Monday, March 20, 2017

Orthodox Christian Icon Alphabet

Orthodox Christian Icon Alphabet

Icons are a vital part of the Orthodox Christian Faith. They are one of the ways that we Orthodox Christians involve all of our senses in the worship of God. Much like a photograph of a someone we love, Icons provide a visual connection to the beloved that we can use to bring them to mind and feel closer to them.

It is often said that Icons were used for centuries to help often illiterate Christians, who were sometimes unable to read the Bible, to learn more about their faith.

But, in talking to modern people, I find that just as Christians of centuries past could not read the written word, often modern people do not know the artistic language that Icons are written in, and so cannot learn from them the things that our ancestors could learn. When I first became acquainted with Orthodox Christianity, I was truly puzzled when people said that illiterate people could learn from Icons - they seemed to me just as inscrutable as Arabic or Mandarin.

If a child, or a non-Orthodox adult looks at an Icon, they nearly always ask "What does this picture mean?" just as one might ask when browsing the family photograph album, "Who is this, Mom?"

I'm writing this Icon Alphabet to provide a few beginner's pointers to the language of Icons, for adults and children alike. These are the things that I share with adult friends and with my young daughter to aid in understanding Icons - not a professional academic treatise. There are many very advanced & profound books on the language of Icons, but this is a beginner's Primer with a few basics - it is not perfect, and I'm sure it leaves out many important details.

Remember that Icons have Tradition rather than laws that govern their creation, so you will always find exceptions to these "rules."

I am Greek Orthodox, so a few of these pointers relate to the Greek language specifically. If the Icon you are looking at has Russian or English written words, things will be a little different.

These pictures were taken in Cyprus at various Churches and monasteries; at Holy Trinity St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Cincinnati Ohio; or at Three Hierarchs Greek Orthodox Church in Champaign, Illinois. A few are from private collections or books.

The Icon Alphabet

A - Agios or Agia. 

If you are looking at an Icon of one person (as opposed to a complex scene), you will usually see Ο Αγιος - which means "The Saint" - male, or Η Αγια - which means "The Saint" - female - in the upper left corner of the Icon as you face the Icon. (The word for "Saint" in Greek and the word for "Holy" are the same - so it can alternately mean "The Holy .  .  .")

B - Blue or Red.  

Blue is the color of Divinity or the Heavens in Icons. Red is the color of Humanity. You will often notice that Christ and the Virgin Mary wearing both colors. Partly this is because the colors are complementary and eye catching but it also tells us that Christ, being Divine, "put on Humanity" and the Virgin Mary, being human "Put on Christ."

C- Cross. 

If you see someone holding small Cross in their hand, it indicates that they are a Martyr.


D - Door or Cave

A small, dark door or cave in an Icon often represents the darkness of this world.

Here in the Descent of the Holy Spirit Icon, you can see the "King of this World" (notice the lack of a Halo) in the Darkness of the World

St. John depicted with an Eagle on a Pulpit

E - Evangelists. 

The writers of the Four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke & John are called the "Four Evangelists." Each Evangelist has his own Symbol (from Ezekiel & Revelation). Matthew if often represented by an Angel, Mark by a Lion, Luke by an Ox and John by an Eagle. When you see these symbols in Icons, perhaps around a Pulpit or around the dome of a Church, they often refer to the Evangelists.

St. Mark Depicted with a Lion on a Pulpit

F - Frown. 

Smiling for pictures is a new phenomenon. Often the faces in Icons look serious, peaceful, or even frowning, since their Subjects are dealing with serious matters. This is especially seen in Icons of Christ that depict His role as Judge. Small children might say "Why does he (or she) look angry?" But the Saints are not angry in their pictures, merely serious or peaceful.

G - Golden. 

The background of Icons is often Golden - this shows the beauty of Eternity.

Gold in Icons is the Color of Eternity

H - Head, Hair & Halo. 

A Halo indicates Christ or a Saint - someone Holy. Holy people face the viewer so that we can look into their eyes- those who are not Saints are often shown in profile. Their hair is not realistic, but stylized - either to show a life of order & peace, or in the case of some ascetic Saints (like St. Mary of Egypt, John the Baptist, or St. Onouphrios) unkempt in an oddly geometric way to demonstrate their unpampered life of repentance.

Birth of the Theotokos - notice that some have halos and others don't

I - Indoor scenes 

Indoor scenes are often depicted as in front of a disproportionately small building with surreal lines. Sometimes there are two small buildings with a cloth canopy draped between the buildings to indicate indoor space.

This scene of the Mystical Supper, or the Last Supper, took place indoors.

J - There is no letter J in Greek. 

Words that English speakers think of as starting with J usually start with I in Greek - Jesus is abbreviated IC (letters corresponding to "JS" in English). "Jews" can be shortened to I, as on the Cross inscription "INBI" (INBI are the Greek letters indicating "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews") (See Letter "O" for Icon Illustration)

K - Kiss. 

We Orthodox Christians often kiss Icons to show our respect for the person in the Icon - much like we might kiss the photograph of a relative who had been called away to war. 

L - Lines. 

The lines on Icons are different from other pictures. Hair and clothing are geometrically arranged.

M - Mouth & Nose. 

The mouth and nose of Saints are modestly proportioned (regardless of the actual physical features the Saint depicted may have had in life). This shows that they are not governed by their sense of taste or smell on this earth, but rather are focused on "the odor of sanctity" and upon heavenly things rather than on self-indulgent things.

N - Name. 

The name of the Icon is often written on it in Greek. If it is a single saint, "St. Basil" for instance, you will see the Saint's name in your upper right as you face the picture. If it is a scene (like Christmas or the Resurrection), it might have the name of the event written across the top of the Icon, "The Birth of Christ" for example. Keep in mind, that because of the shortage of writing space in ancient times, the Byzantines devised a lot of compact writing forms which are still with us today. This makes letters look like they are squeezed together - for instance the Greek Letters "NT" are nearly always written together rather than separately. And, some abbreviations are standard on Icons.

O - Ο ΩΝ ( or Ο ων). 

In the Halo around the head of Christ, you will almost always see the Greek Letters "Ο ΩΝ" this says "The One Who Is" - to indicate the Divinity of Christ from Exodus 3:14

P - Perspective & Profile. 

Surprisingly for the western viewer - the perspective in Icons is reversed - the viewer is "in the distance" not the background of the picture. This sometimes gives one the feeling of looking through the wrong end of a telescope. And, if you see someone portrayed in Profile, this sometimes indicates that they are not a Saint. For instance, if you see the Soldiers arresting Christ, they will usually be portrayed in profile.

Notice in this Icon of the Mystical Supper, Judas is portrayed in Profile, without a Halo.

Q - Queens, Kings, Emperors & Empresses wear Crowns.

That includes "The King of this World" If you see someone wearing a crown, this indicates Royal status (many Saints were also Royal - King David for instance) but - be warned - "The King of this World" - is also depicted with a Crown. You can often recognize him from his lack of a Halo.

St. Constantine, an Emperor, and his Mother, St. Helen are depicted with Crowns consistent with their royal status.

R - Reality portrayed is Eternal, not Temporal. 

Faces are peaceful, golden backgrounds show eternity, physical features are refined and geometrical. Heads of the beheaded are restored (notably in the Icon of St. John the Baptist - in which he is shown whole, but also holding his severed head in a charger). All of this shows a reality greater than that of the present world.

S - Suffering is rarely depicted on Icons. 

Often Saints are depicted with peaceful faces, even when undergoing great suffering. Most of the Icons of Christ Crucified depict Christ with a peaceful, not suffering face.

T - Time

Several events can be displayed on one Icon, even if they take place at different times. For the modern viewer, this is somewhat similar to a graphic novel (what we used to call "comic books" back in the day). Notably, in the Christmas Icon we see Joseph wrestling with his doubts, the newly born Jesus in his Manger, the newly born Jesus getting his first bath, the Magi journeying, and the Shepherds adoring - all in the same Icon. These events were not concurrent, but are all depicted together in one Icon.

U - Unmercenaries.  

Unmercenaries were those with medical skills or healing gifts who used those skills and gifts without requiring pay.

St. Panteleimon was an Unmercenary - seen here with his box of medicines

V - Virgin Mary. 

The Virgin Mary is usually depicted with three stars on her veil - one on her right shoulder, one on her left shoulder, and one on her brow. These stars indicate her Virginity before, during and after the Birth of Christ (often, you can only see two of the three stars, since the Baby Jesus is always in her arms, and therefore in front of one of her shoulders). Around her we see the letters ΜΡ θου - The abbreviation for "Mother of God" - indicating that Jesus was TRULY God in the flesh and that she was His Mother (not indicating, as some mistakenly think these words mean, that she preexisted and created God the Father). The Virgin Mary (often called the Theotokos or Panagia) is usually not depicted alone in Icons, but always with her Son.

W - Window to Kingdom. 

We see Icons as a little window in which we can glimpse into the Kingdom of God. They're not an object of worship, but we do show them great respect, similar to what we show to our Bibles or to the Cross.

X - Often the First initial of Christ

If you see the letter "X" in Greek, it is the first letter of the name "Christ" (it does not make the same sound as the English letter X, but more like a soft CH. See Icon of Christ at the letter B)

St. Andrew's Cross is also X-shaped and is seen in his Icon.

St. Andrew is Shown with an X-Shaped Cross

Y - Young children 

Children are depicted with small bodies, but with mature faces. Again, this shows the eternal reality depicted in Icons - we must become as little Children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Holy Family, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph & Sts. Joachim & Anna

Z - Zoo Animals & Props. 

Often an Icon will have an animal or another item depicted that will help you call to mind the story of the Saint if you are already familiar with it. For instance, St. Gerasimos is normally depicted with his Lion, and St. Catherine is sometimes depicted with the "wheel" upon which she was tortured, but miraculously saved from harm.

St. Gerasimos and his Lion (pardon the blur)

For More Information about Icons:

My favorite introductory book - suitable for older children as well as beginner adults:

The Story of Icons by Hallick  

 If you're a Christian who wonders if Icons are Biblical (a link with a free article):

No Graven Image by Fr. Jack Sparks 

More academic books for those who want to delve more deeply:

 Theology of the Icon by Ouspensky 

The Icon, Window on the Kingdom by Quenot 

This is a helpful blog on reading Icons

Icon Reader - this is a great post on how to identify the 12 Disciples

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Monday, March 13, 2017

Upcycling the Vinegar Jug

If you use vinegar to clean, you probably have at least a little concern for the environment. Which
probably means that you don't enjoy throwing the empty gallon jug in the trash when you're done with it.

I've found several practical uses for my empty vinegar gallon containers. This way you can get one or more additional good uses out of them before tossing them!

I have two ways to cut them - with the handle and without.

For the with-the-handle model - cut an opening where I put the blue line (label may be removed if you like): 

1) Store toys that might leak, such as Bubbles for blowing or Poster Paints. Not only does this prevent accidents, but it also makes a handy carrying caddy.

2) Cleaning supplies caddy and storage. Once again - easy carrying and leakage prevention.

3) Toilet Brush caddy. At my dollar store, I can buy toilet brushes for $1. or the ones with their own storage caddy for $3. At a fancier store, I could spend a lot more. I buy the $1. brushes, and keep them in my vinegar jug caddy. An added advantage? If I need to move it, there's a handle and I don't have to touch anything gross. And, when it all gets too yucky, it can just go in the trash!

4) Tie-dye basin.

5) Campground toiletries tote: Do you need to take the shampoo, washcloth, soap & conditioner down to a shower facility? Pop them into your adapted vinegar jug. You may want to poke some holes in the bottom for drainage, depending on the conditions.

For the handle-free model - just cut where I put the dotted line:

1) Use as a bucket for yucky cleaning jobs. When you're done cleaning, it can go in the trash.

2) Temporary or short term pet dish. Make sure you're pet isn't the sort to gnaw on the edge and choke. And, check for sharp edges.

3) Picnic serving bowls. No need to lug dirty bowls home if you don't want to.

4) Bubble solution tray for dipping those large bubble wands.

5) To catch drips under a leaking pipe under the sink.

6) Use as a defrosting container in the fridge, when defrosting foods that might leak (such as those frozen in zippered storage bags)

7) A no-need-to-clean mixing bowl - again perfect for camping or travel.

8) Doll swimming pool.

9) Container for sensory play - like with shaving cream. 

10) An impromptu sickness or nausea basin.

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Monday, March 6, 2017

Math: Fun Homeschool Video Day

Math Fun Homeschool Videos
Of all the standard subjects, it seems that Math requires the most memory work. Thank goodness,
there are lots of fun videos to help!

We use these songs to make our lunchtime & sick days more productive, as well as for a little fun here and there as needed.

Unfortunately, on Youtube the commercials aren't targeted to the audience, and sometimes very inappropriate things are shown. Which means that there are times that I've had a h0rr0r film ad (or other junk I'd rather not see) pop up right before a preschool video with puppets. For this reason, and because I like to be sure that junk in general isn't coming into our school day while I'm folding laundry, I save the videos to a desk top folder for convenience.  And, if a favorite video is "taken down," we still have it. It's also nice if the internet crashes while we're doing school : )

I like this site for saving my videos - it's free and I've never had any trouble from it. 

If you like this, check out the others in this series
Video Day: Science  
Video Day: History & Geography
Video Day: English

Math Homeschool Fun Video Day

The Measurement Song:

Triangular Triangles by Bazillions

Perimeter around the Area by Bazillions

Math Classical Conversations weeks 13-24, Geometry Formulas (or Formulae, if you prefer), Measurement Equivalents, etc

Gallon Man Song (Liquid Measurement Equivalents)

PEMDAS (Order of Operations song)

Skip Count by 12's Song

And, of course, we practice our own songs on

Divisibility Rules


Multiplication Quick Tricks (See February 13, 2016 Post)

Also, we use this CD for Skip Counting numbers 2-10. Even though I'm cheap, I found it money well-spent ; )

But, it's also available on Youtube (audio only):










Addition Facts Songs

Pi Song

Circle Song

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Monday, February 27, 2017

Lenten & Omnivore Week's Menu

Lenten & Omnivore Week's Menu
As we enter Lent this year, I can predict that one or more people will tell me, "I'd really like to keep the Lenten fast but it's so hard when my Wife (or Husband, or Mother or Roommate) doesn't eat that way. It's just too hard to make two different meals every night!"

Lenten Fasting for Orthodox Christians traditionally means no meat, poultry, fish, dairy or eggs. Shellfish and honey are permitted. But, many Orthodox Christians are married to Christians of other Traditions who do not follow this practice, others may have an Orthodox spouse with a health issue that has caused the doctor to forbid the traditional Fast. Others have family members who, for one reason or another, choose not to fast, or whose Spiritual Father has advised against rigorous fasting. This menu is published with the hopes of helping those in these situations.

These menus make it easier because MOST of the meal is the same for everyone - simply add an easy-to-prepare item or two for the Omnivore.

I'm providing a variety of suggestions for additions to meals, but if you have an easy-to-please Omnivore, or one who is very fond of Chicken, you could easily buy a Rotisserie Chicken and serve whole pieces for some meals and shreds for others to fill out most of a week's menu.

To make these meals even easier, I'd recommend keeping a tub of ready-to-go Salad Greens or Chopped Snacking Veggies in the fridge at all times. And, when you do your grocery shopping, go ahead and portion the pork chops into individual zippered bags with Italian Dressing and pop them in the freezer. When you put them in the fridge to defrost, they start marinating automatically. (Of course, if you're serving them within a day or two of shopping, no need to freeze at all, just refrigerate : )


Orzo Pilaf  
 For Omnivores, Grill a pork chop that has been marinated
in Italian Dressing. Add a Dollop of Yogurt or Sour Cream to the Pilaf

Add the Omnivore's favorite toppings, such as Cheese, Pepperoni, or Bacon to his or her pizza

Baked Potatoes in the Slow Cooker
with the ideas in this link.

Skyline Black Beans and Rice over Spaghetti, Copycat
Add Skyline Chili from a Can to Omnivore's Portion, 
along with Finely Shredded Mild Cheddar Cheese

Indian Lemon Rice with Peas 

Add Tandoori Chicken & Raita Sauce or Plain Yogurt to Omnivore's Portion

Peas & Artichokes Yachni

Serve with Grilled Ham & Cheese Sandwiches for the Omnivores

Mexican Haystacks
Add Shredded Prepared Chicken or "Taco Meat" to Omnivore's Portion
Serve with Sour Cream and Shredded Mexican Style Cheese or Mild Cheddar

Samali (Greek Semolina Dessert)

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Monday, February 20, 2017

English: Homeschool Video Fun Day

English: Homeschool Fun Video Day
English (aka Language Arts), like every other academic subject, requires some memory work.
Memory work that might not always be fun. BUT, if you learn that material with fun videos over lunch, or on a down day, you can sail through English Memorization without unnecessary unpleasantness.

Here are some videos that we find both fun and useful for memorizing all that stuff. We like to watch them during homeschool lunch break, or on sick or down days.

I originally got this idea from Homeschooling Patriots
Check out her blog for several more Parts of Speech Videos. After I found her idea, I then made my own lists for several different subjects.

Unfortunately, on Youtube the commercials aren't targeted to the audience, and sometimes very inappropriate things are shown. Which means that there are times that I've had a h0rr0r film ad (or other junk I'd rather not see) pop up right before a preschool video with puppets. For this reason, and because I like to be sure that junk in general isn't coming into our school day while I'm folding laundry, I save the videos to a desk top folder for convenience.  And, if a favorite video is "taken down," we still have it. It's also nice if the internet crashes while we're doing school : )

I like this site for saving my videos - it's free and I've never had any trouble from it. 

If you like this, check out others in this series
Video Day: Science  
Video Day: History & Geography

Video Day: Math

English Homeschool Video Fun Day

Similes and Metaphors by Bazillions

Prepositions by Bazillions

Noun Town by Grammaropolis

Action Verb by Grammaropolis

Adjective Song by Grammaropolis

Interjection Song by Grammaropolis

Adverb Song by Grammaropolis

Conjunction Song by Grammaropolis

Pronoun Song by Grammaropolis

Preposition Song by Grammaropolis

Silent e by Bazillions

Q & U by Bazillions

Parts of Speech, Classical Conversations Cycle 3, Weeks 1-12

Parts of Speech, Grammar Module 1, Classical Conversations

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Monday, February 13, 2017

Multiplication Quick Tricks Memory Song

Multiplication Quick Tricks
There are lots of quick tricks to make multiplication easier. BUT if you can't remember the tricks, they don't simplify things much at all!

Here is a little song that I wrote for my daughter to help her remember all these handy methods so that she can actually make use of them. I hope you find them useful, too! : )

When I was growing up, we sang "Oh Jack and Jill went up the Hill" not just "Jack and Jill went up the hill" (hitting the first note twice). This song is written to that tune. Though I cannot find the identical thing online, I posted the closest one I could find to jog your memory.

If you like this song, slso check out my

Divisibility Song

Hope you find this little song - and this post - useful!

Multiplication Quick Tricks Memory Song
(To the Tune of Jack & Jill) 

To Multiply an Even Number by 5
Just Divide it
In Half then
Write Zero
There you have the answer!

To Multiply an Odd number by 5 You
Just Subtract One
Cut in Half
Then Write 5
There you have the answer!

To Multiply a Single Digit by Nine
Just Subtract one
That's Your First
Digit - then
The Other adds up to 9!

To Multiply any number by 10 is
Just so easy
Write the Number
Then Zero
There you have the answer!

To Multiply by E-leven
Write Zero in the Front
Add Each Digit
To the Next
Starting at the Right!

To Multiply by Number 12
Write Zero in the Front
Double Each One
And add the Next
Starting at the Right!

Fives Video (sorry, there's no great pic - but just click on the triangle as usual : )

Nines Video

Tens Videos:

Elevens Video:

 12's Video

 To review these methods so the song makes sense, check out these great resources
Multiplication Quick Tricks Worksheet from ABC Teach

If you'd like to learn WAY more about quick tricks for Multiplication, I recommend
The Trachtenberg Speed System of Basic Mathematics 
The above 11's and 12's tricks are ones I originally learned from Trachtenberg - the linked Youtube videos don't write the zero in front, but do have you add nothing to the first number - essentially the same thing.

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