An Encomium For Actual Icons


Convivium, 14 December 2017

Only icons are iconic, Father Raymond J. de Souza cautions. Deep fried dough and Neil Young are not

A few weeks back the Cardus team in Ottawa gathered for the ordination of our colleague Andrew Bennett, now a deacon of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. It was a solemn and joyous occasion, and also an introduction for many to the Byzantine tradition of worship. It was my first time visiting the Ottawa shrine of St. John the Baptist, which, proper to the Eastern tradition, is resplendent with sacred icons.

An icon is not just a painting. It is to be understood as making present in a certain way the glory of God, reflected also in His saints. We look upon the icon and certainly admire its aesthetic beauty, but we are meant to look through the icon as well, as we might look through the veil to the face of the bride who wears it.

All of which provides the occasion to make a plea – to Christian writers at least – to stop using the regrettably ubiquitous adjective “iconic.” It is employed far too often, and rarely with its proper meaning.

The parishioners at St. John the Baptist provided a warm welcome and a festive meal after the ordination, so it was not necessary, for example, to head down to the Market for Beavertails. Every culture has its version of deep-fried dough, and you will not be surprised to learn that the Beavertail is now a “deep-fried icon of the [Ottawa] Valley.”

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