Carving Out a Sacred Space in the Home
Families use icons and shrines as focal points for prayer and meditation.
BY: The Record, Bergen County, NJ
Upon the birth of each of their three children, Maria and John Pardalis of Leonia commissioned an icon of a saint from a Greek Orthodox priest.
Doug and Beth Popper, who live in Demarest with their two sons, chant a Buddhist phrase while facing a scroll that is too holy to be photographed.
Although their religions differ with regard to images, both couples believe in creating sacred spaces in their home in which to venerate holy objects.
The Pardalis household is a virtual gallery of more than a dozen handcrafted icons of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and patron saints. Some hang on bedroom walls, another rests atop the study's door frame. Some are displayed in wooden shrines known as ikonostasi. The principal one takes pride of place in the kitchen, where it serves as the altar of what in Greek is called "the church of the home."
"My family was very pious," says Maria. "Every day my grandmother bowed and made the sign of the cross 33 times in front of each of her icons. When my mother was having her kitchen remodeled, she had the carpenter design the new cabinets to match the shrine's style."
John - who grew up in Australia with his Greek immigrant parents - and Maria belong to the Church of the Ascension in Fairview, where their 6-year-old twin daughters attend Greek and Sunday schools. It was second nature for the family to continue the tradition of a physical religious center in their home. When the girls and their 18-month-old brother were born, their parents contacted a priest in Astoria, Queens, who is also an iconographer. In the formal style that has changed little in 1,500 years, he painted the figures in front of a gold background representing the divine light of heaven. The name or initials are in Greek.
|"An icon is a window to the spiritual world, revealing the heavenly possibilities for each viewer on earth and providing models to imitate." --Marilyn Bouvelas|
Often an icon portrays one's patron saint. "For the Orthodox, a person's name day is more important than the birthday," says Maria. "That's when we celebrate with a party. In Greece, it's the day to return to your village. If you can't get there, you pray in front of the icon."
John and Maria saw shrines along practically every Greek road when they visited her widowed father, who retired to his native Chalkidi. In the course of their daily lives, people pause to pray in front of these eklisakia, "little churches."
Before icons are brought home or given as gifts, they are placed in the altar area of a church for 40 days and then consecrated by a priest. Families revere icons and pass them down to children and grandchildren. Maria inherited some from her mother.