the icon. Again, select an icon image that appeals to you. Say the words of the prayer, silently or aloud, while breathing deeply:
Lord Jesus Christ (breathing in, recognizing His grace and presence in your soul), Son of God (breathing out, sending out your praise and acclamation), have mercy on me (breathing in, humbly accepting His mercy), a sinner (breathing out, releasing guilt and expressing gratitude for God’s forgiveness and love for you)
Recommended reading: There are several good, basic books to introduce Western Christians to the ancient liturgical art of the icon. These are my favorites: Behold the Beauty of the Lord by Henri Nouwen, Praying with Icons by Jim Forest, and A Brush With God by Peter Pearson. All of them are excellent.
Recommended blogs: Recently there have been a couple of wonderful posts by Deacon Paul Ianoco on this subject. Check out this link for more information and a another perspective on praying with icons: http://fraangelicoinstitute.com/2012/05/30/part-two-icons-icon-painters-and-praying-with-sacred-icons/