Icons are an important and integral part of the Orthodox faith.
When you walk into an Orthodox Christian Church, one of the first things you might notice is that it is filled with icons.
The next time you are in a Greek Orthodox Church, consider taking the time to notice the icons. They have a special purpose and are an important part of the lives of the members of the church.
Pretty much icons are everywhere in the church.
Icons play a very important role in the Orthodox Christian Faith. Beautiful, ornate hagiographic icons are described as the “windows to the kingdom of God”. Orthodox icons are used both inside the church, as an integral part of the expression of faith, as well as privately in peoples’ homes.
For the Orthodox Faith, icons are an integral part of the tradition of our Church from its establishment until today, with icons being perhaps the most characteristic feature of our churches.
Icons are viewed as a way to communicate theology.
Icons have been described as “Theology written in images and colour.” Icons are not just pictures — they are sacred images, which convey spiritual truth in picture form, and are sometimes described as windows to heaven.
Icons are to be venerated, but they are not to be worshipped. They serve only as reminders and not be idolized.
In addition to using icons to remind us of the stories, you may notice that Orthodox Christians pay their respects to them. Typically, the sign of the cross is made and the individual kisses the icon. If it is an icon of a person, the goal is to kiss the hand. If the icon is painted to show a scene or event from the Bible, the individual will kiss an arbitrary location. This is called “venerating” the icon and is done to show respect. This is not to be confused as a form of worship. We respect not the icon itself, but what the icon represents.
The Orthodox Church uses icons to assist in worship. Icons are a ‘window to heaven’ and they help us to focus on the divine things. While the icons still contain material aspects, like paint and colour, we are taught not to reject our physical life but instead to transform it, as was done by the holy people represented by the icons. It is important to note that the icons themselves are venerated only, not worshipped; we only worship God in the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).
Icons are intentionally created to not look realistic in order to avoid worshipping them.
Typically, icons are done in a two dimensional style and are not very lifelike. This is done intentionally. Icons are created to represent Biblical events, the people of the Bible, and the saints and if they were too realistic, the concern is that they would be confused with idols, which is defined as an “object of worship” according to Webster’s Dictionary. Icons aren’t to be worshipped, they simply serve as reminders.
All orthodox homes have an icon corner.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of an Orthodox home is its icon corner. The icon corner becomes the spiritual heart of the home–a constant reminder to pray, an intersection between the family and the greater family of saints who have gone before, a sanctuary or rest and renewal in the midst of the world.