Follow-up on those "funny-colored icons"


Back in 2003, I posted a cautionary note advising people not to buy so-called "Monastery Icons" because they were made by members of a strange sect that blended Hinduism with Christianity. It changed its name several times and relocated every few years. Now they're in California. [Update: New Mexico as of 2010.]

Just in case anyone had any lingering doubts about the nature of the group, its web site now describes them openly as a Hindu ashram.

It's good that they cleared that up.

The folks at St. John Cantius parish in Chicago must not have known about this when they presented Pope John Paul II (sorry, the newsletter link is broken now) one of the sect's pseudo-icons.

(Update: Corrected the reference to the Holy Father; thanks to reader Hache who spotted a mistake.)

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I'm afraid I'm missing a step in the logic here—where on the website for Monastery Icons, which is in West Chester, Ohio, does it say that their icons are from the Hindu ashram you linked to, which is in California?

(I'm not casting doubt on what you've written—?I'm just not following the train of thought. It might be too early in the morning—?the coffee has just finished brewing...)

You're right, the connection isn't as clear as it could be. The address for Monastery Icons given in the Cantius newsletter matches the address of the ashram.

This page describes the group's history.

Now the Monastery Icons website has an Ohio address. It's not clear whether the group sold off their "icon" biz, or is merely operating it at a different address.

Ah--now I've got it. I remembered Monastery Icons being in Borrego Springs, but a few years ago (if I recall correctly), the catalog business was bought by a supporter. (The details were explained in the catalog at the time.) Since then, it has become more of a general religious items catalog, including statues and other items that Orthodox would not use.

Their main business, however, is still icons, and while they no longer say where those icons come from, they're still the same icons they used to sell.

Thanks for pointing this out. By the way, if anyone owns one of these icons and is attached to it (and therefore does not want to part with it), but the icon has never properly been blessed by a priest, it would be a wise thing to do at this point (as you mentioned in your post from 2003).

The page describing the groups history is quite disturbing. I noticed while at the site you reference that it links to this
which seems to be quite questionable itself. How reliable is the Orthodox Christian Information Center?

Yeah, some of those Interfax stories are hard to believe. But this case predates the OCIC web site.

Fr. Nelson posted his experience (the same article) to Dcn. Mark Gilstrap's "ORTHODOX" mailing list back in the late '80s or early '90s, before there even was a World Wide Web.

If you follow the "cautionary note" link and go back to my 2003 post, you'll find links to more confirmation about "Abbot" George's beliefs.

As it happens, both my pal Eric Ewanco and my non-Catholic sister have met members of the group, and their descriptions are consistent with Fr. Nelson's.

The OCIC link has been revised. It is now...

Whatever their questionable origins, they have become "the McDonald's of Icons" simply through savvy marketing and affordable prices for durable and high-quality reproductions. I should think holy water from a priest would cast out all inherent danger in the works. While some Orthodox churches stay away from them, they are still popular with many Eastern and Roman Catholic churches and bookstores.

If they were offering reproductions of real icons, that would be fine. However, their images use odd colors, for example, that don't conform to the symbolic conventions of iconography.

Here's a discussion thread that (on page 2) gives some info about the change of the name from Light of Christ Monastery to Atma Jyoti Ashram. Looks like it happened about two years ago.

There are also some interesting remarks from people who met or corresponded with George Burke/Swami Nirmalananda, pretty much confirming Richard's points. And since these people like Burke's syncretism, this can't be dismissed as anti-Burke propaganda.


Yikes! On a few pages on that site the Virgin Mary is called "the Incarnation of the Holy Spirit", is said to be "divine" like her Divine Son, that she "did not have the type of body which is sustained by the imperfect, corruptible food of this earth" and that "She was everywhere–that there was no time and space for Her.". See:

(Where the author also mistakenly implies that the Ark of the Covenant was present in the Second Temple)

I wonder how long they've believed that? D'ya think they've been reading Leonardo Boff? :-)

Another weird thing: the article later states that Jesus and Mary were the reincarnations of Adam and Eve, who "attained to divinity" though union with God the Son and the Holy Spirit respectively and then "returned to the earth plane to set right what they had set wrong."

Double yikes! To quote Carsino, "This is weird, wild stuff."

In Jesu et Maria,

Could you elaborate on the "funny coloring"? I keep a number of icons in my house, and I frankly don't get it.

I have to admit I'm not knowledgeable enough about iconography to defend that comment.

On the other hand, an EWTN Q&A commentator also says that the group's pictures deviate sometimes from iconographic convention.

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This page contains a single entry by Richard Chonak published on April 17, 2006 12:53 AM.

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