Frederica Mathewes-Green on Praying to Icons


BOB ABERNETHY: And now a new feature that will appear on this program from time to time. We call it Belief & Practice, and we’ll explore what people believe and how they practice their faith. This week, as the Greek Orthodox enthroned a new archbishop, we look at the practice of praying with icons. Whether singing or speaking their prayers, whether at home or in church, Orthodox Christians from all ethnic backgrounds use icons in their prayers. We talked to Frederica Mathewes-Green, a convert to Orthodoxy and author of several books about the faith.


Ms. FREDERICA MATHEWES-GREEN (Author; Christian Orthodox Convert): The classic definition of an icon is that it’s a window into heaven, that you don’t stop with the object itself, the wood, the paint, but that you use it to go through, to enter the heavenly realms. When we’re in church, we’re surrounded with icons, as if we can see these saints of the history of the church praying alongside us. So we cherish them, we venerate them, we kiss them. We don’t worship them. They’re not idols to us. They are not in themselves infused, magical, holy objects. But they are — they’re a way to make contact with something beyond us.

People will find that if they bring icons into their home, that not only are they looking at the icon; the icon’s looking at them. The seriousness, the gravity, the beauty, and the holiness of the presence of these icons will begin to change you.


I’ve found that icons, although they remain somewhat austere, there is something in that that is healing to me, that it knows the truth about me and about my failures and my simpleness and the things I try to ignore, and that it has the answer.

(Singing) Dedicate as her offering of thanksgiving …

I pray four times a day, at morning, noon, sunset, and right before I go to sleep. And it’s a short, perhaps two minutes’ worth of prayers. Whenever I can, I come to the icon corner to pray.