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1st Sunday of the Great Fast - Defense of Icons

Icons.

Inseparable from the liturgical tradition, religious art is seen by Orthodox Christians as a form of pictorial confession of faith and a channel of religious experience. This central function of religious images (icons)—unparalleled in any other Christian tradition—received its full definition following the end of the iconoclastic movement in Byzantium (843). The iconoclasts invoked the Old Testamental prohibition of graven images and rejected icons as idols. The Orthodox theologians, on the other hand, based their arguments on the specifically Christian doctrine of the incarnation: God is indeed invisible and indescribable in his essence, but when the Son of God became man, he voluntarily assumed all the characteristics of created nature, including describability. Consequently, images of Christ, as man, affirm the truth of God's real incarnation. Because divine life shines through Christ's risen and glorified humanity, the function of the artist consists in conveying the very mystery of the Christian faith through art. Furthermore, because the icons of Christ and the saints provide direct personal contact with the holy persons represented on them, these images should be objects of “veneration” (proskynesis), even though “worship” (latreia) is addressed to God alone. The victory of this theology over iconoclasm led to the widespread use of iconography in the Christian East and also inspired great painters—most of whom remain anonymous—in producing works of art that possess spiritual as well as artistic value.

 


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