Lent is almost here. I have set up my “beautiful corner” for the prayers and images for the season. I find myself drawn to certain of my icons during Lent, and create a home altar to contemplate and prepare my soul for the celebration of the Resurrection of our Savior.
One prays not “to” icons, but “with” them, and in the presence of the person depicted. An icon represents someone in particular, and we are in their presence of and in communion with the saints and God as we pray. Having the imags in front of me keeps me focussed and cognizant of this, of God’s presence with me every day, of the entire communion of saints praying with me.
I used 3 icons for my Lenten altar: the first is an image called “Extreme Humility”. The model for this icon is Serbian.
Jesus is shown with a part of the cross above, and part of the stone tomb indicated below. His hands are crossed over His chest, in death, and in a symbolic gesture of silence and humility. He is shown as dead, because the Son of God truly died on the cross, only to rise again. He bears the marks of suffering and pain on His body. Jesus’ head is bowed in submission to the will of God. He gives all of Himself to God for our sake. We are saved through His loving sacrifice.
The second is a small crucifix that I painted, based on an 8th century Syrian icon. Jesus has died upon the Cross. Blood and water gush from his side. The Cross is glowing with gold, with Divine Light. Jesus wears not the usual loincloth, but a long gown: the ancient gown of a High Priest in the Middle East. There isn’t too much emphasis on His suffering in this image, but instead on His conquering of death through the giving of Himself for us. The inscription above His head reads: Jesus Christ, The King of Glory.
Finally, there is an icon of St. Anthony of the Desert/aka St. Anthony the Great/ aka St. Anthony of Egypt. He is one of the earliest Desert Fathers, living alone in the remote Egyption desert as a hermit, praying constantly. The saint spent many long nights wrestling with temptations of the flesh and the attacks of demons. Often they came in the context of vivid dreams, and Anthony would awake battered and exhausted. His temptations were defeated through intense prayer, humility and contemplation in solitude. An angel was sent to him to strengthen and guide him–perhaps his own guardian angel? He became famous as a holy man, and many came to him for teaching and guidance. Eventually his disciples established a monastery in the desert outside of Cairo, which they named after him. It still exists. His rule is simple: prayer, times of solitude, and simple work. St. Anthony’s example of contemplative prayer and his overcoming of personal obstacles has always been an inspiration to me, especially relevant in this time of atonement and repentance.