Mansplaining Icons

 

Mansplaining was coined by Rebecca Solnit in her 2014 book Men Explain Things to Me. Mansplaining, for those not familiar with the term, is when a man re-explains to a woman what the woman, who is more knowledgeable on the topic, what she just explained to the man. By doing this the man assumes that he is more knowledgeable than the qualified woman who more qualified via her educational degree, focus of study or life experience.

Two weeks ago I took a Roman Catholic male friend to Washington, D.C.’s beloved St. John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Cathedral for Saturday night vespers. My Roman Catholic friend is versed in Russian history and culture but not well versed in the Russian Orthodox Church, Christian Orthodoxy and Byzantine Rite (Eastern Rite) Catholicism. As I was explaining the workings of the Russian Orthodox Church, vespers and how to venerate icons my friend asked why the style of the icons looked old. He had noticed all the beautifully written icons on the walls and ceiling of the church. I explained to him that for an icon, a holy image of Christian imagery, to be considered a true icon, the icon being written cannot deviate from the original icon of it’s type. Hence, an icon is a copy of it’s original. This is why icons in the Russian Orthodox have an old style to them.

I explained this to my friend. He responded by telling me that a certain professor at American University, who is well known for his fascinating and challenging Russian history courses, would say that icons have an old styled look to them because they have to be copies of their original. That an icon cannot deviate from it’s original in style. Exactly what I said. I told him he was mansplaining and that I wasn’t pleased. I then went on to tell him more about icons, their spiritual importance and how styles vary in different Orthodox Christian and Byzantine Catholic traditions based on the materials used and the culture of the church.

 

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