Parishioners often ask how one should set up a home chapel/prayer corner. We offer for your consideration the article bySerge Alexeev, and hope that in it our readers will find answers to the questions most frequently posed. The article has been abridged.
- Where to place icons at home?
- Which icons should you have at home?
- How and in what order should you arrange your icons?
Are there strict rules in that regard?
- should be our attitude toward holy things? What should you do if an icon’s condition has rendered it unfit for use and it cannot be restored?
Quantity and quality are two different categories. It would be naïve to assume that the more holy images there are in an Orthodox Christian’s house, the more pious his life is. A disorganized collection of icons, prints, religious wall calendars covering a significant amount of living space, can often have a directly opposite effect on a person’s spiritual life.
…Poorly thought out assembling of a collection of icons can turn into simple, meaningless collecting, something in which the prayerful purpose of the icon has no role whatsoever.
Nonetheless, it is essential to have icons in one’s home – in sufficient numbers, but within reasonable limits.
In the past, whether on the farm or in the city, any Orthodox family’s home would always have a shelf with icons, or an entire home icon screen, located in the most visible place. The place where the icons were installed was known as the front corner, the bright corner, the holy corner, God’s place, or the shrine.
For the Orthodox Christian, the icon is not just a depiction of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Mother of God, the Saints or of events in the history of the Church. The Icon is a sacred depiction, i.e. it rests outside the realm of ordinary reality; it is not to be confused with ordinary daily life, and is intended only for communion with God. Thus, the primary purpose of icons is for prayer. The Icon is the window from the world above into our world, the earthly world; it is God’s revelation, made in delineated form and color. In this way, the Icon is not simply a family relic to be passed on from generation to generation, but a holy thing – a holy thing that unites all of the members of the family during communal prayer, for prayer in common can take place only if those standing before the Icon have mutually forgiven one another’s offenses, and have achieved complete unity.
Of course, to a great extent today, when the place of the icons in the home has been taken by the television set, itself a kind of a window into the motley world of human passions, the purpose of the family icon, the tradition of common prayer at home, and the consciousness of the family as the “little Church” has been lost.
Therefore, the Orthodox Christian living in a city apartment today may ask: What icons must I have in my home? What is the proper arrangement for them? Can I use reproductions of icons? What do I do with old dilapidated icons?
Some of these questions merit an unequivocal answer, while others do not demand any kind of strict recommendations.
In an available and accessible place.
The terse nature of such an answer is evoked by the realities of life, rather than by the absence of canonical requirements.
Of course, it is preferable to place icons on the eastern wall of the room, because the East as a theological concept has special significance in Orthodoxy.
And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. (Genesis 2: 8)
O Jerusalem, look about thee toward the east, and behold the joy that cometh unto thee from God. (Baruch 4: 36)
Moreover the spirit lifted me up, and brought me unto the east gate of the Lord’s house, which looketh eastward. (Ezekiel 11: 1)
For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.(Matthew 24: 27)
But what do you do if the house is so oriented that there are windows or doors on the eastern side? In that case, use the Southern, Northern, or Western walls of the home.
One must not combine icons with decorative objects of a secular nature such as statuettes, various types of panels, etc.
It is inappropriate to put icons onto a bookshelf next to books having nothing in common with Orthodox Truth, or books conflicting with the Christian teaching on love and charity.
It is absolutely impermissible to have icons next to signs or wall calendars on which there are photographs of rock musicians, athletes, or politicians – the idols of the current age. This not only diminishes the significance of reverence for holy images to an unacceptable level, but also puts holy icons on a par with idols of the contemporary world.
The home iconostasis can be decorated with live flowers. Traditionally, larger icons are often framed with towels. This tradition dates back to antiquity and has a theological basis. According to Tradition, an image of the Savior miraculously appeared during His life on earth in order to help a suffering man. After washing His Face, Christ wiped His Face with a clean towel, and an image of His Face appeared upon it; the towel was sent to the city of Edessa, in Asia Minor, to King Abgar, who was afflicted with leprosy. Upon being healed, the ruler and his subjects adopted Christianity, and the Image-Not-Made-By-Hands of Jesus Christ was affixed to a “permanent plaque” and raised above the city gates.
In times past, 29 August (new style calendar), the day the Church commemorates the translation of the Image Not-Made-By-Hands of our Lord Jesus Christ from Edessa to Constantinople in 944, was known among the people as the feast of the “canvas” or “linen Savior,” and in some places fabric and towels made of homespun yarn were blessed.
These towels were richly embroidered and were reserved for use in the Bozhnitsa. Likewise, icons were framed by towels used during weddings and during Molebens with the Blessing of the Waters. Thus, for example, after the service for the Blessing of the Waters, when the priest would sprinkle