An assembly from the Culham St Gabriel archive
Suitable for Reception / Key Stage 1
To consider the role of icons within the Christian tradition.
Preparation and materials
- The word 'icon' comes from the Greek eikon, meaning 'image', and has come to refer specifically to sacred images created to assist prayer and worship in the Orthodox Church. A copy of an icon could be used as a focus for the assembly. One clearly showing a single figure, such as Jesus or Mary, would be the most suitable for this assembly. Entering the phrase 'orthodox icon' in a search engine should yield a list of several websites with downloadable images of icons. Alternatively, calendars showing an icon for each month of the year can often be purchased from Christian bookshops or cathedral shops.
- Have available a candle, the means to light it and some soft meditative music to play in the background during the ‘Time for reflection’ part of the assembly.
- Choose some music to end the assembly and have the means to play it – perhaps songs from Taizé, recordings of music from the Russian Orthodox liturgy for Easter or Innocence by John Taverner (Sony, 1995). John Taverner is a contemporary composer who is a member of the Greek Orthodox Church and his music resonates with influences from that tradition.
- Begin with a short discussion along the following lines.
Leader Have you ever stood and watched the wind? We can't see the wind, so how do we know it's there? Are there different ways in which you could draw a picture of the wind?
The children may suggest being able to feel the wind on their cheeks or it blowing their hair about. Focus on responses that refer to ways of seeing the effects of the wind, such as the branches of trees swaying, pieces of litter being blown across the playground and so on.
- Leader For those people who believe in God, there is a similar problem. They believe God exists, but what is God like? They try to imagine how wonderful God is and what it might be like to be close to God in heaven. Some try to use words or music to describe their feelings and some try to create pictures.
Some Christians use very special objects called ‘icons’ to help them feel closer to God and understand more about what God is like. These are not ordinary pictures; they are believed to be sacred. They show Jesus or Mary, his mother, or one of the Christian saints or sometimes all of these people together.
Show the children the copy or picture of an icon. You could then ask questions such as the following.
- Leader What sort of picture is this? Where do you think you might find it? How do you think it is used?
- Leader Sometimes you will find icons in churches, but some Christians like to have an icon or group of icons in their homes. You are most likely to see this in an Orthodox Christian church or home.
There is a special place where the icons are placed and people stand before them to pray. The icon is so special that a candle is lit and sometimes the icon is gently kissed to show how much it is loved.
Orthodox Christians believe that the person painted in the icon is in heaven and will take their prayers to God. That's why icons are sometimes called 'windows on heaven'. You can see why some Christians believe icons are so precious: it's as though the goodness and holiness of heaven shines through the icon. Some people say the icon is like a bridge that takes us from Earth to heaven and helps us to understand more about what God is like.
Time for reflection
Light the candle, place it next to the icon or image of one and play your chosen soft background music.
Leader While the music is playing, look at the icon and the light of the candle and try to be very still.
Think about someone who is very special to you.
After a minute or two, read the words of the prayer.
Leader Listen to the words of a prayer written by Teresa of Avila.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
No hands but yours, no feet but yours;
Yours are the eyes
Through which to look at Christ's loving kindness to the world,
Yours are the feet
With which he is to go about doing good,
And yours are the hands
With which he is to bless us now.
Chosen music from Taize, the Russian Orthodox liturgy for Easter or Innocence by John Taverner