Living Icons: Teachers of Our Past and Our Future
by Fr. Michael Plekon
Cultural wonders such as icons and liturgical music and now regularly, events in
Eastern Europe remind the West of the Eastern Orthodox Church, her beauty and mystery.
With the fall of state socialism, churches and monasteries are being reopened and there is
a renewal of all forms of religious expression. Orthodox liturgy, with its powerful,
other-worldly sense of God's transcendence is transmitted by recordings, captured by books
and exhibitions of iconography.
Orthodox clergy and laity have become a presence in international ecumenical bodies and
even in efforts toward conflict resolution. Perhaps because all these are part of the
"household of faith" for us in the Orthodox Church, we take them for granted.
Yet as we stand on the threshold of a new century and millenium, we more than ever need to
see and listen to those who have gone before, those whose lives are living icons of the
Kingdom of God, of Our Lord and the Gospel.
Since the beginning of this century and after the Russian revolution, a procession of
singular Orthodox Christian men and women have come to live and work in the West. Among
them have been poets and musicians, philosophers and historians, theologians and great
spiritual teachers, among others. Not since Nicolas Zernov's study, The Russian
Religious Renaissance of the Twentieth Century, was published over three decades ago,
has there been any effort to examine their presence in the West, their distinctive
contributions, and in that time further important figures have appeared.
It is central of our faith and worship that we always see ourselves as part of a
community, the "communion of saints" we confess in the Creed, both at Baptism
and at every Liturgy. Though not yet formally recognized, "glorified" by the
Church, these men and women lived the life of Christ in our time. They are not only our
historical contemporaries but our brothers and sisters in faith. As we move to the next
century and millenium, we can learn from them how to ourselves, in our own lives, become
"living icons" of Christ.
We begin with three leaders of the Church, three metropolitans, Evlogy and Vladimir of
the Russian Church in Parish, and Leonty, as described by our own Fr. Alexander Schmemann,
of blessed memory. While all three were significant in understanding the formation of Fr.
Alexander, Evlogy had his own special place in the pre-revolutionary Russian Orthodox
Church and the ministry of Leonty here in America filled more than half of the century.