Our parish celebrates a stewardship tradition that comes from Albania: the “icon auction” or “Konizmat” beginning in January.
The practice stems from a time when Albania and the Orthodox Church were under Ottoman (Turkish) suzerainty (1468-1912). Sometime in the period between the 17th and 19th century the local pasha came up with a particularly oppressive means to tax the local parish. When parishes could not (or would not) pay the yearly tax, the pasha, or his minions, took whatever items were in the church and held them for ransom from the faithful. Items ranged from the sacred vessels to the icons.
The practice was carried over into the United States as a means of challenging the faithful by the words of the Gospel: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
As in many Albanian-American Orthodox communities, in our parish this stewardship practice was at one time the form of an auction, where members of the community “bid” on the various items in an open forum. The practice/variation became limited to the icons.
Now our practice is to submit “silent bids” with the highest bid, or the earliest bid in case of a tie, gets to take the item home about 4 weeks before Lent, and keep it there until the first Sunday of Great Lent, where this unique custom from Albania is integrated into the Orthodox celebration of “Orthodoxy Sunday” – the universal Orthodox celebration of the restoration of icons by the Seventh Ecumenical Council (787), as affirmed in their full return in 843.
On the Sunday of Orthodoxy, the persons who took “their” icon home return it in the triumphal and moving procession of the Great Entrance – connecting their stewardship gift with the Holy and Sacrificial Gifts of wine and bread.