Windows to Heaven Are Not One Way


I am participating in an icon workshop this week. Lectures, slides, and the slow process of learning how icons are painted, by painting one yourself under the guidance of an accomplished master. My experience is that you very quickly see that here you can only be pupil (at least at this stage of my life).

 A small but interesting point worth sharing this evening, is in the process of writing or painting the icon itself (both terms are used – some stages are far more like writing, indeed). It is the quiet instruction that as you work, pray, but also remember to pray to the saint or to Christ – whomever you are painting – asking for help. There is a relationship that is going on as part of the acting of painting itself.

I am working on an icon of St. Gregory Palamas, a 14th century saint, of tremendous importance theologically. He was given to me to paint, because the model I’m working on has primarily the face – and I’m simply not ready to learn much else. It is a good place to start.

 I find myself praying (as directed) and also apologizing frequently for my mistakes. And thinking often of both the theology St. Gregory taught, but also about the history of my encounter with him and his writings. They go back to the first Orthodox book I ever read. Thus it is not ironic, but simply proper that the first saint whose writings played a role in my life and my conversion is also the first to teach me how to present him to the world in the medium of iconography. Slowly I find that painting is like cleaning a window – removing what prohibits me from seeing the icon – but with an increasing awareness that the icon sees me.

I have found prayer with icons, through the years, to have much of this same experience. I simply have gotten to know the saint in the icon as they have become part of my prayer world. These are the people I pray with, like other parishioners in my parish – only they pray for me always – and I find that there is nothing I can do for them – other than to let them be who are what they are – saints in the midst of us.

I have to return to my work. May God bless.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.



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13 responses to “Windows to Heaven Are Not One Way”

  1. David Caldwell Avatar
    David Caldwell

    The icon of St Gregory you have painted is lovely! Its only Tuesday–you are a quick learner. I am very impressed!

  2. Matt Avatar

    I wrote a master’s thesis on St Gregory Palamas this past year and, completely inadvertantly and without attention to the date, finished writing on the second Sunday of Lent — the Sunday of St Gregory Palamas! What a powerful reminder it was that St Gregory was with guiding my efforts!

    Glory to God! May He strengthen you for the struggles of the coming week!

  3. fatherstephen Avatar

    Gee, David, I wish that were mine! But we’re not quite that far along. Making progress though.

  4. Athanasia Avatar

    Fr. Stephen, if the workshop you are attending is being given by Xenia Pokrovsky (sp?), my on-line friend MaryBrigid from Texas is there too. She is an iconographer.

  5. fatherstephen Avatar


    Yes, indeed, on both counts. It’s being a very good week.

  6. AR Avatar

    I’m reading “The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church” by Vladimir Lossky and I’m in a chapter where he’s talking about St. Gregory Palamas. Actually he mentions him a lot. I love how central the Trinity is. The way I was brought up the Word was considered central which always put everything a bit out of joint. Anyway, his thought is a real blessing though I’m getting it filtered of course. Lossky’s is an introductory, descriptive book.

  7. David Avatar

    I like the Icon Father!

  8. David Avatar

    Fr Stephen. I hate to put in a request, but in my investigations of the Orthodox church online I’ve come across a number of controversies. I’d rather not put you in the position of solving them for me, but I’d love your thoughts on one of them.

    Old Calendarists vs New.

    It appears that what’s behind this is a deeper disagreement between ecumenical orthodox and those who’s conscience and ecclesiology are more demanding. That is, the Calendar seems to serve as something specific that can be debated about which represents the larger more difficult to manage conflict. A sort of argument by proxy, or so it seems to me.

    Thank you for your continued patience. God bless you.

  9. fatherstephen Avatar


    I’m not very on the spot when it comes to the Calendar debate. There are both old and new calendar parishes under the jurisdiction of the OCA – all of the Diocese of Alaska, primarily because of its historical ties to Russia, which is still all Old Calendar, and the Russian Deanery in the Diocese of the West, which is on the Old Calendar.

    My primary concern is the fact that there are two calendars in use within Orthodoxy and that this creates problems that should not exist. For some, the issue is itself virtually a matter of the faith, while for others not so much so.

    I obey my Archbishop and do not think too much about things I can do nothing about. My writing rule, to a degree, is to write mostly about what I know and what holds my interests – so as to be of as much use in writing as possible. Though I am a priest and responsible for my parish, there are many things that I do not know a lot about.

    I do know that brother priests should love one another and be kind – and that debates between Orthodox are sometimes less than charitable. When that is the case, there is something far more serious than the matter being debated.

  10. Alice C. Linsley Avatar

    Father, pray for me. The waters rise. (In loving Jesus Christ, our God, I have gained more than I have ever lost, but thank you for recognizing the sacrifice.)

  11. David Avatar

    I appreciate your humility in the matter. I was more concerned though with the nature of the conflict than the taking of a side.

    Some suggest in their arguments that if I were to join a diocese that uses the New Calendar I’d still be a heretic. As you say, for some this is virtually a matter of faith. If they are right, I can’t just become Orthodox, I must become Old Calendar Orthodox.

    Zealotry is a two edged sword. And there are a number of points on the list of well-meaning Orthodox which challenge much of what I’ve come to think of as “Orthodoxy”. They distain ecumenism, western rites and even have some sort of drum to beat about Freemasonry.

    I’m not a mason, but ecumenism is a commitment of mine (so far as Christological matters allow). If I joined a more ecumenical Orthodox community would I be dangerously close to apostasy? This would be distressing to one who was joining Orthodoxy FOR orthodoxy.

  12. fatherstephen Avatar

    David, none of the Patriarchs of the Church have said that in being part of a New Calendar Church you would be a heretic. Any priest saying this does not have the force of the Church behind him. I would not fear the New Calendar.

    Orthodox ecumenism, in which we engage others and dialog, not that we should compromise and find some new common way of speaking, but so that we might more fully understand one another is not harmful nor contrary to the Orthodox faith. I would not be afraid of extreme voices out there, even on the internet.

    Enter an Orthodox Church that is communion with all of the other “local” Orthodox Churches of the world and set about working out your salvation. Let others worry themselves with the things that will not save them.

  13. David Avatar

    Sage advice. Thank you.

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