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May 26, 2019: All Souls Pray • Objects of Prayer

by Mother Diana

Eastern Orthodox Christians pray with their eyes, focusing on the adoring and prayerful gaze.  Eastern cathedrals, like St. Nicholas and St. Sophia’s here in D.C., are resplendent with mosaics and freestanding icons. This Easter season, an icon of the resurrected Jesus hangs in the space to the right of the altar, normally home to a crucifix. The figure, wearing jewel-like colors, stands against an almost-empty landscape. It was painted in Russia by two iconographers who are part of a new generation of icon painters, hewing to the rules and theology of millennia of iconography, but infusing their art with a modern, stylized sensibility.

Russian mystics describe prayer as descending with the mind into the heart, where it stands in the presence of God. It is in this way that we pray with icons, our hearts open to the heart of God. We gaze upon the icon, absorbing the kindly face of Jesus. We notice the gentle curve of the plants, alone against a background that welcomes us to fill its space with our own imagination. We meditate, perhaps like Thomas, on the bright red wounds. Within the small frame of the icon, the mystery of Jesus’ love for us is comes alive and solicits a cry from us. After Pentecost the icon will return to my home. But there is always a wealth of imagery here, mostly in stained glass, that surrounds our worship and invites us to reflect and pray.

Another object that is specially with us this season is the large Paschal candle that stands before us, near the pulpit. Forty days after Easter, as we celebrate the feast of the Ascension on May 30, the Paschal candle will be repositioned near the font, until it is put away after Baptisms are celebrated on June 16, Trinity Sunday. The journey of the candle tells a story. Its movement at the celebration of Jesus' Ascension highlights the idea that Jesus, though still with us, is no longer in sight, and lives on in the hearts, minds, and actions of those Baptized in his name. I invite you to gaze upon the candle as an icon. Notice the symbols embedded in it: the Alpha and the Omega, the cross, and the five grains of incense sealed in wax representing God’s wounds. Allow the candle and font to become icons, just as the painting was an icon. Gaze upon them with your eyes, seeing them not for their usefulness, but as objects of love and veneration. How might your mind drop into your heart and find God when gazing upon the candle that lights the water of your Baptism, your life in Christ?  

This week’s Message is part of a series reflecting on different prayer practices as they are experienced at All Souls.

Last Published: May 21, 2019 5:42 PM
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