What Is an Icon Anyway
As the Knights’ 18th Prayer Program launches, a new Eastern-inspired religious icon will travel from parish-to-parish across the country to raise awareness and inspire support for persecuted Christians.
At the conclusion of a Mass Aug. 8 at the 136th Supreme Convention in Baltimore, the Knights of Columbus launched its 18th Marian Prayer Program, this year featuring an icon of “Our Lady Help of Persecuted Christians,” created by Italian artist Fabrizio Diomedi.
Often called a “window to heaven,” the religious icon is a piece of artwork used in prayer. In the early Church, when many could not read, icons were a visual way to share the truth about God.
Most icons depict Christ, a saint, or another significant figure or event in a distinct, very spiritual way. In the image of Our Lady Help of Christians, for example, we see stars on her forehead and shoulders — a symbol that indicates virginity.
In the same image we see various people gathered under Our Lady’s mantle. These men, women and children died as martyrs, in different places and in different years. They are rightly pictured together, for iconography allows for a distortion of space and time. Events that happened years apart may appear as though they happened all at once, and objects are not all sized to scale. Thus, the iconographer draws attention to and connects these spiritually significant elements.
The traditional process of making an icon is also symbolic, according to Loyola Press. An icon is painted on wood, representing the Tree of Life and Tree of Knowledge. Coats of glue symbolize the soul and life of the icon’s subject. Certain areas receive a thin layer of clay, representing man’s physical nature. Then the iconographer blows the clay off and paints those same areas with gold, recalling the act of creation and breath of life. He adds layers of paints, with darker colors applied last, so that light seems to come from within the image. This represents the unseen God’s glory breaking through from heaven.
Since their inception, icons have been a part of Christian worship around the world. In venerating an icon, Christians glorify God, learn Christian history and ponder sacred theology.
Today, the Knights of Columbus’s new Marian icon shares the example of Christians who so bravely and faithfully died for love of Christ. As it travels from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, it focuses the eyes of our Church on the sacrifice of so many of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
May it serve to inspire us all to stand strong in our faith and continue our efforts to protect the free practice of religion throughout the world.
Our Lady, Help of Christians, pray for us!
The icon is part of Knights’ ongoing mission of charity to Christians in the Middle East, to whom we have committed more than $20 million since 2014. This money has provided food, shelter and clothing to Christians and those in the care. In recent years, the Knights of Columbus has been assisting in the construction of McGivney House to provide housing for both Syriac and Chaldean Christian families. Read more about the McGivney House here.