Why Orthodox revere icons

Why Orthodox revere icons

The apologists of Christianity often point to the discrepancy between theory and practice, a vivid example is the veneration of icons by Orthodox believers. Indeed, in the second commandment given to Moses, it is written: “Do not make yourself an idol and no image of what is in the sky above, what is on the earth below, and what is in the water below the earth. Do not worship and serve them; for I am the Lord your God, ”but in all the temples there are icons and believers pray before them. Because the veneration of icons is not idolatry.

In the early history of Christianity, the issue of icon worship was acute: in Byzantium in the VII-IX centuries there was a mass iconoclastic movement, which ended in 842.


By the 4th century AD icons everywhere were present in the interior of the temples, many Fathers of the Church endorsed this practice, but not everyone was good at honoring icons: Eusebius of Caesarea, the father of church history, argued that divine nature was not mutable.

The iconoclast movement strengthened by the 6th century due to the influence of the Monophysites (the essence of the teachings was about the nature of Jesus Christ, monophysitism rejected its human nature, and took into account only the divine).

Iconoclasm was further developed after the rise of Islam, in which the ban on the image of Allah is one of the main elements of dogma. The foundations of iconoclasm were based on the Old Testament commandment: “Do not make yourself an idol” and on superstitious worship of icons as pagan fetishes — icons for many believers were magical objects separate from Christian doctrine.

Theologians, who stood in opposite positions, argued that the icon is only a semblance of the image, a peculiar symbol that allows believers to perceive the divine. According to their thoughts, the icon appears as a window to the Kingdom of Heaven, as the connection between the earthly and the divine.

II Nicene Cathedral

However, the iconoclasts received support from the emperors: Leo Isaurian wanted to remove obstacles to peaceful neighborhood with Muslims and believed that the abolition of the veneration of icons would help him in a diplomatic sense, this tendency remained with his son and grandson.

At that time, persecution of iconopost and mass destruction of icons was witnessed, and in 754, 348 bishops, declaring themselves the 7th Ecumenical Council, excommunicated all worshipers from the church. The emperor’s negative attitude was also associated with competition for leadership of secular and ecclesiastical authorities, and through the removal of utensils from the parishes and its appropriation, the current government was enriched.

End of friction and disagreement put the Council in Nicea 787 year. Note that there were attempts to disrupt the event, which was originally planned to be held in the capital - iconoclast meetings were held. The Empress Irene did not transfer the Cathedral, but during its opening, armed soldiers broke into the church - supporters of iconoclasm.

As a result, the beginning was frustrated, the holy fathers had nothing left but to disperse. The cathedral was moved to Nicaea - it was primarily attended by the bishops of the Eastern Church, as well as representatives from the Western Church.

According to the results of the Nicene Council, 308 legates approved the dogma of icon veneration, the essence of which is that honoring the icons does not refer to the drawing and material, but to the person depicted, therefore their worship does not have the character of idolatry. The strongest argument against the iconoclasts was that besides the commandments, the Lord gave Moses a plan for the structure of the Temple, which indicates the image of cherubs on the veil in front of the Holy Saints.

Many of the results of the Council seemed controversial - the king of the Frankish state, the future Charlemagne, found errors in the content of the Council and sent the list to the Pope of Rome. The iconoclasts were also dissatisfied with the results: they claimed that the results were rigged, and the participants in the Council referred to the works of heretics.

Why is the icon not an idol?

Criticism of the worship of icons is widespread to this day: first of all, Christian Protestants, who see this as elements of pagan beliefs and idolatry. However, the icon is not an idol.
The first difference between an icon and an idol: it is not in itself an object of faith - it is a symbol of the prototype, which depicts saints, angels, martyrs or the Savior. This is not a pagan deification of the forces of nature — worship of stones, groves, and “places of power,” the prayer does not refer to a painted board, but to a particular saint depicted.

In different Orthodox traditions, attitudes toward icons differand if a believer is embarrassed to pray in front of them, then in the church there is no obligatory rule to do it only in this way, in Orthodoxy there is a prayer without an icon.

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