1. What Is An Icon In The Christian Tradition?
According to ancient Christian tradition, an icon is a "window" to holiness, to heaven. In it or through it one can come into the presence of God or look at the world and eternity through the eyes of God. Contemplating an icon, a person can enter the spiritual world and approach that which is sacred. An icon allows one to experience time from a divine perspective. Everything that occurs in the icon takes place simultaneously and always. It enables one to see the invisible and sense what is eternal and indestructible, to contemplate the spiritual world. And further, it allows a believer to enter into a direct relationship with God, the Mother of God, or the saints. An icon is the prayer of a person, a hymn to the Glory of God. It is a channel of grace. Some bluntly speak of energy emanating from an icon. The fact is that many people experience the "touch" of God's presence when they enter into its depths. Thanks to that, God brings to pass many signs, spiritual and physical healings. It is even said that the most venerated icons are "miracle makers".
2. How Is An Icon To Be Read?
While maintaining the realism of the world it presents, an icon is at the same time a unique language, the painted word of God, the living Gospel. Therefore, icons are not painted, but rather, written. They use color, luster, shape, symbol, change how proportion is expressed, and reverse perspective. This particular language of an icon is well-known in the East. The West, however, has moved away somewhat from this tradition and needs to be reeducated in it. For example, the color gold signifies holiness, imperishability, eternity. The figures of Jesus and Our Lady have traditionally colored garments, which signify their natures. Gestures are especially important, e.g. the arrangement of fingers in blessing hands. The figures in an icon are always displayed frontally, which witnesses to their reality and sincerity. The eyes simultaneously look through to the interior and to eternity. Similarly the ears are directed to the interior, listening to the voice of God.
The types of iconographic images are strictly defined, e.g. there are various ways of representing Our Lady: HODIGITRIA--A guide pointing the way, ELEOUSA--cuddling the baby Jesus to her face, or ORANTA--the Praying one, and many others. Famed icons of a defined type carry their own names. And so, of those which are most well-known and considered the oldest, the Czestochowa icon is HODIGITRIA and the Vladimir icon is ELEOUSA. Most important however is the path of a living spiritual relationship between the heavenly and earthly worlds. Thus, when we stand before an icon and contemplate that reality, we can establish a spiritual connection with the world of the sacred. If one doesn't understand completely that fascinating language, he needs to let himself be carried away by the sublime sensations that come over a person who prays through the icon.
As an image, an icon is not and cannot be the object of worship, because the image is not God Himself. It only makes possible, facilitates the spiritual contact of a man with the Creator and with saints. The Christian does not worship the icon itself, but the living God, who through the reality displayed in the icon, draws the person to Himself.
3. The Role of the Iconographer
An iconographer gives his hands, talents, mind, and heart over to the service of the Gospel. His task is to open the way to the presence of God. To accomplish that, he must obediently conform to the canon of traditional iconography. He is not free to launch his own world view, change the language of the icon and introduce innovations. He must humbly and patiently imitate the ancient examples. In practice, the idea of a copy does not apply, since each blessed icon is a road which leads to the authentic presence of a holy person. Thus, each icon is a true original. All changes must fit into the boundaries of the biblical canon. In order to show the way to the divine reality and lead a person to God, the iconographer must enter that path himself. That is his personal mystery. He does this while praying, fasting, and offering his work to God. If he doesn't do that, the icon he writes will be dead. He must also be completely transparent. According to the ancient Christian tradition, the icon does not have a human author. Icons are not signed like pictures, because the Author of the icon is God Himself.
4. How does the icon differ from a painting or image?
The language of the icon is based on Sacred Scripture, the unique manner of evangelization. It is thus governed by a strict canon which may not be altered, just as one is not allowed to revise Sacred Scripture. A painter is the creator of his painting, in which he presents his own world view. An iconographer must humbly conform to the canon of language and content in order to remain faithful to the teaching of the Church. In this context one can see the immense difference between the most beautiful religious painting and the canonical icon. It is like comparing a philosophical tract with the Holy Scripture. This also applies even to the most beautiful image, which is not and cannot become the language, the actual content of the Word of God and window to the spiritual, heavenly reality.
5. Why the Czestochowa Icon?
The Czestochowa icon is of the Hodigitria type or the "Guide to the Path". This means that the Our Lady leads us to Christ, points out the way to God, the giver of life. Therefore, her right hand points to Christ. Like a loving mother, she protects life.
According to the ancient Christian tradition, the Czestochowa icon is one of the oldest icons and was written on the surface of a table from Mary's home in Nazareth by St. Luke the Evangelist. It is honored greatly throughout the world.
There is a well-known prophecy by Fr. Serafin Sarowski, a great Orthodox saint, monk, eremite and ascetic of the first half of the 19th century. He said that unless Russia returns to the faith, a river of blood will flow and there will be great persecutions. But afterwards, God will give Russia time to return to Him, for which we must pray before the Czestochowa icon. He died in 1833, and the appearances in Fatima did not take place until 1917.
The Czestochowa Icon is found in Poland in the monastery of the Pauline Fathers on Jasna Gora in the center of Europe. In this icon, east meets west and north meets south. It is known throughout the entire world.
Representatives of the Orthodox movement from Russia chose the Czestochowa icon for the pilgrimage as the most venerated and well-known icon, uniting east and west. On 28 January 2012, in the monastery at Jasna Gora, leaders of pro-life movements from 18 countries prayed before that icon and solemnly made an "Act of dedicating the defense of the civilization of life and love" into the hands of their Mother and Helper. At the same time, the copy of the icon assigned to the pilgrimage "From Ocean to Ocean" through the world in defense of life was touched to the original and blessed.
6. A Bit of History
The documented history of the Czestochowa icon began in 1382, when it was delivered and donated to the Pauline Fathers at Jasna Gora by Wladyslaw, prince of Opole. According to his written declaration, he received it as a gift in Belz, Rus. In order to learn the prior history of the Czestochowa icon, we must turn to Christian tradition, which decisively maintains that it is one of the oldest icons, written by
St. Luke the Evangelist, on a panel that was the table top of Our Lady's family home in Nazareth. It was certainly taken to Byzantium, where evidence of its presence can be found. Next it was taken to Rus as a wedding gift. The lack of historical documentation has generated discussions among specialists who present various hypotheses regarding the time and place of its origin and the roads it travelled.
The substrate of this icon consists of three boards, which were not reinforced by special grooves on the back. If it really was a tabletop, it would not be necessary to use such reinforcement. Over the course of its history, the icon was twice split and restored. The greatest damage occurred as a result of the robbery by assault on the monastery of the Pauline Fathers at Jasna Gora in 1430. In an aggressive act of profanation, the icon was stripped of the silver plate in which it was covered along with many jewels. It was broken into three pieces, and the face of Our Lady was twice cut with a sword. After its restoration, the scars were left on the cheek of Our Lady, and to this day they make a great impression and remain as a characteristic feature of the Czestochowa icon.
The copy designated for the peregrination "From Ocean to Ocean" was made in Poland, touched to the original and blessed by Archbishop Stanislaw Nowak, the Metropolitan of Czestochowa. It is the same size as the original and made on a solid carved board of linden wood. It was made by the traditional method using egg tempera and natural dyes as well as 23 carat gold leaf. It was also supplemented by elements necessary for canonical orthodox icons, which disappeared during the historic restorations and repainting. These are: a cross in Christ's halo (made with white gold on yellow gold), changing one of the lilies on the right arm to a star (there should be three stars--on the arms and forehead--which signify that Mary is a virgin before, during and after the birth of Christ. The Child Jesus is the third star.), and the ancient orthodox inscriptions on the background signifying who is portrayed on the icon. A characteristic feature of that copy are tears on the left cheek of Our Lady.
The leaders of pro-life movements from 20 countries are members of the International Peregrination Committee which decided to make a pilgrimage "From Ocean to Ocean" in defense of life, from Vladivostok to Fatima.
Is the Czestochowa Icon Polish?
The Czestochowa icon has been in Poland in the monastery of the Pauline fathers at Jasna Gora in Czestochowa since 1382. Over the centuries, the presence of the Czestochowa icon became rooted in Polish history. Jasna Gora, surrounded with great reverence by Poles, became a national shrine. In the 17th century the victorious defense of the monastery was the turning point in the war with Sweden. It marked the beginning of the expulsion of the invaders and the icon became a symbol of the unity of the nation. The Polish King, Jan Kazimierz, proclaimed Our Lady of Czestochowa the Queen of Poland.
Over the course of time, Our Lady of Czestochowa was crowned several times by papal crowns. Blessed John Paul II had great devotion to the icon of Czestochowa and returned to Jasna Gora several times. As a personal relic, he gave the Mother of God his stole, which was bloodied from the assassination attempt in St. Peter's Square. It is contained in a special capsule located above the altar next to the icon.
Poles greatly revere the Czestochowa icon and visit it often. They consider Mary their Mother and Queen. They go to her with all their problems. Millions of people visit the monastery at Jasna Gora.
Despite such strong ties with Poland, however, it cannot be said that the icon is exclusively Polish. It is known and revered in many countries around the world. Its origin is undoubtedly connected with the beginning of Christianity and with Byzantium. It also has connections with Rus. This icon is also venerated by the Orthodox Church and other western Christian faith communities.
In summary: the Czestochowa icon is one of Christianity's holiest relics and is widely known and venerated throughout the whole world.
7. The Czestochowa Icon in Russia
The Czestochowa icon is known and valued in Russia. The Orthodox Church venerates it as one of the oldest of the so-called Lucan school. It can be found in Orthodox homes. Holy cards depicting it are widely available in Russia. It is considered to be an ancient Orthodox icon, which comes from Byzantium and was also present in Rus in Belz. Old and new copies of it are frequently found in Orthodox churches. The Orthodox name for it is "Invincible Victory". The hymn "Victorious Queen" is sung in her honor. It is the patron of those who desire a restoration of national and family values.
8. What inspired the pilgrimage with the Czestochowa Icon "From Ocean to Ocean"?
The icon was presented to the Russian Orthodox pro-life movement, whose leaders decided to transport her in a pro-life pilgrimage through Russia, beginning in Vladivostok, located in the Far East on the shore of the Pacific Ocean. The goal of the journey had to be determined, and the possibility of its going further, through all of Europe to Fatima, to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean was considered. The leaders of the movements for the defense of life from Europe came to Czestochowa where they formed an International Committee and with joy accepted that idea. While at first it seemed like a foolish, impossible concept, the peregrination "From Ocean to Ocean" became a reality.
According to a time-honored custom, Christians brought a holy icon to the front lines, like the Ark of the Covenant, asking God for help in the time of the greatest threats and wars. Today, we want to bring the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa to the front line of the great struggle for the civilization of life, which is under attack by the more and more powerful and very aggressive civilization of death.
9. Why are both the Orthodox and Catholic Churches hosting the Czestochowa icon during this peregrination?
The peregrination of the Czestochowa icon "From Ocean to Ocean" through the world in defense of life is a joint initiative of pro-life movements from many countries and the international organization Human Life International. The copy of the Czestochowa icon, which was touched to the original and blessed at Jasna Gora, is a gift of the Polish pro-life movement to the Russian movement. The leaders of the movement in the east are Orthodox, while the majority in the west are Catholic. They have gone to their bishops, asking for their blessing and acceptance of the pilgrim icon in defense of life. For that reason, the Orthodox church is hosting the Czestochowa icon in Russia, but in Belarus, both churches together decided on the route and locations of meetings. The Catholic Church will host it in Poland, Hungary, and in Spain. To the extent possible, the icon will also visit Orthodox churches in the west. The cult of the Mother of God in the Czestochowa icon and the defense of human life and its dignity are powerful elements uniting both churches.
10. Why is the Czestochowa icon so important for the defense of human life?
Our Lady of Czestochowa is considered by the Christian tradition to be written by St. Luke the Evangelist on the tabletop from Mary's home in Nazareth. In that icon, Mary is presented as Hodigitria, a guide, a Mother who points out the way. Her right hand points to Christ. The current threat to the civilization of life and love has a global character. Defenders of life realize that alone they have no chance of winning the struggle with the extremely aggressive civilization of death. They ask for help from the Mother of God, who defends life and crushed the head of the eternal killer. They chose the Czestochowa icon as the most well-known and unifying tradition in the east as well as in the west. They stood before the Mother of God in the Czestochowa icon and dedicated the defense of the civilization of life and love to her. The pilgrimage "From Ocean to Ocean" is a great act of faith in victory. After all, the Czestochowa icon carries the title "Invincible Victory" in the east.
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