On the Difference Between Veneration and Worship

Nicea II 787, 7th Ecumenical Council

St. Tarasios of Constantinople ca. 730-806

And as the hands and feet are moved in accordance with the directions of the mind, so likewise, we, having received the grace and strength of the Spirit, and having also the assistance and co-operation of your royal authority, have with one voice declared as piety and proclaimed as truth: that the sacred icons of our Lord Jesus Christ are to be had and retained, inasmuch as he was very man; also those which set forth what is historically narrated in the Gospels; and those which represent our undefiled Lady, the holy Mother of God; and likewise those of the Holy Angels (for they have manifested themselves in human form to those who were counted worthy of the vision of them), or of any of the Saints. [We have also decreed] that the brave deeds of the Saints be portrayed on tablets and on the walls, and upon the sacred vessels and vestments, as hath been the custom of the holy Catholic Church of God from ancient times; which custom was regarded as having the force of law in the teaching both of those holy leaders who lived in the first ages of the Church, and also of their successors our reverend Fathers. [We have likewise decreed] that these images are to be reverenced ( proskunein ), that is, salutations are to be offered to them. The reason for using the word is, that it has a two-fold signification. For kunein in the old Greek tongue signifies both “to salute” and “to kiss.” And the preposition pros gives to it the additional idea of strong desire towards the subject; as for example, we have fero and prosfero , kuro and proskuro , and so also we have kuneo and proskuneo . Which last word implies salutation and strong love; for that which one loves he also reverences ( proskunei ) and what he reverences that he greatly loves, as the everyday custom, which we observe towards those we love, bears witness, and in which both ideas are practically illustrated when two friends meet together. The word is not only made use of by us, but we also find it set down in the Divine Scriptures by the ancients. For it is written in the histories of the Kings, “And David rose up and fell upon his face and did reverence to ( prosekunhse ) Jonathan three times and kissed him” (1 Kings xx., 41). And what is it that the Lord in the Gospel says concerning the Pharisees? “They love the uppermost rooms at feasts and greetings ( aspasmous ) in the markets.” It is evident that by “greetings” here, he means reverence ( prosekunhsin ) for the Pharisees being very high-minded and thinking themselves to be righteous were eager to be reverenced by all, but not [merely] to be kissed. For to receive salutations of this latter sort savoured too much of lowly humility, and this was not to the Pharisees’ liking. We have also the example of Paul the divine Apostle, as Luke in the Acts of the Apostles relates: “When we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly, and the day following Paul went in with us unto James, and all the presbyters were present. And when he had saluted ( aspasamenos ) them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry” (Acts 21:17,18,19). By the salutation here mentioned, the Apostle evidently intended to render that reverence of honour which we shew to one another, and of which he speaks when he says concerning Jacob, that “he reverenced the top of his staff” (Heb. 11:21). With these examples agrees what Gregory surnamed Theologian says: “Honour Bethlehem, and reverence the manger.”

Now who of those rightly and sincerely understanding the Divine Scriptures, has ever supposed that these examples which we have cited speak of the worship in spirit? [Certainly no one has ever thought so] except perhaps some persons utterly bereft of sense and ignorant of all knowledge of the Scriptures and of the teaching of the Fathers. Surely Jacob did not adore the top of his staff; and surely Gregory the Theologian does not bid us to adore the manger? By no means. Again, when offering salutations to the life-giving Cross, we together sing: “We reverence, thy cross, O Lord, and we also reverence the spear which opened the life-giving side of thy goodness.” This is clearly but a salutation, and is so called, and its character is evinced by our touching the things mentioned with our lips. We grant that the word proskynesis is frequently found in the Divine Scriptures and in the writings of our learned and holy Fathers for the worship in spirit, since, being a word of many significations, it may be used to express that kind of reverence which is service. As there is also the veneration of honour, love and fear. In this sense it is, that we venerate your glorious and most noble majesty. So also there is another veneration which comes of fear alone, thus Jacob venerated Esau. Then there is the veneration of gratitude, as Abraham reverenced the sons of Heth, for the field which he received from them for a burying place for Sarah his wife. And finally, those looking to obtain some gift, venerate those who are above them, as Jacob venerated Pharaoh. Therefore because this term has these many significations, the Divine Scriptures teaching us, “Thou shalt venerate the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve,” says simply that veneration is to be given to God, but does not add the word “only;” for veneration being a word of wide meaning is an ambiguous term; but it goes on to say “thou shalt serve ( latreuseis ) him only,” for to God alone do we render latria. (The Letter of the Synod to the Emperor and Empress)

Comments

  1. Thank You for another great article! I don’t know how you make the time with the family and work life but I appreciate it and pray you and Maximus keep this site going.

  2. Robert, I pretty much have no other hobbies. I don’t watch much TV at all, including sports. And when I listen to music, it is while writing:) Most of my reading and writing is also interrupted by some sort of need in the family, so I do this in segments, usually. I also try to use my articles and posts for family teaching, whether it be a sit-down session or casual conversation. Thanks for your encouragement!

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