>How to: Venerate an Icon and Write a Memoir Synopsis

>I’ve been an Orthodox Christian for 23 years, and I’ve been an iconographer for nine years. So, when someone who has been visiting our parish recently asked me “how to venerate icons,” I thought, that’s easy. And I set about answering her question. My answer went something like this:

“Make 2 metanias–make the sign of the cross and then bow at the waist, either moderately, or all the way so that your hand touches the floor. Then kiss the icon. Then make a 3rd metania.”

But then I added this:

“It is perfectly acceptable to do an abbreviated version of this: Make only 1 metania, then kiss the icon. Even more abbreviated, just make the sign of the cross and kiss the icon or touch it with your fingers. Or just make the sign of the cross and don’t touch it at all.”

And then I explained what happens on the other end of the spectrum:

“Monastics often make prostrations (bows to the ground) instead of metanias. Sometimes lay persons also do that during special services, especially during Lent.”

And then I added a few more specifics:

“It’s best to kiss an icon on the hand of the saint (or Christ or Mother of God) and NOT ON THE FACE.

As you’ve heard, don’t kiss the icon if you’re wearing lipstick or chapstick, please.”

But then I thought about the icons on the walls, so I added this part:

“I usually do the 3 metanias only when entering or leaving the church… this is the way I venerate the icons of Christ and the Theotokos (Mother of God) on the stands in the front of the nave. When I approach any of the icons on the walls, above the radiators (like Mary of Egypt, my patron) I just make the sign of the cross once, kiss my fingers, and touch my fingers to the icon. Or, if I can reach the small relic-case on the ones with relics, I might kiss them.”

Bottom line? Like so many things in Orthodoxy, there isn’t just one right way to venerate icons. Sometimes it depends on the jurisdiction, the bishop, the priest, the parish, or, if you’re a monastic, the abbot or abbess.

I was thinking about my answer(s) today when I wrote my first book synopsis, as part of a nonfiction book proposal to send to an agent. Before writing it, I did a little research, and guess what I learned? There’s not just one “right way” to write a memoir synopsis. There’s not even one “right way” to write any kind of synopsis, but the memoir is evidently quite the hybrid. The famous literary agent, “Miss Snark,” calls memoir “the platypus of the publishing world.” Platypus—those funny-looking animals with the flat bills, right? So, of course I looked them up and learned that they’re the only mammals who are venomous and who lay eggs rather than giving birth to their young. Not sure what that has to do with the memoir, but I’m working on that.

Miss Snark was the only source I found that encourages writers to consider writing the memoir synopsis in third person, to “lend distance and objectivity to the synopsis, and that is a good thing in a first person memoir.” So I did that, and when I read it aloud, it gave me some creative distance. It felt like I was writing about someone else, or about a fictional character. So, instead of being caught up in “my story,” I was free to pay more attention to the writing itself. Hopefully it helped. Here’s a sample:

“Even in the nicest of neighborhoods, images like the cross burning in her eighth grade boyfriend’s front yard in 1964 were seared into her developing young social conscience.”

I think that works.

Another literary agent who writes a good blog for emerging writers is Nathan Bransford. His post, “How to Write a Synopsis,” starts with ambivalence:

“Everyone has a different idea of what a synopsis should entail, how long it should be, whether it should be single- or double-spaced, whether it should include all of the plot or just the really important stuff… I mean, how I can even begin to summarize this and offer any advice is frankly beyond me.”

But then he gets down to a few specifics that were helpful, including, “1) it needs to cover all of the major characters and major plot points (including the ending) and 2) it needs to make the work come alive.”

So, how long should it be? Some sources said one paragraph. Others said up to 20 pages. Another literary agent whose blog I read, Rachelle Gardner, says ONE SENTENCE. Bransford suggests 2-3 pages. So, I settled on 3. Well, I just wrote it and when it was finished it was exactly 3 pages long, so I thought, that works.

All this to say that in the publishing world, like in the world of Orthodox
worship, there’s more than one way to walk the walk and talk the talk. I’ve decided I’m not going to get all uptight about doing everything perfectly. I mean, really, it’s not like the worship police or the book proposal Nazis are going to come after me. I’m just doing the best I can.

Another thing these two unrelated activities have in common? Both should be approached with prayer. As I venerate the icon of Christ, I pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” And as I hit the “send” button today, and watched my 28-page memoir proposal fly off into an agent’s email box, I said, “Lord, help me. May it be blessed.” And I go to bed in peace, not worrying about whether or not I said the prayers the right way.

Please share!