Seeing this reminded me, painfully, of an experience of my own with the family of one who was once my best friend. Raised in a strict fundamentalist environment, my best friend’s mother had to ‘look the other way’ and keep silent when I was around to not offend me by letting loose her deep animosity for and rejection of what she deemed my idolatry as an Orthodox Christian. Most of the time she succeeded in this, much to her credit, but occasionally she’d let slip a few words here and there that let me know that, though she tolerated me, I had better stay away from her, and especially not infect her son and her family with my errors. Once or twice, though, she couldn’t hold it in anymore, and she vented at me, always when my friend was not in the room.
One time this rebuke was particularly harsh and hurtful, and even she knew it. We were all seated together at a large table in a local pizzeria waiting for the pizzas to arrive. My friend was antsy and he decided to go and play some video games in the other room of the restaurant, and while he was away, we all chatted together, just friendly, small talk. How it happened, I don’t remember, but because we were all Christians together, we often chatted about spiritual things, the bible, the life in Christ, church, and so on. All of a sudden, my friend’s mother lashed out at the veneration of ikons, that we Orthodox Christians kiss images and worship them, that these images are idols and we idolators. Her verbal attack was short but a direct hit. I was startled and silent for a moment.
‘No, Ginger, this isn’t what you think it is. We are not idolators, and we’re not worshiping images instead of God. Ikons are not graven images, they’re just pictures, and usually of people or events in the bible. We kiss them just like we kiss the bible and each other, out of respect and honor, to show that we believe in God and that we are thankful for His salvation. We are not idol worshippers.’ I spoke these words or something very much like them, quietly and calmly. There was no argument, and no further discussion on the topic. Everyone just knew, I think, that a line had been crossed, and that hearts had been broken on both sides. There was nothing to do now but lighten up, talk about the weather or gardening or joke about how long the pizzas were taking. Then my friend returned to the table.
The next day, it must have been in the evening, or maybe on my day off, my friend’s mother stopped by and knocked at my door. We live about half a mile from each other off the same boulevard, and she is a walker. She would often stop at my house and visit me, knowing that I was living alone and didn’t have family or other friends nearby. She would sometimes bring me little household items that she thought I might need; I was still settling in to my new townhouse and lacked a few things. That day she had one or two kitcheny things with her, and something else wrapped in a brown paper bag. ‘I don’t know if you want this old picture, but you can have it if you do. It’s been in the family as long as I can remember, but I was going to throw it out, and I thought maybe you could use it.’
I took the bag from her and pulled out the picture to take a look. It was a small print of Dürer’s famous ‘Praying Hands’ on a yellowish canvas set in a deep wooden frame. ‘Why, it’s beautiful! Of course, I would like to have it! Thank you! I will hang it in a special place of honor.’ She seemed pleased, even relieved somehow, and then we visited a little, I made some tea, and then she left to visit her daughter a few houses down. After she left, I hung the picture in my dining room on the east wall, on the other side of the doorway to the kitchen from my ikon wall, where my prayer stand is. That way, I'd always be able to see it, and so would my few guests, my best friend, and his mother and father who sometimes visited me.
Her gift, coming right on the heels of our unhappy controversy at the pizzeria, seemed like a silent apology, not to say she was wrong about anything she believed or had said, but somehow a way to make peace with someone whom she thought was, after all, still a Christian, even though an idolatrous one. It almost seemed like a way of saying, ‘since you like religious images, here’s one that at least is harmless, and Protestant, just some praying hands. Maybe you can use it. And by the way, sorry for upsetting you the other night, even though you deserved it.’ I was already used to her ways and though she may not have realized it, I already knew from her silent reproaches in the past where she stood on my Orthodox faith, and I never let it bother me. I overlooked it, just as she usually overlooked my folly.
Worse things than what happened that night at the restaurant have since transpired. Peace and fellowship has been disturbed. The same spirit that divided and injured us in that pizzeria has gone on to make deeper and even unbridgeable the chasm between us. The same spirit that animates whoever has created that contemptuous web page. The same spirit who doesn’t confine itself just to Christians but also infects the peoples of Islam that wage holy war against us infidels. The same spirit that makes people stop at the veil of the Holy Place so as never to really meet the Holy One. The same spirit that makes the veil the object of worship and accuses those who go through the veil to meet the All Holy God, idolators. The same spirit that lies so boldly that we almost believe it. Some of us anyway.
Lord, have mercy on us, and deliver us from the evil one.
αλλά ρύσαι ημάς από του πονηρού