Frederica Mathewes-Green is a columnist for Beliefnet.com and a commentator for National Public Radio. She is the author of At The Corner of East and Now: A Modern Life in Ancient Christian Orthodoxy and The Illumined Heart: The Ancient Christian Path of Transformation. In this succinct and enlightening volume, she visits an imaginary Orthodox church and explains twelve icons and their relationship to the church year. For believers in this tradition, icons are "a window into heaven." In ancient times when most people could not read, paintings of Christ and the saints served as picture Bibles. The veneration of icons — kissing them, leaving flowers or burning candles in front of them — became a way to express both love and honor.
Mathewes-Green begins with a discussion of four icons: The Christ of Sinai, the Virgin of Vladimir, The Resurrection, and St. John the Baptist. She shows how these paintings teach and evoke devotion. At one point, the author ponders the background behind halos: "Throughout Scripture and Christian history there is a consistent message that God is Light, and those who belong to Him are said to be illumined by His presence. From the earliest centuries, Baptism was referred to as 'Illumination.' The Gospels tell us that when Christ was transfigured on Mt. Tabor His disciples saw Him glow with a light beyond earthly origin. Similar stories are told of many saints — and not only those in the distant past, by the way. This visible glow of the Uncreated Light, as the Church Fathers called it, is what a halo intends to represent." She then interprets the meaning of eight other icons which play a central role in the Orthodox faith during the church year.