What makes a home a Byzantine Catholic home? An icon corner. This place of beauty and prayer is a beautiful reminder of who is at the centre of our lives: God. We’ve all heard of having a prayer corner in our homes, but Byzantines take this calling to the next level. I’m the post I’m going to talk you through the tradition of Icon corners, why you should have one, and how to get started setting one up!
The tradition of icon corners goes all the way back to the beginnings of iconography in the Christian East. It is also based on the idea that the Christian home is also a church (the domestic church), and so it needs to be designed with God in mind. Typically, we choose an Eastern facing wall in the house. (Just as in our churches we pray facing the East). This is because East is where the sun rises in the morning, which is an icon of the resurrection within nature.
Also icon corners are placed in a prominent place in the house, where it can draw the family’s attention towards God and prayer. This corner becomes the centre for family worship. Morning and evening prayers all held at this corner. Some families even keep an oil lamp burning constantly as a reminder of the presence of God in our families and our lives, just like Roman Catholic Churches keep a red candle lit signifying the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
Why an Icon Corner?
Although we have icons throughout our house, and indeed, in every major room, it is still important to have an icon corner. Our most precious icons are in our corner. Okay, it’s a wall not a corner. But it is Eastward-facing! And there wouldn’t be room in either Eastern corner because there a closets in the way. The icon corner provides a place in your home that has no distractions. It’s a space for quiet, personal prayer, as well as a place to sing loud hymns with the whole family (or, at least, the youngest kids might think that the loud factor is an important part of the song being heard by God). In this way the icon corner is expressive of the home as the domestic church.
An icon corner is also great if you feel like you’re forgetting to pray, or are getting distracted while you pray. Having a place set aside for prayer is also a great starting place for evangelizing. It is an example to your children of the importance of prayer and God in your lives and in your home. If it is in a common living space, visitors to your house may comment upon and you can have a discussion about your faith.
How to Build Your Icon Corner
First you need to pick a spot in your home. Pick a corner, closet, or a wall. Bonus points if it faces East. Once you have a space selected, it’s time to add furniture! Depending on how much you can hang on the wall, a bookshelf or other surface may be needed to hold icons. Tables are good to hold larger items (like a Bible). In our current home we use wooden TV-tray tables as our icon corner surface . This gives us more space than the square bedside table we had in our first home.
Next it is nice to have a cloth covering the surface of the table. In the Byzantine tradition this cloth is an embroidered Rushnyk. These can be expensive but they are beautiful and Byzantines invest in this part of their domestic churches.
After placing the cloth, add your wedding icons (one of Mary with Jesus, and one of Christ the teacher). Other icons that you’ll want to include are your patron saints, and whomever you want to entrust the care of your domestic church to. Saint Nicholas or a Holy Family icon are good staples, as well as a Trinity icon. Again, there are a lot of good icon options on Amazon. View a page of my recommended icons (here). Also use Prayer cards and saints cards from your local catholic shop. If your budget is really tight, start your Icon Corner by printing icons from your computer (onto photo paper if you can) and put them into dollar store picture frames to make them look more expensive than they were.
- Holy Water
- Prayer books
- Cross (Blessing cross recommended)
- Candles (see Byzantine Style vigil lamp here)
- Wedding candles, crowns, etc.
- Palm branches/Pussy willow branches
- Other items blessed at church