The first icon I received was a mini-icon of the Nativity of Christ. Unfortunately, I gave all three of my icons to my priest, so I don’t actually have pictures of them as they are, but the mural above looks pretty close to what I received. I think my friends were thinking something along the lines of a new birth or the Theotokos having brought me into the Church or that I’m supposed to be part of the Church bearing G-d, but what I did not tell them was that once upon a time, I flirted so much with Latin Catholic practices as an Anglican that I ended up starting to pray the rosary. I was never very good at praying the rosary; having to picture mysteries in my imagination while repeating the Hail Mary as a mantra often felt like a form of multitasking that I could barely handle. When I eventually met my Eastern Jesuit spiritual father, he gently advised me, according to the principles laid out in the Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches for keeping Byzantine practices intact without introducing forms ‘completely foreign’ to the tradition, that if the rosary was a lot of work, it could be seen as a discouraged practice in Eastern Catholic spirituality. But that’s not to say that I didn’t get anything out of the eight years of struggling to pray the rosary as an Anglican. For some reason, I connected the most deeply with the Joyful Mysteries, and the easiest one to concentrate on – possibly because it was the third decade in – was the Nativity. In those moments, I often thought of St Luke’s turn of phrase describing this moment, ‘And Mary treasured all these things in her heart,’ and I would ask her while I struggled to hold this image in my mind, ‘Mary, what are you thinking about?’ Now – having been taken off the rosary by my spiritual father and learning the ropes of being a practicing Byzantine Christian – my friends have offered me an icon at which to gaze that I might be, as I confessed at my chrismation, ‘incited unto piety and emulation of the righteous deeds represented by those images’ (Hapgood, p. 459-460). Now I do not have to hold this picture in my mind anymore, and I release my mental thoughts as she gazes on me with Christ’s light. It is truly right to bless You, O God-bearing One, as the ever blessed and immaculate Mother of our God. More honourable than the cherubim and by far more glorious than the seraphim; ever a virgin, You gave birth to God the Word. True Theotokos, we extol You.
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