How to Pray With Icons

St. Michael the Archangel icon by Sister Carol Datz

Written by Sister Carol Datz

About 18 years ago, I attended the Icon Retreat at Enders Island in Mystic, Connecticut. We were led in the process by instructors from the Prosopon School of Iconography in New York City. They follow the Russian Byzantine tradition.

Icons are rich in symbolism. They are windows into the divine. Western art portrays spiritual events while Eastern tradition focuses upon the mystery rather than history.

St. Michael is the first icon one paints because of his unique role between heaven and earth. Michael is the supreme foe of Satan and guardian of the church. Western art presents Michael as a knight in medieval armor. Eastern art portrays Michael as “protector” holding the redeemed world in his hand, which also reveals God’s merciful love for all humanity.

How to Pray with Icons
Praying with icons is an ancient practice that involves using natural and supernatural eyes, seeing what the image communicates in both mind and soul.

  • Be unassuming: Approach an icon with reverence. Simply seek to observe and understand the scene and setting. Icons represent a heavenly presence and as you pray interact with that presence.
  • Enter the Scene: Become aware of the truths the icon opens to the mortal mind.
  • Meditate: Where is your eye drawn? Consider how this component touches your life. Spend time allowing your heart to interact with the icon subject.
  • Listen: Remain quiet in prayer, disposed to following prompts on your mind or heart. Don’t strive to lead prayer.
  • Be grateful: Offer your needs and aspirations, trusting that they are received and understood. Spend time in the presence of God giving thanks for the experience.