I was in Dublin for a few days and happened to come upon this Icon of St.Paul in a Christian bookstore known as ”Veritas” on Lower Abbey Street. We had planned to take a few days off in the city with booking a hotel. I was already aware that this icon existed as I was in Dublin before for some reason and happened to come across it. So it was on my mind for a long time to buy it as I have a certain closeness I do believe with St.Paul. I tend to think of him a lot and this is surely no coincidence. There are times when saints follow us around and make their presence known either through thought or visual icons or in the sermons we hear at the Divine Liturgy.
I never had an Icon of my own. One that was painted in the traditional sense on wood. This particular icon I had in mind was later found out to be from Romania but came through an Italian person/company that delivers them to Ireland so that was interesting. It was 72 euros to purchase so I thought, ”wow a lot of cash” but the woman behind the counter decided to give me 20% off ( with no protest about the original price on my behalf ) which made it come to around 57 euros in total. ”Ah”, I thought to myself, ”Saint Paul must me looking over my wretched little financially broke self”.
So having arrived home yesterday I braved my tiredness to get over across the road to the Redemptorist community where Fr.Tony Rice came to Bless my Icon and he told me some interesting stuff about Icons, some of which I was aware already but some of which I wasn’t. He explained how Icons are not ”Painted” but are ”written”. This would make sense because a few days prior to my trip I saw a woman’s collection of Icons online and she would say beneath each Icon ”This Icon was written in 2002”. I had no idea at the time what exactly she meant by ”written” but Fr.Tony Rice explained that the scriptures tell us a story and like the scriptures, the icon too tells a theological story also. This is why we use the word ”written” instead of ”painted”. The Iconographer writes us a story on wood, isn’t that interesting? He went on to explain how in ancient times of Ireland people would carve out theological stories in the Crosses they made ( for example you could google the Cross of Clonmacnois ). They did this because they were illiterate and unable to ”write” in the ABC sense of things. So they would tell a story with their art of carving.
That explanation was interesting because after our talk my father told me a story about a priest who was a friend of the family but fell asleep in the Lord not so long ago. Basically the priest was at the bed of a dying man. The man kept pointing saying ”Book, Book”. Fr.John had not a clue and so he asked people around him to get the book he wanted and that he is looking or a book. So the man kept pointing saying ”book book”. It turned out he was looking at the Crucifix on the wall which was his ”Book” and that the man was illiterate and could not read or write. So the Crucifix told this illiterate man ( along with anything else he had learned through Mass and the oral tradition ) the story of Jesus. So Icons and statues and paintings tell us a story and I felt that was a nice story to illustrate just how Icons are important for all walks of life in the Christian community.
But back to the explanation of Fr.Tony, ”The Icon”, Fr Tony continued, ” acts as a window between heaven ( the Divine ) and earth. The presence of the Saint in the icon is there, so when you are looking at him/her, he/she is looking back at you.” Yes that’s it, the actual saint is looking back at you through the Icon. How interesting. Metropolitan Kallistos Ware of the Russian Orthodox Church makes us aware of this but said he prefers to call it ”The Door to the Kingdom of Heaven” in which we not just look at the icon as if through a window, but enter therein when looking at it.
What about the Iconographer? Fr.Tony Rice explained to me that each Iconographer takes a two-week retreat and fasts with prayer before going ahead and beginning the work of each Icon. How interesting to know that somebody did that just before writing this icon. Fr.Tony did ask me why I felt drawn to this one and no other. I was too tired to think about why but blurted out what I felt was possible at the time and explained I picked it because I felt a closeness with St.Paul but that was it. However if given the time I could go on to say that I picked him because of his conversion experience. I too experienced a great conversion and felt I held something in common with St.Paul. I feel that he is a great saint to invoke for our daily conversion to the Lord as well as for the conversion of others. He was a loving Saint with a fire inside of him for Christ. He took no messing and was not afraid even to inform the first Bishop of Rome ( St.Peter ) of his faults and mistakes so that we could all remain united and come to be of the same mind in Christ Jesus.
He is a great Saint to invoke against laziness and slothfulness and despair. Because he was such a great Saint of Faith, Hope and Charity. He worked his butt off and took the most horrid beatings and stoning for the sake of The Name. If there is a Saint I desire to be like and model myself upon I only wish it could be St.Paul. To imitate him in his imitation of Christ. To have him as a great role model of what a Christian should be is a wonderful gift of God that we should all make well use of.
So what about the Theology behind the Icon that I bought? Well . . . I will go ahead and admit I have not a clue and would appreciate others thoughts but in my own private opinion is: He is bald because he cut his hair in the acts of the Apostles. The reason he did this was because he was under the Nazarite vow, the same vow Samson was under. He is wearing a red garment which to me tells the story of his ”Martyrdom” as red is the color vestments priests wear on the feast of a Martyr. His thumb and index are close together and his three fingers are separate and close together, the former indicating the two natures of Christ and the latter indicating the Holy Trinity. He is of course holding the scriptures too but that’s all I know. If there are any good Iconographer’s out there who would like to explain please do I’d be interested in hearing from you.
I pray that this Icon will last a very long time and that it will be handed down to my son and his children and then his children’s children and so on. It will be a sort of Icon and Patron Saint of the Family and I would like that very much so.