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  • Chris Vlahonasios

Finding a window into Heaven: interview with author of ICON

There are many examples of anti-Christian works in our culture that depict what the world would be like if Christians took over. They paint a bleak and oppressive theocratic regime – The Handmaid’s Tale or Priest movie – an image that would make many question whether they want to be Christian. However, upon rational analysis all these examples are based on biased speculation and unbridled contempt towards anything Christian. But when one looks at history that has actually occurred it’s been atheist political regimes, like the Soviet Union, that have proven to be the worst oppresses and committed the most horrendous crimes against humanity, not Christians. And it is here ICON: a novel creates a more realistic version of what a society would look like if Christianity was illegal, because it’s already happened several times in the past.

Written for both young adults and over, author Georgia Briggs creates a frighteningly real future where Christianity is banned in America. The central character, Euphrosyne, a 12-year-old girl has lost everything: her family, home and even her name. She’s always being monitored. Her rights are void and she lives in constant fear of punishment, even death. But Euphrosyne has one thing which gives her hope: to find the icon that saved her life.

I joined Georgia Briggs to learn more about a futuristic world that seems somewhat eerily familiarly.

Your idea of America in the future is one of a liberal-totalitarian dystopia, what inspired you to create such a vision?

At the time I wrote this book (pre-2016 presidential election), the political climate in the United States seemed much less polarized and volatile. My inspiration for creating the world of Icon was own runaway imagination based on the historical events leading to dystopias like Nazi Germany and Communist Russia. I tried to picture what would happen if the U.S. outlawed all Christianity, and Icon was what I came up with. In some ways the U.S. of today has become more like the one in Icon than I expected it would, which has been frightening to see.

It was fascinating to read a story that dealt with persecution targeting Orthodox Christians. Were some of the incidences based on actual events?

The episodes in the book were loosely based on real events in the Soviet Union during the era of Communism, when Christians were persecuted in the name of progress, science, and the “common good.” In my research I read multiple accounts of priests serving secret liturgies, faithful Christians hiding their icons and Bibles, and children encouraged by the government to report their parents and relatives who were religious. There are stories of miracles surrounding icons and relics that were hushed up by officials wanting to avoid uprisings.

Given how the world has dramatically changed in the short time you started writing do you feel Christians, or people with traditional morals, are being increasingly persecuted?

Society in the United States has become increasingly anti-Christian, with some believers losing their jobs for adhering to politically-incorrect morals, and many facing mockery or hatred. On the other hand, American Christians are not yet being martyred and we shouldn’t allow ourselves to feel self-righteous and self-congratulatory for enduring such small trials in comparison with death. There is a lot of persecution in the world, and Christians in some countries are losing their lives for their faith.

Acting with love in the face of criticism and punishment can be exhausting and disheartening, though. I guess my answer is…yes, things have gotten worse in the U.S., but we also have so much more safety and freedom than others. We have to keep those two truths in perspective.

There are many references to specific saints, do they hold special significance to you? Why did you pick St Euphrosynos the Cook?

Every saint mentioned in the book has a special significance. St. Euphrosynos the Cook is my husband’s patron saint. I was introduced to St. Euphrosynos in a strange way, before I met my future husband and even before I went to an Orthodox service, when I was working in a bakery belonging to a Greek family. They had an icon of St. Euphrosynos hanging on the office wall, and I used to look up at it and wonder about it whenever I walked by. He kept showing up in my life, appearing in friends’ houses, in the church kitchen, and in the person of my husband. His was the perfect name for Euphrosyne’s character—obscure and unabashedly Orthodox. His personality matches the character as well, shy and serious, and not wanting too much attention focused on him.

You have been Orthodox going on three years, how were you introduced to the faith?

My former ballet teacher and co-worker was the first person to invite me to an Orthodox service. I came for the Vespers service of Pentecost. I was going through a difficult period in my life, and I was tired of pretending that everything was okay. The initial attraction of Orthodoxy for me was the sadness of the Vespers service. It was candlelit, and very dark. The melodies were often in the minor key. The repetitive “Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy” echoed what was going on in my head. The Orthodox Church was a place that I could admit the thing that scared me most; I didn’t feel saved. I felt lost.

Did you continue to peruse dancing?

I left the dance world around the time I became Orthodox. I tried teaching again once for a short time after, but it was a frustrating experience that just confirmed what I already knew; dance was unhealthy for me. There were many aspects of it that I loved, but the art form was too attached to the eating disorder that I’d suffered from for many years. I couldn’t be a dancer and take care of my body and soul at the same time. It was all or nothing, so I chose to leave.

Given your experience as a librarian, what sparks your love of books and writing?

I stopped working as a librarian since having a baby and making the shift to be a stay-at-home mom. I’ve missed it so much! Books and writing have always been a part of my life. My father teaches British Literature and creative writing, and my mother is an author, so much of my childhood revolved around stories. On car rides Dad would tell us stories based on Shakespeare, Tennyson, Pope, and Chaucer. Mom read to us constantly. My love of books is thanks to them.

How do you see the relationship between Orthodoxy spirituality and creativity?

Creativity is a fascinating way for us to bear God’s image. As God is the ultimate creator, He allows us to participate in His work of creation. As Orthodox artists, our work can become an act of spiritual discipline, in which we set aside our personal cares and weariness to focus on making something that reflects God’s glory. The temptation is to lose our true perspective work for our own glory, for the glory of art itself, or for money. It’s easy to do this and still think we are working for God, but when this happens we lose part of the blessing of the discipline, and often the product itself loses its purity.

How has this novel helped you personally and spiritually?

Writing Icon was a whirlwind experience. It flowed out faster than anything else I’ve written, and I almost felt like a reader as I typed the story. I had only recently been baptized, married, and moved, and the writing helped me process the huge changes in my life. It was a way of working out my new faith and values. Euphrosyne is in many ways the person I want to become.

To all aspiring writers how does one initiate writing a novel?

The only way to write a novel is to sit down and write. I know so many people who have “great ideas” for a story, but never actually start writing. Even if you can only devote fifteen minutes a day, make yourself sit down and get something out on paper. Even if you don’t like it and end up throwing it away. If you keep making yourself write, it’ll get easier, and you’ll eventually stumble upon a good story. The challenge for me has always been to write even when I’m not happy with the product. My self-criticism can stifle my creativity. I have so many half-finished projects on my computer…but making myself try something, even something that failed ninety-nine percent of the time, has been crucial to finding that one thing that worked.

I’m now mostly journaling and writing letters as I put most of my creative energy into learning to paint icons. My typical pattern is to go back and forth between writing and visual art until I need a break or have an idea that excites me.

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To read the first few pages of her book or to view some of her artwork from the novel, go to Georgia Brigg’s TRANSFIGURE page.

The book is available through these online stores:

#humanrights #book #Orthodoxy #politics #Christianity #freedomofspeech #discrimination #society

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