St. Athanasius on Icons

St. Athanasius the Great ca. 297-373

We, the faithful, do not worship the icons as gods. By no means as the pagans, rather we are simply expressing our relation to, and the feeling of our love toward, the person whose image is depicted in the icon. Hence, frequently when the image has faded, we burn it in fire, then as plain wood, that which previously was an icon. Just as Jacob, when dying, bowed in worship over the head of the staff of Joseph [cf. Heb. 11:21] not honoring the staff, but him to whom it belonged, in the same manner the faithful, for no other reason, venerate [kiss] the icons, just as we often kiss our children, so that we may plainly express the affection [we feel] in our soul. For it is just as the Jew once worshipped the tablets of the Law and the two golden sculptured Cherubims not to honor the nature of the stone and gold, but the Lord who had given them. (39th Question to Antiochos, PG 94.1365.)