With Eyes of Devotion

The history of icons is fraught with dissension and violence. Leonid Ouspensky has commented, ôChristianity is the revelation not only of the Word of God but also of the Image of God, in which [GodÆs] likeness is revealed.ö And therein lies the crux of the matter: whether one can depict the likeness of the uncreated one.

Jim Forest’s Praying With Icons is a primer on the background of icons and their position in the Orthodox tradition as aids to, even servants of, those who pray. In a short introductory history, Forest succinctly tells of the struggle among believers and theologians to express the line between idolatry and the making of images that invite people to be drawn deeper into the mystery of faith. Icons are seen by many in the tradition to affirm the incarnation and to witness devoutly to the person of Jesus Christ, both human and divine. Eventually this perspective prevailed.

Short chapters cover the making of icons, rules and prayers for iconographers, the use of color, and symbols that icons have in common. Forest offers remarkable insights into the place of an icon within a sanctuary and within liturgy and into the devotional life of those who pray, with both body and soul.

The book’s text is simple and unadorned in contrast to the richness of the reproductions of the icons themselves. In addition black-and-white photographs scattered throughout the text depict both icons and moments of the Orthodox Church at liturgy. Praying With Icons is about beauty and intimacy and is beautiful in its own right, drawing the reader into a contemplative stance and a world that is steeped in devotion, the liturgical year, and the scriptures.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1997
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