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Icons in Orthodox Christianity

"Any repudiation of the Lord's image is tantamount to a denial of the mystery of the incarnation." -- Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

The icon (from Greek ƒÃƒÇƒÈƒÖƒË, eikon, "image") is a flat picture of Christ, Mary, or saints, and Bible stories. Most icons are painted in egg tempura on wood, but some are created with mosaic tiles, ivory, or other materials. In Eastern Orthodoxy and other icon-painting Christian traditions, the icon is generally a flat panel painting depicting a holy being or object such as Jesus, Mary, saints, angels, or the cross. Icons may also be cast in metal, carved in stone, embroidered on cloth, done in mosaic work, printed on paper or metal, etc.. -

"Icons are in colors what the Scripture are in words: witnesses to the Incarnation, the fact that God has come among us as a person whom we can see, touch and hear, to offer us the new life and begin the new creation."

Iconography is the Bible in Art and theology in color. The bible and iconography along with prayer of the heart are the gates into the mystery of Orthodox Christian spirituality. Icons serve as "windows into heaven" depicting our Christian history reflecting images of Christ, the Virgin Mary, the Apostles and other holy and heroic Christians of the past.

The Meaning of Icons

Images have always played a part in teaching Christians about their faith. Icons are much more than religious pictures. They are a way of telling people about some complicated Christian teaching in a simple form that anyone can see and start to understand -- even a tiny child. Icons in the earliest days of the Church were a means of depicting Gospel events to Christians who may not have been able to read the Gospel themselves.

One usually speaks of an icon as having been "written," rather than "painted" or the like.Icons are often illuminated with a candle or jar of oil with a wick. (Beeswax for candles and olive oil for oil lamps are preferred because they burn very cleanly.) Besides the practical purpose of making them visible in an otherwise dark church in the days before electricity, this symbolically indicates that the saint(s) depicted are illuminated by the Christ, the Light of the World. When Orthodox Christians venerate or show honor and respect for icons, they understand that they are merely expressing those feelings for the people and events depicted, and not for the icons themselves.

Christians of the Orthodox Church say that it is both wrong and impossible to make a picture showing what God looks like. We have never seen Him, we hardly know Him, We cannot draw Him. However, God came into this world as a person. He became flesh and blood as Jesus Christ. This is what Christians call the "Incarnation". This belief that God became a man is one of the most fundamental of Christian teachings. We can paint a picture of Christ because He lived here as a person. The word "Icon" means a picture or image. In simple terms an Icon of Christ is a picture of Christ which tells everyone that God became a man.

The meaning of Icons goes even further than this. In Icons of the Saints, the pictures do not look like pictures of ordinary flesh and blood. They look strange. The Church teaches that Christ had a human body in order to save our bodies as well as our souls. At the end of time, when Christ comes again, everyone will rise from the dead.

The Meaning of Icons

We will not look the same as we do now. We will be utterly changed, and we will shine with the glory of God. Icons show people with that sort of body -- a Resurrection body. The Church also teaches that all people are made in the image and likeness of God. In a way then, the Saints are living 'Icons' of Christ. Because Christ was God and Man at the same time. He was able to show us just what that image and likeness of God can actually look like. The Gospels tell us that once, at a place called Mount Tabor, the Apostles saw that Christ was shining with light. (Matt. 17. 1-13; Mark 9. 2-13; Luke 9. 28-36) The same thing sometimes happens to people who live a very holy life. When they are deep in prayer they shine with a mysterious light. Their bodies have been changed so that they show the image and likeness of God. They are holy flesh. Not all of the Saints show this sort of holiness on the outside in their lives. More often they grow into the likeness of God in a hidden way, but all Icons of the Saints show that they have already changed from ordinary flesh and blood. Saints are depicted with a halo of light around their head.

There are many examples of miraculous Icons throughout time. Some even today. Orthodox Christians believe firmly that God can use thing's of this world (such as wood and paint) to help us to share in the heavenly world. We use water in Baptism or bread and wine in Holy Communion. We ask God to bless these ordinary things so that they can bring us to Him. Similarly, we ask God to bless Icons as well, so that the paint and wood and the artist's skill can be used in His service. Icons are blessed to bring us to God. This is the reason why we call them "Holy Icons".

Visit Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia for the complete article:

Windows Into Heaven

In an ordinary picture things seem to get narrower as they go into the distance. This gives the picture its feeling of depth. It is called "perspective". Icons are different. On many of them the picture seems to get wider as it goes into the distance -- the perspective is back to front.

In an ordinary painting you can often see the sun, or else you can see light and shadow. You can tell the time of day, or you can see that it is night. You can not see these things in an Icon. There are no shadows, or ways of showing day and night. An Icon shows a view of heaven, so it is lighted by the unchanging light of God. Icons are painted this way on purpose. An Icon is a window into Heaven. The veneration granted to the Icon is said to pass on to Heaven and the person depicted therein.

Icons are reminders of the spiritual world. They are windows into eternity; a holy space depicting sacred reality in the course of humanity.


The Icon FAQ: An Icon is an image (usually two dimensional) of Christ, the Saints, Angels, important Biblical events, parables, or events in the history of the Church
About Icons: OrthodoxWiki: his category is for articles about and related to icons. For an image gallery of icons, please see Category:Icons
The Orthodox Church and its Icons: A spectacular entrance to the world and wealth of Orthodox Icons and Iconography. A collection of structured, annotated and evaluated links.
Icons, Orthodox: Orthodox Icons, Russian Orthodox icons, Greek Orthodox Icons, Orthodox Iconographers, Byzantine
Orthodox Icons: Iconographers, & Byzantine Icon websites & LinksComment:
By venerating icons, Orthodox Christians acknowledge that matter is not inherently evil, but can be used by God

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