Thursday, June 26, 2008

Altars and Images

Your sensus catholicus is absolutely correct and always inspiring; indeed, it is certainly not only permissible but laudatory to erect a shrine or altar in one's home for the purpose of Christian devotion, as such practice goes directly to the heart of orthodox Christian theology and spirituality and reinforces powerfully the reality and effect of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.

The God Who became Man dwells in us and in the Church by His Holy Spirit as in a temple, and certainly it is always and everywhere correct to consecrate our homes and dwelling places to Our Lord by the use of sacred Images and other sacramentals. The honour given to the Christian icon passes to its prototype, and the possession and veneration of icons communicate the fact and the graces of Incarnation of the Word of God - the God Who was once invisible became forever permanently visible in the Person of Our Lord, and thus the Holy Icons defend and teach, and what is more, confer in a mystical way, the mystery of the Eternal Son of God made Man. Icons and statues are actually necessary to orthodox Christian worship, for without them the Incarnation cannot be realised in a personal and tangible manner. The miracles and actions of Our Lord pass, upon His Ascension, into the Sacraments and sacramentals of the Church. If you have not had your home blessed by a priest, please consider that sacramental as a splendid way of offering your lives and your home to God in a profound way.

In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, a corner of the most prominent room of the home or the most comfortable and familiar area is set apart as an 'icon corner' in which icons of Christ, His Mother and Saints are set-up for private prayer, devotion and veneration. In the Roman Catholic tradition, statues and images of Christ, Our Lady and the Saints adorn most rooms of a devout person's home, and the crucifix is particularly used, being as it is the great Sign of Salvation. A actual small altar with an enshrined Image or Images on it is common in many RC places. Anglicans are free, in the natural spirit of liberty so cherished by us, to follow either path or to combine them. The Prayer Book and other Anglican formularies give no direction regarding such practice, nor do they prohibit or recommend any one course of action. You are free to do what you believe is most edifying for you and your family. Personally, we primarily collect and use icons of the Byzantine Orthodox tradition and sprinkle them around our home. Celtic crosses are popular too. We always keep a statue of Our Lady of Walsingham, the Patroness of the British Isles, in every room or section of the house. A crucifix is prominently displayed in each bedroom and office space. Please feel at liberty to choose those styles of Christian art that most appeal to you. The only objectionable or inappropriate images are those that do not accord with the Sacred Tradition of the Church or whose artistic value and merits are in question! The Orthodox tradition of the East prohibits, 1. images of Our Lady without the Christ Child, as they tend to separate the Holy Virgin from the reason for her exaltation, namely the Incarnation, and 2. images of God the Father, Who is invisible and for that reason cannot be depicted in an icon. Only icons of canonised Saints, recognised by the Church and honoured at her Altars, should be kept and venerated. If you have any questions about an image, please know you are always most welcome to ask.

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