Icon Corner 101 | Tradition Explained

What is an icon corner?

In the Book of Acts and the Epistles of Saint Paul, we see that the early Church met in the homes of the faithful (Acts 2:46,Acts 20:7-12,1 Corinthians 16:19). The tradition of the "House Church" continues to this day in the Orthodox faith. Our homes are meant to be like 'mini' churches, places of private worship. An icon corner is our own personal alter. It is a dedicated spot for prayer and a place where we can be still and contemplative before God.

How to set up an icon corner.

(Video tutorial and instructions below)

1. Select a Spot

Select a space in your house, apartment or room that is quiet, private and distraction free.

Ideally, you should try to select a space that faces East. But if you can't find a space that faces that direction, don’t stress. Whatever you can do within your circumstances will be acceptable to God.

2. Essential Icons

You will need to have an icon of Jesus Christ and an icon of the Mother of God, as well as a cross (handheld, mounted, or standing). If you have a mounted or standing cross, position it in the middle, with Christ’s icon always on the right, and Mary’s on the left, just as you see on the iconostasis in every Orthodox church.

These holy images are “must-have’s” for every Orthodox prayer corner, because they bear witness to the Incarnation of God and the salvation of humankind.

3. Extra Icons

If you have room and available funds, you can add more icons to your corner. They can portray your patron saint, a saint that inspires you or a major feast days. Take care not to place an icon of a saint in a more prominent place than the icon of Christ, the Theotokos, the Apostles, or the Holy Trinity.

Also, try to be aesthetic in the icon set up. Icons that aren't placed symmetrically will look distracting to the eye.

4. Other items for your icon corner

You need items for your “altar table”. Following the liturgical practices of the ancient Christian Church, we make use of the following in prayer: Candles - these can be beeswax candles that burn in a small bowl filled with sand, votive candles or a vigil lamp. We light candles when we pray as a reminder that Christ is the Light of the world. 

Incense - during Vespers, we pray, “Let my prayer arise, in Thy sight as incense, and the lifting up of my hands be an evening sacrifice.” Incense is a great way to focus our prayers. We use incense constantly during worship in the Orthodox Church. It can be used for private prayer also.

Holy water and oil - Orthodox Christians receive holy water during the Feast of Theophany (the baptism of Christ) and holy oil during the Unction service on Holy Wednesday. We drink holy water and receive Christ’s blessing when we are sick, before a journey, or simply at the beginning of the day with morning prayers. Likewise, we do the same when anointing ourselves with holy oil. Prayer books - prayer books and prayer lists can be stored in your icon corner. These can help guide your prayers. You may also keep a Bible in your corner, so you can read Scripture in your worship space. Seasonal items - you can also include seasonal items in your icon corner, such as Palm Sunday crosses, flowers, paschal eggs or a piece of the Vasilopita (feast of St. Basil). Some Orthodox couples also keep their marriage crowns in their family prayer space. If you keep any perishable items in your icon corner, you should either eat them, distribute them to the birds, or burn them once you need to dispose of them. Your prayer corner is now set! As we are unable to attend church physically due to the coronavirus, we have an even greater reason to invest in prayer at home.

Information sourced here.