Brief Reviews, VOLUME 1

Brief Review: Jim Forest’s PRAYING WITH ICONS [Vol. 1, #32]

A Brief Review of Jim Forest’s
Praying with Icons
by Brent Aldrich

Orbis Books has just released a new, expanded edition of Jim Forest’s book Praying With Icons, in which Forest describes icons as “bridges to Christ, as links with the saints, as reminders of pivotal events in the history of salvation.” Forest is a convert to the Russian Orthodox Church, and presents here the history, technique and stories of icons.

Much of the text in the book’s first part “In the Image of God” describes the history of icon painting and the necessary spiritual and technical disciplines involved in that work. This information is of the sort contained in almost any book collection of icon reproductions, from both faith-based and secular historians, and this part of the book will be familiar to anyone who has read about (or prayed with) icons before.

The second section, “Prayer,” involves much that relates specifically to the Orthodox liturgy and sacraments, although most of the content here is universal for any church tradtion. What I found interesting, coming from a tradition that is not at all Orthodox, is the incorporation of the body in prayer, to affirm the “physical reality of Jesus Christ.” Included in the back of the book are several traditional prayers for evening, morning, peace and intercession to use in developing a rule of prayer.

What distinguishes Forest’s book from others on icons are the collections of stories about Christ and the saints, and their associated icons in the book’s final three sections. For all the different forms of icons of Christ, for example, all have specific stories, theology, colors and shapes associated with them. The same is true for icons of all the saints. The practice of icon painting has been passed down through the church and has developed structures which are invoked with every new painting, giving to icons both a rich tradition and a sacramental quality. The creation of icons, as well as their veneration, are acts of remembering stories of faithfulness, of retelling the life of Christ and the early church and of recognizing the saints who have gone before.

Icons have preserved history in light of the church since shortly after the era of Christ; these are the stories that Praying With Icons recounts in word and excellent color reproductions, and these stories are ones we should remember and ones to which we should submit ourselves daily.

Jim Forest.
Praying with Icons. Revised and Expanded Edition.
Paperback. Orbis Books. 2008.
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C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at:

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