As an Orthodox Christian, one of the first things you do when you enter the church is venerate various icons of the saints which are situated around the sanctuary. Venerating an icon does not mean that we worship the piece of wood or the person it portrays. It is merely showing love, reverence, respect and honor to that person and the life represented. Icons can vary in size and how they are displayed. One may be in an alcove specifically constructed for that particular icon. Another may be hung on a wall. Some may be carefully placed on a pedestal. Venerating a saint or an icon involves standing before it, crossing yourself and bowing twice, approaching the icon itself and gently kissing it or kissing your fingers and then touching the icon with those fingers. Finally, you step back a little and cross yourself and bow one more time (three times being symbolic of the Trinity).
This tradition was very strange to me, coming from a purely Protestant background. However, I have learned that my uneasiness was basically a result of not understanding the meaning behind the tradition. As I have come to know and appreciate the lives of these incredible saints and martyrs of the Church, they have become more and more dear and personal to me. On Sunday morning, we join with all the saints – past and present – in worshiping the Holy Trinity.
Back to this morning! We were standing (in the Orthodox Church you stand for the entire service – there are no pews) listening to one of the deacons chant the reading for the Third Hour. A father and his little daughter came into the sanctuary. The father was taking the lead in venerating one icon after another, and his little girl was following his example. I watched her as she approached a very large icon of Christ displayed quite high and out of her reach. She crossed herself, bowed, kissed her fingers and then stretched as much as she could to reach the image of Christ. Her fingers just couldn’t touch it. After a few more tries, she looked around for her father who turned and realized her dilemma. He quietly walked over as she was straining to touch the icon, placed his fingers on hers, slid them off and touched the icon for her. The connection was made.
There are many times that I feel like that little girl – wanting to be so close to God, wanting to touch Him and let him know how grateful I am for his love for me. God hears our longings. In his love and compassion and by the Holy Spirit, he extends his hand toward us and for us.
Even if we speak with a low voice, even if we whisper without opening the lips, even if we call to Him only from the depths of our heart, our unspoken word always reaches God and God always hears. - St Clement of Alexandria