Why Use Church Icons
Icons serve a many purposes in the Church. They show us info pertaining to the Christian faith and by showing Christian stories. In the Korennaya Hermitage as in so many Orthodox Churches in Russia and Greece there are wall to wall icons with the whole bible story. One of the main functions of the Church Icon is used as a means of worshipping God and venerating His saints. it is essentially symbolic, leading the soul from the visible to the invisible, from the material to the spiritual. The Icons instruct the faithful in Prayer and the Church Icons helps you remember and renew thoughts of God. Its like sitting inside an open Bible and you can see it all. Icons instruct us, remind us, help to uplift us, and stirring us up morally and spiritually. True icons focus the distracted, dispersed soul of man on spiritual perfection, on the divine.
Church Icons serve to instruct the faithful, since not every one was literate years ago but also many are also very visual and still chose not to read. They also enhance the beauty of a church. The idea that icons are a means of enhancing the beauty of churches appears in many writings of the Fathers. The church should be made as beautiful as possible, especially in the interior, where the faithful gather to worship and you will see this in the Korennaya Hermitage.
The Eastern Orthodox Church has an extremely rich history of icons. The icon often depicts a Biblical scene, the Virgin Mary, local saints, or Jesus. The icon is of particular importance for the Orthodox Church since it is seen as the dwelling place of God's grace, creating in the faithful a sense of the presence of God
The two principal images of Christ are the Pantocrator (Ruler of All) and Deisis (Interceder). The image of Christ as Pantocrator is located in the principal dome of a church. His head is always surrounded with a halo bearing a cross inside. In his left hand He holds the Bible. His right hand is raised to bless in the manner of priests in the Byzantine tradition. The first two fingers of the right hand are joined, symbolizing the two distinct natures of Christ. The other two fingers touch the thumb, symbolizing the Trinity.
Veneration of a icon should not be looked at or seen as being made to a physical picture itself. These actions go thru the icon to the person depicted, thus you honoring what the icon passes over to being, the person itself. As we venerate a icon, we are reminded of the high spiritual values of the holy ones that are depicted. and we are encouraged to get those values and virtues for ourselves.
In Orthodox tradition, icons are not intended to be realistic paintings of people and events, but rather are symbolic interpretations of the great spiritual qualities of the saints. Like sacrifice, humility, devotion, faith and love. Everything in the icon has symbolic meaning, from color choice to hand position to the placement and size of secondary figures, all that is based on the Holy Scriptures, the writings of the Fathers, and other theological sources. Thus the Holy Icons are one more piece of that which the Church calls Holy Tradition. They are Gospel message in the visual sense just like writing. Icons are pictures which stand for, or open up, something bigger than the picture itself.
The most prominent feature of an Orthodox church is the Iconostasis, consisting of one or more rows of Icons and broken by a set of doors in the center (the Holy or Royal Doors) and a door at each side (the Deacon's Doors).
At the center of the Royal Doors is an Icon of the Annunciation to the Most Holy Theotokos (the Mother of God), since this event was the prelude or beginning of our salvation. Over the Royal Doors is placed an Icon of the Mystical Supper (the Last Supper) since, in the Altar beyond, the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist is celebrated in remembrance of the Savior Who instituted the Sacrament at the Last Supper.
At either side of the Royal Doors are always placed an Icon of the Savior (to the right) and of the Most Holy Theotokos (to the left). On either side of the Royal Doors, beyond the Icons of the Lord and His Mother, are two doors - Deacon's Doors - upon which are depicted either saintly Deacons or Angels - who minister always at the heavenly Altar, just as do the earthly deacons during the Divine services.
The top row contains the Old Testament Prophets - in the midst of which is the Birthgiver of God with the Divine Infant Who is from everlasting and Who was their hope, their consolation, and the subject of their prophecies. At the very top of the Iconostasis is placed the Holy Cross, upon which the Lord was crucified, effecting thereby our salvation.
Icons in the Orthodox Church:
One of the unique characteristics of the Orthodox Church is its use of icons (i.e., holy images). Icons have been in use since the earliest days of the Christian Church. Icons, in their simplest forms, were found in the catacombs, grave sites and other places of ancient Christian worship. They included: the cross, the fish, the lamb and other symbols that represented Jesus Christ. By the fifth century, iconography began to be widespread. Beautiful paintings, mosaics, frescoes and other media of art were used to depict Christ, the Virgin Mary and the saints. The Church felt quite comfortable in depicting our Lord and His saints, for they felt the media of art was just another way to praise and teach about God-just as the Church used music and poetry. Icons were depicted on churches, homes and public buildings. Icons served a many-fold purpose in the Orthodox Church. They were used to help teach the faithful about God. A person can walk into an Orthodox Church and see the whole Bible story unfolded on its walls. Icons of Old and New Testament people and events were used to teach the faithful-keeping in mind that many could not read- about the Christian Faith. Another purpose of icons was to aid the faithful in prayer and meditation on the icons image or the event depicted. Icons kept the mind from wandering and help focus one's attention on prayer.