On Icons of the Holy Angels

Meister_der_Ikone_des_Erzengels_Michael_001_adjustedSt. Methodius of Olympus died ca. 311

For instance, then, the images of our kings here, even though they be not formed of the more precious materials— gold or silver— are honoured by all. For men do not, while they treat with respect those of the far more precious material, slight those of a less valuable, but honour every image in the world, even though it be of chalk or bronze. And one who speaks against either of them, is not acquitted as if he had only spoken against clay, nor condemned for having despised gold, but for having been disrespectful towards the King and Lord Himself. The images of God’s angels, which are fashioned of gold, the principalities and powers, we make to His honor and glory. (The Second Discourse on the Resurrection)

On Accusations of Idolatry

St.-John-of-DamascusSt. John Damascene ca. 676-749

[Muslims] accuse us of being idolaters, because we venerate the Cross, which they abominate. And we answer them:

‘How is it, then, that you rub yourselves against a stone in the Ka’ba and kiss and embrace it? …Let it be Abraham’s, as you so foolishly say. Just because Abraham had relations with a woman on it or tied a camel to it, you are not ashamed to kiss it, yet you blame us for venerating the Cross of Christ by which the power of the demons and the deceit of the Devil was destroyed.’ (The Fount of Knowledge: On Heresies, 101)


On Icons of the Word Made Flesh

Nativity by Gabriel Toma Chituc

          Nativity by Gabriel Toma Chituc

St. Theodore the Studite 759-826

If uncircumscribability is characteristic of God’s essence, and circumscription is characteristic of man’s essence, but Christ is from both: then He is made known in two properties, as in two natures. How would it not be blasphemous to say that He is uncircumscribed in body as well as spirit, since if His circumscription were removed His human nature would be removed also?

If things do not have the same properties, then their essences are different. It is proper to divinity to be uncircumscribable, bodiless, and formless. It is proper to humanity to be circumscribed, tangible, and three-dimensional. If, therefore, Christ is from both essences, He must be both uncircumscribable and circumscribed. If He is only one or the other, He is of only the one essence of which He has the property — which is heretical.

If Christ cannot be circumscribed, neither can He suffer; for impassibility is equivalent to uncircumscribability. But He is able to suffer, as the Scriptures say. Therefore, He is also circumscribable.

If Christ is uncircumscribable, as you say, not only in respect to His divinity, but also in respect to His humanity, then His humanity is also divinity. For things which have the same properties also have one nature. But if He is of two natures, He is therefore also of two properties: otherwise, by the removal of circumscription, the nature of humanity would also be removed.

If Christ is uncircumscribable, how can He Himself say, “They have pierced My hands and My feet; they have numbered all My bones” (LXX Ps. 21:16-17)? For that which is uncircumscribable does not have a nature to be pierced, nor to have its bones numbered. To believe these words is to confess the circumscription.

If Christ is uncircumscribable, how can the Forerunner say, “See the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world?” (Jn. 1:29) For that which is seen is not uncircumscribable, not to mention that which is pointed out with the finger. But if something should be seen and pointed out, then it would be within circumscription. Therefore, Christ is circumscribable.

If Christ is not circumscribable, He is not of two natures, divinity and humanity, since He does not have the property of each. For circumscribability is characteristic of humanity. But if He is of two natures, how can He avoid having the properties of those whose natures He has?

If Christ is not circumscribed, as you say, because He would be diminished in glory, then He was not conceived in the Virgin’s womb either, because He would have endured humiliation. But if He was not only conceived without humiliation, but even born as an infant, then He is circumscribed without shame.

Maleness and femaleness are sought only in the forms of bodies, since none of the differences which characterize sexes can be recognized in bodiless beings. Therefore, if Christ were uncircumscribable, as being without a body. He would also be without the difference of sex. But He was born male, as Isaiah says, from “the prophetess” (Is. 8:18): therefore, He is circumscribed. (Third Refutation of the Iconoclasts)

On Praying Before Icons

Icon of the Mother of God “The Unexpected Joy” from oca.org

St. Ignaty Brianchaninov 1807-1867

The Holy Icons are accepted by the Holy Church for the purpose of arousing pious memories and feelings, but not all for arousing imagination. Standing before an icon of the Savior, stand as if before the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, Who is invisibly everywhere present and by His icon in that place, where the icon is. Standing before an icon of the Mother of God, stand as if before the Most-Holy Virgin herself; but keep your mind without images: there is a great difference between being in the presence of the Lord or standing before the Lord and imagining the Lord. (Sobraniye 2004, 1:76. excerpted from Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov, Imagine That…)

On Orthodox Arts and Holy Tradition

Hagia Sophia Imperial Gate Mosaic from wikimedia commons

Schemamonk Father Constantine (Cavarnos) 1918-2011

Everything is organically related. About the Church’s arts, for example… iconography addresses itself to our sense of sight, while music addresses itself to our sense of hearing, but both seek to express the same essence, the Orthodox Faith. Architecture has its own tradition, particularly recognizable in the dome, in the round arch, and by the surfaces that are used for the wall paintings, which other kinds of architecture, such as the Gothic, do not provide. The architecture of the Orthodox church is a very important element of the totality; in other words, all of these arts are organically interrelated, though using different media. The iconography, hymnody, music, and architecture of the Byzantine tradition are trying to convey the same thing. They have the same point of origin: they all spring from and are used to communicate the Orthodox Faith and make it apprehensible to the believer through the senses. Thus, you can see the organic unity of the fine arts of Orthodoxy. You can also see it in the appearance of the priest, the monk, the form of the prayers, and the Liturgy. All of these things are organically related to one another. If you say that traditional iconography is not essential, or the traditional music is secondary and can be replaced with organs or violins, while still retaining Orthodoxy—that’s not so! When you eliminate these things, what’s left? Soon you’ll begin toning down the dogmas because of minimalism or relativism. The Greeks have a word for this: xephtisma, “unravelment.” Your pants are torn in one place, you let that go, then the tear spreads out. If you don’t patch it up in time, it will spread more and more, and the whole garment then falls to pieces. So you have to mend it. If you don’t take the time to repair any kind of break from the Tradition, then the whole thing begins to fall apart. And that’s what has happened to much of the Orthodox world. It’s falling apart in this way, saying: This does not matter, that is not essential, that’s unimportant, that’s a convention, and so forth. (Unwavering Fidelity to Holy Tradition)



On the Fate of the Soul in Byzantine Art and Liturgy


Separation of the Soul from the Body, fol. 63v, Heavenly Ladder of John Klimax, 1081, Princeton, University Library, Manuscripts Division

‘He Who is at the Point of Death’: The Fate of the Soul in Byzantine Art and Liturgy

by Vasileios Marinis

This paper is an examination of the content and iconography of the Kanon eis Psychorragounta (Canon for He Who Is at the Point of Death). This was the most important component of an akolouthia by the same name, a liturgical service meant to be read and sung on one’s behalf shortly before death. The canon’s extensive use and impact are evident in that it was depicted at least three times, once in manuscript illumination and twice in monumental painting, unusual given the rarity of illustrations of minor services. Because of its inclusion in euchologia, the prayer books used by clergy containing all the services of the Byzantine Rite, the author argues that the akolouthia and its canon provided a canonical, Church-sanctioned understanding of death and its immediate aftermath and exerted a normative influence on people’s perception of the separation of the soul from the body and subsequent events. On the most basic level, the iconography of the canon is meant to illustrate its contents.

On the Catholicity of Holy Icons

St. Nikephoros, Hagia Sophia mosaic

St. Nikephoros of Constantinople ca. 758-828

But you… have decided to wage war on us [the Church]… Nonetheless, you have decided to raise up against [Orthodox doctrine] some murky teachings from pernicious men. What Rome is it, first called the seat of the Apostles, that accords with you in rejecting the revered image of Christ? Rather, Rome joins us in laboring and rejoicing to honor that [image]. What Alexandria is it, venerable precinct of the Evangelist Mark, that ever joined [you] in refusing to set up the bodily and material likeness of the Mother of God? Rather, Alexandria assists and agrees with us in this [point]. What Antioch is it, far-famed seat of Peter, the chief [of the Apostles], that concurs [with you] in insulting the representation of the Saints? Rather, Antioch shares with us the long tradition of honoring these [images]. What Jerusalem is it, renowned home of [James] the brother of the Lord, that conspires [with you] in destroying the traditions [handed down] from the Fathers? (Bithos, ‘Saint Methodios of Constantinople, A Study of His Life and Works, p. 158)

On Poor Iconography

The Council of the Hundred Chapters (Stoglav) Moscow, 1551

Let those who up to now have painted icons without having learned to, who paint fancifully, without either practice or conformity to the image, have their works taken away from them and sold to simple and ignorant people in the villages for next to nothing: the painters of these icons will be obliged to learn from good masters.

Whoever, by the grace of God, starts painting according to the image and the likeness, let him paint. Let the one from whom God has withheld such a gift abandon painting altogether, so that the name of God may not be blasphemed by such paintings. If anyone breaks this ruling, let him be punished by the Tsar and brought to judgment. If some people answer you this way, “This trade provides us with a living; it is our daily bread,’ do not be swayed by this objection because it is their ignorance that is speaking, and they do not feel guilty of any sin. Everyone cannot paint icons: God has given men various trades and professions, other than icon-painting. These other livelihoods are capable of feeding them and assuring their subsistence. The image of God must not be given to those who disfigure it and dishonor it.

On Evangelization and Iconography

Bede the Venerable ca. 673-735

(597 a.d. British Isles) Augustine [of Canterbury] thus strengthened by the confirmation of the blessed Father Gregory, returned to the work of the word of God, with the servants of Christ, and arrived in Britain… It is reported that, as they drew near to the city, after their manner, with the holy Cross, and the Image of our sovereign Lord and King, Jesus Christ, they, in concert, sung this litany: “We beseech Thee, O Lord, in all Thy mercy, that thy anger and wrath be turned away from this city, and from the holy house, because we have sinned. Hallelujah.” (Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, Bk. 1 Chap. XXV)

Chinese imperial Proclamation Tang Dynasty

(638 a.d. China) Bishop Alopen of the Kingdom of Ta-chin (Syria), bringing with him the Sutras and the Images, has come from afar and presented them at our Capital. Having carefully examined the scope of his teaching, we find it to be mysteriously spiritual, and of silent operation. Having observed its principal and most essential points, we reached the conclusion that they cover all that is most important in life…This Teaching is helpful to all creatures and beneficial to all men. So let it have free course throughout the Empire. (The Nestorian Stele Commemorating the Propagation of the Ta-ch’in [Syrian]Luminous Religion in China)

St. Nestor the Chronicler 1056-1114

(987 a.d. Kiev) As [the Greek Orthodox scholar] spoke thus, he exhibited to [Great Prince] Vladimir a canvas on which was depicted the Judgment Day of the Lord, and showed him, on the right, the righteous going to their bliss in Paradise, and on the left, the sinners on their way to torment. Then Vladimir sighed and said, “Happy are they upon the right, but woe to those on the left!” The scholar replied, “If you desire to take your place upon the right with the just, then accept baptism!” Vladimir took this counsel to heart, saying, “I shall wait yet a little longer,” for he wished to inquire about all the faiths. Vladimir then gave the scholar many gifts, and dismissed him with great honor. (The Russian Primary Chronicle) 

On Icons of the Trinity

Great Council of Moscow 1666-1667

We decree that a skilled painter, who is also a good man (from the ranks of the clergy) be named monitor of the iconographers, their leader and supervisor. Let the ignorant not mock the ugly and badly painted icons of Christ, of His Mother, His Saints. Let all vanity of pretended wisdom cease, which has allowed everyone habitually to paint the Lord Sabaoth in various representations according to his own fantasy, without an authentic reference… We decree that from now on the image of the Lord Sabaoth will no longer be painted according to senseless and unsuitable imaginings, for no one has ever seen the Lord Sabaoth (that is, God the Father) in the flesh. Only Christ was seen in the flesh, and in this way He is portrayed, that is, in the flesh and not according to His divinity. Likewise, the most Holy Mother of God and other Saints of God…

To paint on icons the Lord Sabaoth (that is, the Father) with a white beard holding the Only-Begotten Son in His lap with a dove between them is altogether absurd and improper, for no one has ever seen the Father in His Divinity. Indeed, the Father has no flesh, and it is not in flesh that the Son was born of the Father before all ages. And if the Prophet David says, ‘from the womb, before the morning star, I have begotten You’ (Ps. 109 [110]:3), such a generation is certainly not corporeal, but unutterable and unimaginable. For Christ Himself says in the Holy Gospel, ‘No one knows the Father except the Son’. In chapter 40, Isaiah asks: ‘What likeness will you find for God or what form to resemble His?’ Likewise, the holy Apostle Paul says in chapter 17 of Acts: ‘Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to believe that the Godhead is the same as gold, silver, or stone shaped by human art and thought.’ St. John of Damascus likewise says: ‘Who can make an imitation of God the invisible, the incorporeal, the indescribable, and unimaginable? To make an image of the Divinity is the height of folly and impiety.’ (On the Heavens, Bk. IV, On the Image) St. Gregory Dialogos forbade in a similar way. This is why the Lord Sabaoth, Who is the Godhead, and the engendering before all ages of the Only-Begotten Son of the Father must only be perceived through our mind. By no means is it proper to paint such images: it is impossible. And the Holy Spirit is not, in His nature a dove: He is by nature God. And no one has ever seen God, as the holy Evangelist points out. Nonetheless, the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of dove at the Holy Baptism of Christ in the Jordan; and this is why it is proper to represent the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, in this context only. Anywhere else, those who have good sense do not represent the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, for on Mount Tabor He appeared in the form of a cloud, and in another way elsewhere. Besides, Sabaoth is not the name of the Father only, but of the Holy Trinity. According to Dionysius the Areopagite, ‘Sabaoth’ is translated from the Hebrew as ‘Lord of Host’. And the Lord of Hosts is the Trinity. And if the Prophet Daniel says that he has seen the Ancient of Days sitting on the throne of judgment, that is not taken to mean the Father, but the Son at His Second Coming, who will judge all nations with his fearsome judgment.

Likewise, on icons of the Holy Annunciation, they paint the Lord Sabaoth breathing from His mouth, and that breath reaches the womb of the Most Holy Mother of God. But who has seen this, or which passage from Holy Scripture bears witness to it? Where is this taken from? Such a practice and others like it are clearly adopted and borrowed from people whose understanding is vain, or rather whose mind is deranged or absent. This is why we decree that henceforth such mistaken painting cease, for it comes from unsound knowledge. It is only in the Apocalyspe of St. John that the Father can be painted with white hair, for lack of any other possibility, because of the visions contained in it.

It is good and proper to place a Cross, that is, the Crucifixion of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, above the Deisis in the holy churches in the place of Lord Sabaoth, according to the norm preserved since ancient times in all the holy churches of the eastern countries, in Kiev, and everywhere else except in the Muscovite State. This is a great mystery kept by the holy Church…

We say this to shame the iconographers so that they stop making false and vain paintings, and from now on paint nothing according to their own ideas, without an authentic reference. (The Image of God the Father in Orthodox Theology and Iconography and Other Studies by Fr. Steven Bingham pp. 137-139)

Holy Synod of the Russian Church 1722

On the antimensia…, it is strictly forbidden to represent the Lord Sabaoth in the form of an old man, and the holy Evangelists in the form of animals. (ibid., p. 144)

Holy Synod of Constantinople 1776

It has been decreed by the Synod that the icon allegedly of the Trinity is an innovation. It is alien to the apostolic Orthodox Catholic Church and is not accepted by it. It infiltrated the Church through the Latins. (ibid., p. 146)




On the Decree of the Seventh Ecumenical Council

What the Council Decreed

The council decreed that similar veneration and honour should be paid to the representations of the Lord and of the Saints as was accustomed to be paid to the “laurata” and tablets representing the Christian emperors, to wit, that they should be bowed to, and saluted with kisses, and attended with lights and the offering of incense. But the Council was most explicit in declaring that this was merely a veneration of honour and affection, such as can be given to the creature, and that under no circumstances could the adoration of divine worship be given to them but to God alone.

The Greek language has in this respect a great advantage over the Hebrew, the Latin and the English; it has a word which is a general word and is properly used of the affectionate regard and veneration shown to any person or thing, whether to the divine Creator or to any of his creatures, this word is proskynesis ; it has also another word which can properly be used to denote only the worship due to the Most High, God, this word is latreia . When then the Council defined that the worship of “latria “was never to be given to any but God alone, it cut off all possibility for idolatry, mariolatry, iconolatry, or any other “latry” except “theo-latry.” If therefore any of these other “latries” exist or ever have existed, they exist or have existed not in accordance with, but in defiance of, the decree of the Second Council of Nice.

But unfortunately, as I have said, we have neither in Hebrew, Latin, nor English any word with this restricted meaning, and therefore when it became necessary to translate the Greek acts and the decree, great difficulty was experienced, and by the use of “adoro” as the equivalent of proskyneo many were scandalized, thinking that it was divine adoration which they were to give to the sacred images, which they knew would be idolatry. The same trouble is found in rendering into English the acts and decrees; for while indeed properly speaking “worship” no more means necessarily divine worship in English than “adoratio” does in Latin (e.g. I. Chr. xxix. 20, “All the congregation bowed down their heads and worshipped the Lord and the King” [i.e. Solomon]; Luke xiv. 10, “Then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee “), yet to the popular mind “the worship of images” is the equivalent of idolatry. In the following translations I have uniformly translated as follows and the reader from the English will know what the word is in the original.

Proskyneo , to venerate; timao, to honour; latreuo, to adore; aspaxomai to salute; douleuo, to serve; eikon , an image.

The relative force of proskynesis and latreia cannot better be set forth than by Archbishop Trench’s illustration of two circles having the same centre, the larger including the less (New Testament Synonyms, sub voce latreuo).

To make this matter still clearer I must ask the reader’s attention to the use of the words abadh and shachah in the Hebrew; the one abadh, which finds, when used with reference to God or to false gods its equivalent in latreuo ; the other shachah, which is represented by proskyneo. Now in the Old Testament no distinction in the Hebrew is drawn between these words when applied to creator or creature. The one denotes service primarily for hire; the other bowing down and kissing the hand to any in salutation. Both words are constantly used and sometimes refer to the Creator and sometimes to the creature–e.g., we read that Jacob served (abadh) Laban (Gen. xxix. 20); and that Joshua commanded the people not to serve the gods of their fathers but to serve (abadh) the Lord (Josh. xxiv. 14). And for the use of shachah the following may suffice: “And all the congregation blessed the Lord God of their fathers and bowed down their heads and worshipped (Hebrew, shachah; Greek, proskyneo ; Latin, adoro) the Lord and the King” (I. Chr. xxix. 20). But while it is true of the Hebrew of the Old Testament that there is no word which refers alone to Divine Worship this is not true of the Septuagint Greek nor of the Greek of the New Testament, for in both proskyneo has always its general meaning, sometimes applying to the creature and sometimes to the Creator; but latreuo is used to denote divine worship alone, as St. Augustine pointed out long ago.

This distinction comes out very clearly in the inspired translation of the Hebrew found in Matthew iv. 10, “Thou shalt worship (proskynesis) the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve (latreuseis ).” “Worship” was due indeed to God above all but not exclusively to Him, but latria is to be given to “Him only.”

I think I have now said enough to let the reader understand the doctrine taught by the council and to prove that in its decree it simply adopted the technical use of words found in the Greek of the Septuagint and of the New Testament. I may then close this introduction with a few remarks upon outward acts of veneration in general.

Of course, the outward manifestation in bodily acts of reverence will vary with times and with the habits of peoples. To those accustomed to kiss the earth on which the Emperor had trodden, it would be natural to kiss the feet of the image of the King of Kings. The same is manifestly true of any outward acts whatever, such as bowing, kneeling, burning of lights, and offering of incense. All these when offered before an image are, according to the mind of the Council, but outward signs of the reverence due to that which the image represents and pass backward to the prototype, and thus it defined, citing the example of the serpent in the wilderness, of which we read, “For he that turned himself toward it was not saved by the thing that he saw, but by thee, that art the Saviour of all” (Wisdom xvi. 17). If anyone feels disposed to attribute to outward acts any necessary religious value he is falling back into Judaism, and it were well for him to remember that the nod which the Quakers adopted out of protest to the bow of Christians was once the expression of divine worship to the most sacred idols; that in the Eastern Church the priest only bows before the Lord believed to be present in the Holy Sacrament while he prostrates himself before the infidel Sultan; and that throughout the Latin communion the acolytes genuflect before. the Bishop, as they pass him, with the same genuflection that they give to the Holy Sacrament upon the Altar. In this connexion I quote in closing the fine satire in the letter of this very council to the Emperor and Empress. St. Paul “says of Jacob (Heb. xi. 2I), ‘He worshipped the top of his staff,’ and like to this is that said by Gregory, surnamed the Theologian, ‘Revere Bethlehem and worship the manger,’ But who of those truly understanding the Divine Scriptures would suppose that here was intended the Divine worship of latria? Such an opinion could only be entertained by an idiot or one ignorant of Scriptural and Patristic knowledge. Would Jacob give divine worship to his staff? Or would Gregory, the Theologian, give command to worship as God a manger!” (Introduction to the Seventh Ecumenical Council, 2. NPNF II [Vol. 14] pp. 523-528)

On Conceptions of God

St. Augustine of Hippo ca. 354-430

Avoid conceiving of God as an old man with a very venerable look… Do you want to see God? Stop at this thought: God is love. What image does Love have? No one can say. (Epist. Joannis ad Parthos VII, 10. PL 35 2034a.)

On Iconography in the Orthodox West

Hieromonk Seraphim Rose 1934-1982

From the beginning, the Christian basilicas were adorned with mosaics or frescoes, at first in the apse, and very soon on the walls as well. Those in Gaul were lost together with the churches that housed them, and so we can only judge of them by contemporary descriptions and by surviving examples, especially in Italy, which was in close with Gaul at this time.

The iconography of the 4th century is rather close in style to the realism of later Roman painting, although by the end of the century, even in Rome, it is already changing towards the Byzantine style; in content it combines themes from the symbolic paintings of the catacombs (Christ as the Lamb, the Good Shepherd, etc.) with scenes from the Old and (more and more with time) from the New Testament. The basilica of St. Ambrose in Milan, dedicated in 386, contained frescoes (as we know from the inscriptions of the saint himself) from the Old Testament, and the following ones from the New Testament: the Annunciation, the conversion of Zacchaeus, the woman with the issue of blood, the Transfiguration, and St. John leaning on the breast of the Savior. Judging from the contemporary mosaics at St. Pudentiana in Rome, the style of these icons was already very close to the later Byzantine style. In the Basilica of St. Paulinus in Nola (404), the two sides of the nave contained scenes from the Old and New Testaments, and in the space between the windows above were apostles and saints, with Christ the King in the apse. There was yet no fixed rule for the depiction of various feasts or scriptural events, and there was no formal canonization of the saints who might be portrayed in icons; apostles, martyrs, and even recent bishops and ascetics were depicted according to their local veneration. There is even a case where, in the baptistery of the monastery of Sulpicius Severus at Primuliacum in southern Gaul, the recently-reposed St. Martin is depicted on one wall, and the still-living Bishop Paulinus of Nola on the opposite wall – something which aroused the good-natured protest of St. Paulinus, who wrote Severus: “By depicting me alone on the opposite wall, you have contrasted my lowly figure, shrouded in mental darkness, with Martin’s holy person.” (St. Paulinus, Letter 32)

The distinctive Byzantine style is already evident in the 5th century, and the 6th century is the age of an already developed and perfected art. The great basilicas of Ravenna are monumental triumphs of Byzantine iconography – an art which in style and subject-matter has not changed essentially through the ages, and is still very much alive today. The Byzantine style was universal in the Roman Empire, as may be seen in the icons even of the remote border area of Mt. Sinai, where the mosaic of the Transfiguration in the apse is identical with later icons of the feast down to our day. This is the Christian art that was known to the great Western hierarchs of the 6th century, St. Gregory, Pope of Rome and St. Gregory of Tours.

In Gaul, mosaic icons are known (History of the Franks 2.16; 10.45), but more commonly we hear of frescoes. The original basilica of St. Martin had frescoes which were restored by St. Gregory, as he himself relates (HF 10.31): “I found the walls of St. Martin’s basilica damaged by fire. I ordered my workmen to use all their skill to paint and decorate them, until they were as bright as they had previously been.” These frescoes must have been impressive, for when treating of the stay of a certain Eberulf in the basilica (under the law of sanctuary which then prevailed), St. Gregory writes: “When the priest had gone off, Eberulf’s young women and his men-servants used to come in and stand gaping at the frescoes on the walls” (HF 7.22). St. Gregory has preserved for us a brief account of how the frescoes were painted (5th century): “The wife of Namatius built the church of St. Stephen in the suburb outside the walls of Clermont-Ferrand. She wanted it to be decorated with colored frescoes. She used to hold in her lap a book from which she would read stories of events which happened long ago, and the tell the workmen what she wanted painted on the walls” (HF 2.17). This “book” might have been the Scriptures, the Life of a saint, or even, as Prof. Dalton suggests, “some sort of painter’s manual like those used in the East” (vol. 1, p. 327).

When restoring the main basilica of Tours (distinct from the basilica where Martin’s relics reposed), as Abbot Odo informs us precisely in his life of St. Gregory (ch. 12), the latter “decorated the walls with histories having for subject the exploits of Martin.”  It so happens that we have a list of these iconographic scenes in a poem of Fortunatus describing the basilica (Carmine 10.6). They are: (1) St. Martin curing a leper by a kiss; (2) dividing his cloak and giving half to a beggar; (3) giving away his tunic; (4) raising three men from the dead; (5) preventing the pine tree from falling on him by the sign of the Cross; (6) idols being crushed by a great column launched from heaven; (7) St. Martin exposing a pretended martyr. We can only regret the disappearance of such a notable monument of Orthodox Christian art, just one of many in 6th-century Gaul, the likes of which were not seen in later centuries in the West (where the Roman-Byzantine style was gradually lost); but we may gain a general idea of its appearance in the contemporary basilicas of Ravenna with their mosaic icons. One of these basilicas, indeed, was dedicated originally to St. Martin of Tours, the dedication later being changed to Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo.

Separate panel icons also existed at this time. In the history of Bede it is stated that St. Augustine of Canterbury and those with him, after landing in Britain in the year 597, came to King Ethelbert of Kent “bearing a silver cross for their banner, and the image of our Lord and Savior painted on a board” (Ecclesiastical History of England, Book I, ch. 25). In the Life of the Fathers (12.2) we read of “the icons (Latin iconicas) of the apostles and other saints” in the oratory where St. Bracchio prayed. It should be noted that the oratories and small village churches of Gaul would not, of course, be in basilica style or usually made of stone; they were generally of wood, and the icons in them were painted on boards and hung on the walls. The most detailed reference to these 6th-century panel icons is in St. Gregory’s Glory of the Martyrs (ch. 22), where we read, in the account “of the Jew who stole an icon (Latin iconica, or in one manuscript, icona) and pierced it,” the following which is also an impressive testimony of the truly orthodox attitude of the Church of Gaul at that time, as contrasted with the iconoclast sentiment which seized part of Gaul (as it did also of the Christian East) in the century of Charlemagne. Here are St. Gregory’s words: “The faith which remained pure among us up to this day causes us love Christ with such a love that the faithful who keep His law engraved in their hearts wish to have also His painted image, in memory of His virtue, on visible boards which they hang in their churches and in their homes… a Jew, who often saw in a church an image of this sort painted on a board (Latin imaginem in tabula pictam) attached to the wall, said to himself, ‘Behold the seducer who has humiliated us’… Having come then in the night, he pierced the image, took it down from the wall, and carried it under his clothes to his house in order to throw it into the fire.” He was discovered when it was found that the image shed copious blood in the place where it had been pierced (a miracle which occurred also later in Byzantium with the Icon of the Iviron Mother of God, and in Soviet times in Kaplunovka in Russia with a crucifix).

A number of such panel icons on wood have come down to us from 6th-century Mount Sinai; they are identical in appearance to the icons which pious Orthodox Christians cause to have painted for their churches and homes even today. (Vita Patrum: The Life of the Fathers by St. Gregory of Tours. Introduction to Orthodox Gaul, pp. 80-82)

On the Incarnation and Icon Restoration

St. Athanasius the Great ca. 297-373

For as, when the likeness painted on a panel has been effaced by stains from without, he whose likeness it is must needs come once more to enable the portrait to be renewed on the same wood: for, for the sake of his picture, even the mere wood on which it is painted is not thrown away, but the outline is renewed upon it; in the same way also the most holy Son of the Father, being the Image of the Father, came to our region to renew man once made in His likeness, and find him, as one lost, by the remission of sins; as He says Himself in the Gospels: I came to find and to save the lost. Whence He said to the Jews also: Except a man be born again, not meaning, as they thought, birth from woman, but speaking of the soul born and created anew in the likeness of God’s image. (On the Incarnation, 14)

St. John of Kronstadt on Venerating Holy Icons

St. John of Kronstadt 1829-1908

By reverencing icons – firstly, I reverence in them God, Who has begotten before all worlds the Son, His living Image, Who gave material being to the infinite thought of God the Father, by creating the worlds and all the creatures that were in the thought of God, and man, created after the image and likeness of God; secondly, I honor in them the image of God incarnate; thirdly, I honor in them myself, my own image of the immortal god-like man, called to be a partaker of the divine nature, to union with the Lord, to be the temple of the Holy Ghost. Also I am involuntary incited to venerate icons because I see manifested in them the power of God, saving the faithful and punishing unbelievers, in the same way as I see and feel this same power in the sign of the Lord’s cross, which is called life-giving by reason of its miraculous power. For all these reasons, icons replace for me the persons themselves whose names they bear. The images of the saints upon the icons represent to us the nearness in the spirit of God’s saints, who all live in God and are always near to us in the Holy Ghost, through our hearty faith and prayer to them. For what can be far away for the Spirit of God, Who is everywhere present and filleth all things, “going through all understanding (gifted with understanding) pure and most subtle spirits? (Wisdom 7:23) “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” (Luke 15:7, 10) This means that the disposition of our souls lies open, not only to God, but also to the angels, “Standing before Thee and before Thy terrible holy angels, I bring before Thee my evil and wicked doings, and confess them and reveal them.” (Fourth Prayer of St. Symeon Metaphrastes Before Holy Communion)

If anyone would ask you why you pray to soulless icons, what profit you derive from them… say that blessed power and help to our souls always comes to us from icons, saving us from sins, sorrows, and sicknesses; especially from icons of the Savior and the Mother of God; that one single look with faith upon them, as upon the living and those who are near to us, saves us from cruel sorrows, passions, and spiritual darkness; that if touching the Savior’s garment, and the garments and handkerchiefs of the Apostles could restore health to the sick, much more are the images of the Savior and of the Mother of God powerful to heal every affliction… (On Prayer [Extracts from his Writings] Chap. XV On Prayer Before Icons)

icon source

The Holy Synod of Rome on Holy Icons

Lateran Council of 769 If we wish to be partners with the saints, we should venerate the relics of the saints, not only of their bodies, but also of their vestments, the basilicae named after them, and even their images and likenesses wherever they might be depicted. (Council of Rome [769], MGH Conc. 2,1:87.)

Bede the Venerable on the Old Testament Prohibition of Images

Bede the Venerable ca. 673-735

[I]f we examine the words of the law more carefully, perhaps it will become apparent that it is not making images of objects or animals that is forbidden. Rather what is entirely prohibited is making them for the purpose of idolatry. Finally, as the Lord on the holy mountain was about to say, You shall not make for yourself a carved thing, He first said, You shall not have strange gods before me, and then added, You shall not make for yourself a carved thing, or the likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or of those things that are in the waters under the earth; and He concluded as follows: You shall not adore them or serve them. (Ex 20:3–5) These words are a clear statement that what people are forbidden to make are those images which the impious are in the habit of making for the worship of alien gods and which the gentiles have misguidedly devised for service and worship. Moreover, in my opinion, no prescription of the divine law forbids making these; otherwise even the Lord in response to the Pharisees who put him to the test on rendering to Caesar the coin of tribute on which, they said, Caesar’s name and image was depicted, would certainly not have said the words, Render to Caesar what are Caesar’s and to God what are God’s. Rather he would have corrected their error and said, ‘It is not lawful for you in the minting of your gold to make the image of Caesar because the divine law forbids such sculpture.’ For when the coin of tribute was shown him, it would have been an opportunity for him to say so, if Caesar’s image had been misrepresented upon it for purposes of idolatry and not rather in token of his royal authority. (On the Temple, Bk.2:19.11)

On How to Debate Iconophobes

St. Hilarion Troitsky 1886-1929

Today we ever more frequently run up against this kind of reasoning: “We read such and such in Holy Scripture. The Church teaches differently. So the Church is wrong.” All kinds of sectarians monotonously chant in this manner ad nauseam. There are even those who echo these ideas while calling themselves Christians, that is, they have adopted incomprehensible arrogance in their attitude toward the Church, placing themselves far above her. Holding the point of view described above regarding the sources of doctrine, it is not easy to respond properly. Let us consider, for example, the issue of the veneration of icons. A sectarian points out the prohibition of images in the Old Testament (cf. Ex. 20:4), or the words of Christ about spiritual worship (cf. Jn. 4:23). For him icons are a contradiction. Do we respond by saying that the veneration of icons is based on Tradition? But Tradition is to be accepted only when it does not contradict Scripture. References, for example, to the Cherubim on the curtain of the Old Testament Temple are not very convincing. Thus, the dispute continues without end and to no avail because the missionaries themselves adopt the sectarian perspective, and that perspective by its very essence leads only to a battle of words, but not to the truth. In contrast, drawing from the idea of the Church, we do not even need to argue on the basis of Scripture; for us, our faith in the Church is enough. The fruitlessness of disputes “from the Scripture” was recognized long ago by Tertullian, who said that such arguments could only make your stomach and brain ill or cause you to lose your voice, falling finally into rabid fury from the blasphemies of heretics (Prescription Against Heretics, 17). He asserts that it is not worth appealing to Scripture, since victory is either unlikely or completely impossible. But a person of the Church can boldly reiterate these words, since to  him “it is quite the same to be taught by Scripture and by the Catholic Church” (The Confession of Dositheus). (Holy Scripture and the Church)

On Holy Icons and the Victory of Orthodoxy

Protopresbyter George Dion Dragas

The aniconic policy of Western Christians provided the opportunity for rationalism to de-materialize the historical revelation of God in Christ, to mythologize the traditional Gospel of the Incarnation of God’s Son and Word, and even to deny the unbroken ontological unity of the Church.

For Orthodox Christians, who have and use holy icons in our ecclesiastical life, the truth is not only metaphysical but also physical, not only theory but also history, not only word which is heard but also vision which is seen. Salvation is not only connected with the soul but also with the body, so that it does not separate spirit and flesh (matter), but, on the contrary, unifies them, incarnating or “materializing” the spirit and “spiritualizing” the flesh or matter by means of mystical and saving communion which incurs no confusion. The grace of salvation, deification, union with God through participation in His uncreated energies, embraces the entire human being, the inner and the outer man, i.e. the mind and the reason of the inner man as well as the vision and the hearing of outer man.

Orthodoxy means fullness of truth and catholicity (completeness or integrity) of salvation. This is why the restoration of the holy icons was, and continues to be, greeted as the “Victory of Orthodoxy”. (Ecclesiasticus II: Orthodox Icons, Saints, Feasts and Prayer)

icon source: http://iconreader.wordpress.com/2011/03/13/the-triumph-of-orthodoxy-and-holy-icons/

On Unholy Icons

Hieromonk Seraphim Rose 1934-1982

Pornography is Antichrist’s iconography.

Antichrist will have as his symbol and image a perfectly genuine Byzantine icon similar to Christ’s. (Heavenly Realm: Lay Sermons of Eugene Rose)

On Good Iconography

Hieromonk Seraphim Rose 1934-1982

If the authentic spirit of Orthodoxy is not transmitted to us like this, there is a temptation for us to be following “external wisdom,” the wisdom of this world. We will then, in coming to Orthodoxy, go after external things: good icons, beautiful Church services according to the Typicon, just the right kind of chanting, tithing, having beautiful churches…. All these things are wonderful and good, but we can approach them without placing first a warm, Christian heart and a struggle with ourselves whereby we are made humble. If we neglect this essential priority, then all these wonderful external things can, as the philosopher Vladimir Solovyev describes, be put in a museum of Orthodox antiquities—and the Antichrist will love this.

If you get all excited about having the right kind of icons and begin saying, “There’s an icon of the wrong style in your church! ” you must check yourself and be more careful, because you are again placing all your emphasis on something external. In fact, if there is a church with nothing but icons of the latest “approved” style, one might justifiably regard it with suspicion. There is a case (one of many) in which a church had old, original Russian icons—some good and some in rather poor taste, painted in a relatively new style—and a zealous person took them all out and put in new, “traditional” style paper icon prints. And what was the result? The people there lost contact with tradition, with the people who gave them Orthodoxy. They removed the original icons which believers had prayed before for centuries.

An icon is first of all something to be prayed before. This was once affirmed by Archbishop John (Maximovitch) who was the president of a San Francisco icon society dedicated to the restoration of old icons. One member, who was very zealous for the old icon style, wanted the Archbishop to make a decree in the diocese that only old style icons are to be allowed, or at least to make a decision that this was the officially approved position. In a way, this man’s intention seemed good. Archbishop John, however, told him, “I can pray in front of one kind and I can pray in front of another kind of icon.” The important thing is that we pray, not that we pride ourselves on having good icons. (Raising the Mind, Warming the Heart)


St. Andrew on Ancient Iconography

St. Andrew of Crete ca. 650-726

Christianity contains nothing untried and abnormal. The very use of sacred images belongs to an ancient tradition, as worthy examples of faith have testified. The first example is that of the image of our Lord Jesus Christ, sent to King Abgar; this image on a wooden tablet showed the outlines of His bodily form, similar to images painted with colors. The second example is that of the image not painted by human hands (acheropita) of her who gave birth without seed: it is found at Lidda, a city also called Diospolis. The image is painted in very bright colors and shows the body of the Mother of God, three cubits in height. It was venerated in the time of the apostles on the western wall of the temple that they built. It is so finely done that it appears to have been produced by the hand of a painter. It clearly shows her purple habit, her hands, her face, and all of her outward form, as can still be affirmed today. They say that Julian, that apostate and enemy of Christ, heard about the painting, he wanted to know more about it. So he sent some Jewish painters [to examine it], who informed him that it was genuine; Julian, dumbfounded, had no desire to investigate further.

It is told that the temple was constructed when the Mother of God was still living. Going up to Zion, where she lived, the apostles said to her, “Where were you, Lady? We have built you a house at Lidda.” Mary answered them, “I was with you, and I am still with you.” Returning to Lidda and entering the temple, they found her complete image there, as she had told them. This is what an ancient local tradition has testified from the beginning, and the tradition lives today.

Third example. Everyone witnesses to the fact that Luke, apostle and evangelist, painted the incarnate Christ and His immaculate Mother with his own hands and that these images are conserved in Rome with fitting honor. Others assert these these images are kept at Jerusalem. Even the Jew Josephus tells us that the Lord looked just like the picture: eyebrows meeting in the middle, beautiful eyes, long face, somewhat oval, of a fair height. This was undoubtedly His appearance when He dwelt among men. Josephus describes the appearance of the Mother of God in the same way, as it appears today in the image that some call the “Roman woman”. (On the Veneration of Sacred Images PG 97, 1301-4)

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.)

St. Basil on Icons

St. Basil the Great ca. 330-379

According to the blameless faith of the Christians which we have obtained from God, I confess and agree that I believe in one God the Father Almighty; God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost; I adore and worship one God, the Three. I confess to the œconomy of the Son in the flesh, and that the holy Mary, who gave birth to Him according to the flesh, was Mother of God. I acknowledge also the holy apostles, prophets, and martyrs; and I invoke them to supplication to God, that through them, that is, through their mediation, the merciful God may be propitious to me, and that a ransom may be made and given me for my sins. Wherefore also I honour and kiss the features of their images, inasmuch as they have been handed down from the holy apostles, and are not forbidden, but are in all our churches. (Letter 360)

St. Photios on Icons

St. Photios the Great ca. 810-891

Christ has come to us in the flesh and was borne in the arms of His Mother: This is seen and confirmed and proclaimed in pictures, the teaching made clear through seeing it with our own eyes, and impelling the spectator to unhesitating assent. Does a man hate the teaching through pictures? Then how has he not previously rejected and hated the message of the Gospels? Just as speech is transmitted by hearing, so a form by the faculty of sight is imprinted upon the tablets of the soul, giving those whose apprehension is not soiled by wicked doctrines, a representation of knowledge in accordance with piety… The Virgin is holding the Creator in her arms as an infant. Who is that upon seeing this or hearing it, will not be astonished by the magnitude of the mystery and will not rise up to laud the ineffable condescension which surpasses all words? …Has the mind seen? Has it grasped? Has it visualized? Then it has easily transmitted the forms of the memory. (Patriarch Photios of Constantinople. His Life, Scholarly Contributions, and Correspondence Together with a Translation of Fifty-Two of His Letters, by Despina S. White pp.91-92)

St. Theodore on Iconoclasm

St. Theodore the Studite ca. 759-826

Not one heresy that has rocked the Church is as dreadful as the heresy of iconoclasm. Demonic in its acts and words, it denies Christ and destroys His personhood. On the one hand, it foolishly claims that it is impossible to depict Christ’s bodily form. In so doing it denies the incarnate Logos; even if He did become incarnate, He cannot be depicted. It says that He is a phantom-which is typical of the Manichean “gospel.” On the other hand (iconoclasm) destroys to the foundations and burns up God’s temples and all sacred objects on which are depicted the face of Christ, of the Theotokos, or any of the saints. (Letter 2.81 /PG 99:132 D-132A/)

On Why Vigil Lamps are Lit Before Icons

St. Nikolai Velimirovich 1880-1956

First-because our faith is light.  Christ said: I am the light of the world (John 8:12).  The light of the vigil lamp reminds us of that light by which Christ illumines our souls.

Second-in order to remind us of the radiant character of the saint before whose icon we light the vigil lamp, for saints are called sons of light (John 12:36, Luke 16:8).

Third-in order to serve as a reproach to us for our dark deeds, for our evil thoughts and desires, and in order to call us to the path of evangelical light; and so that we would more zealously try to fulfill the commandments of the Saviour: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works” (Matt. 5:16).

Fourth-so that the vigil lamp would be our small sacrifice to God, Who gave Himself completely as a sacrifice for us, and as a small sign of our great gratitude and radiant love for Him from Whom we ask in prayer for life, and health, and salvation and everything that only boundless heavenly love can bestow.

Fifth-so that terror would strike the evil powers who sometimes assail us even at the time of prayer and lead away our thoughts from the Creator. The evil powers love the darkness and tremble at every light, especially at that which belongs to God and to those who please Him.

Sixth-so that this light would rouse us to selflessness. Just as the oil and wick burn in the vigil lamp, submissive to our will, so let our souls also burn with the flame of love in all our sufferings, always being submissive to God’s will.

Seventh-in order to teach us that just as the vigil lamp cannot be lit without our hand, so too, our heart, our inward vigil lamp, cannot be lit without the holy fire of God’s grace, even if it were to be filled with all the virtues.  All these virtues of ours are, after all, like combustible material, but the fire which ignites them proceeds from God.

Eighth-in order to remind us that before anything else the Creator of the world created light, and after that everything else in order: And God said, let there be light: and there was light (Genesis 1:3).  And it must be so also at the beginning of our spiritual life, so that before anything else the light of Christ’s truth would shine within us.  From this light of Christ’s truth subsequently every good is created, springs up and grows in us.

May the Light of Christ illumine you as well!

(Translated by R.D. On-line article from Orthodox America.)

St. Philaret on Icons and the Second Commandment

St. Philaret of Moscow 1821-1867

516. What is a graven image, as spoken of in the second commandment?

The commandment itself explains that a graven image, or idol, is the likeness of some creature in heaven, or earth, or in the waters, which men bow down to and serve instead of God their Maker.

517. What is forbidden, then, by the second commandment?

We are forbidden to bow down to graven images or idols, as to supposed deities, or as to likenesses of false gods.

518. Are we not hereby forbidden to have any sacred representations whatever?

By no means. This very plainly appears from hence, that the same Moses through whom God gave the commandment against graven images, received at the same time from God an order to place in the tabernacle, or movable temple of the Israelites, sacred representations of Cherubim in gold, and to place them, too, in that inner part of the temple to which the people turned for the worship of God.

519. Why is this example worthy of remark for the Orthodox Christian Church?

Because it illustrates her use of holy icons.

520. What is an icon?

The word is Greek, and means, an image or representation. In the Orthodox Church this name designates sacred representations of our Lord Jesus Christ, God incarnate, his immaculate Mother, and his saints.

521. Is the use of holy icons agreeable to the second commandment?

It would then, and then only, be otherwise, if any one were to make gods of them; but it is not in the least contrary to this commandment to honor icons as sacred representations, and to use them for the religious remembrance of God’s works and of his saints; for when thus used icons are books, written with the forms of persons and things instead of letters. (See Greg. Magn. lib. ix. Ep. 9, ad Seren. Episc.)

522. What disposition of mind should we have when we reverence the icons?

While we look on them with our eyes, we should mentally look to God and to the saints, who are represented on them. (Larger Catechism)

On Icons and the Second Commandment

St. Gregory Palamas ca. 1296-1359

‘You shall not make an image of anything in the heavens above, or in the earth below, or in the sea’ (cf. Exod. 20:4), in such a way that you worship these things and glorify them as gods. For all are the creations of the one God, created by Him in the Holy Spirit through His Son and Logos, who as Logos of God in these latter times took flesh from a virgin’s womb, appeared on earth and associated with men (cf. Baruch 3:37), and who for the salvation of men suffered, died and arose again, ascended with His body into the heavens and ‘sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on High’ (Heb. 1:3), and who will come again with His body to judge the living and the dead. Out of love for Him you should make, therefore, an icon of Him who became man for our sakes, and through His icon you should bring Him to mind and worship Him, elevating your intellect through it to the venerable body of the Savior, that is set on the right hand of the Father in heaven. In like manner you should also make icons of the saints and venerate them, not as gods – for this is forbidden – but because of the attachment, inner affection and sense of surpassing honor that you feel for the saints when by means of their icons the intellect is raised up to them. It was in this spirit that Moses made icons of the Cherubim within the Holy of Holies (cf. Exod. 25:18). The Holy of Holies itself was an image of things supracelestial (cf. Exod. 25:40; Heb. 8:5), while the Holy Place was an image of the entire world. Moses called these things holy, not glorifying what is created, but thrown it glorifying God the Creator of the world. You must not, then, deify the icons of Christ and of the saints, but through them you should venerate Him who originally created us in His own image, and who subsequently consented in His ineffable compassion to assume the human image and to be circumscribed by it. You should venerate not only the icon of Christ, but also the similitude of His cross. For the cross is Christ’s great sign and trophy of victory over the devil and all his hostile hosts; for this reason they tremble and flee when they see the figuration of the cross. This figure, even prior to the crucifixion, was greatly glorified by the prophets and wrought great wonders; and when He who was hung upon it, our Lord Jesus Christ, comes again to judge the living and the dead, this His great and terrible sign will precede Him, full of power and glory (cf. Matt. 24:30). So glorify the cross now, so that you may boldly look upon it then and be glorified with it. And you should venerate icons of the saints, for the saints have been crucified with the Lord; and you should make the sign of the cross upon your person before doing so, bringing to mind their communion in the sufferings of Christ. In the same way you should venerate their holy shrines and any relic of their bones; for God’s grace is not sundered from these things, even as the divinity was not sundered from Christ’s venerable body at the time of His life-quickening death. By doing this and by glorifying those who glorified God – for through their actions they showed themselves to be perfect in their love for God – you too will be glorified together with them by God, and with David you will chant: ‘I have held Thy friends in high honor, O Lord’ (Ps. 159:17. LXX). (A New Testament Decalogue, 2nd Commandment)

On the Icon and the Well

St. John Moschos ca. 550-619

The same fathers also told us that in those days, a Christ-loving woman of the district of Apamea dug a well. She spent a great deal of money on the project and dug very deep, but she found no water. Having put so much money and effort into the project, she was very discouraged. Then one day, she had a vision of somebody saying to her: “Send for and bring the picture of Abba Theodosios at Skopelos and by that means God will give you water.” The woman sent two men at once. They took the icon of the saint and let it down into the well and immediately water began to flow; it filled the well-shaft up to the halfway point. The men who drew the icon up out of the water brought us some of it; we drank of it and all gave thanks to God. (The Spiritual Meadow 81)

On the Burning Bush

St. John Damascene ca. 676-749

The burning bush was an image of God’s Mother, and as Moses was about to approach it, God said: “Put off the shoes from thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” (Ex. 3.5) Now if the spot on which Moses saw an image of Our Lady was holy, how much more the image itself? And not only is it holy, but I venture to say it is the holy of holies. (Apologia Against Those Who Decry Holy Images Bk II)

On Icons and the Uncreated Light

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

I went off to reverence the spotless icon of her who bore Thee. As I fell before it, before I rose up, Thou Thyself didst appear to me within my poor heart, as though Thou hadst transformed it into light; and then I knew that I have Thee consciously within me. From then onwards I loved Thee, not by recollection of Thee and that which surrounds Thee, nor for the memory of such things, but I in very truth believed that I had Thee, substantial love, within me. For Thou, O God, truly art love (1 Jn. 4:8, 16) (The Discourses XXXVI:11)

Matter Matters

St. John Damascene ca. 676-749

Of old, God the incorporeal and uncircumscribed was never depicted. Now, however, when God is seen clothed in flesh, and conversing with men, (Bar. 3.38) I make an image of the God whom I see. I do not worship matter, I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake, and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. I will not cease from honouring that matter which works my salvation. I venerate it, though not as God. How could God be born out of lifeless things? And if God’s body is God by union, it is immutable. The nature of God remains the same as before, the flesh created in time is quickened by a logical and reasoning soul. I honour all matter besides, and venerate it. Through it, filled, as it were, with a divine power and grace, my salvation has come to me. Was not the thrice happy and thrice blessed wood of the Cross matter? Was not the sacred and holy mountain of Calvary matter? What of the life-giving rock, the Holy Sepulchre, the source of our resurrection: was it not matter? Is not the most holy book of the Gospels matter? Is not the blessed table matter which gives us the Bread of Life? Are not the gold and silver matter, out of which crosses and altar-plate and chalices are made? And before all these things, is not the body and blood of our Lord matter? Either do away with the veneration and worship due to all these things, or submit to the tradition of the Church in the worship of images, honouring God and His friends, and following in this the grace of the Holy Spirit. Do not despise matter, for it is not despicable. Nothing is that which God has made. This is the Manichean heresy. That alone is despicable which does not come from God, but is our own invention, the spontaneous choice of will to disregard the natural law,–that is to say, sin. If, therefore, you dishonour and give up images, because they are produced by matter, consider what the Scripture says: And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Behold I have called by name Beseleel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Juda. And I have filled him with the spirit of God, with wisdom and understanding, and knowledge in all manner of work. To devise whatsoever may be artificially made of gold, and silver, and brass, of marble and precious stones, and variety of wood. And I have given him for his companion, Ooliab, the son of Achisamech, of the tribe of Dan. And I have put wisdom in the heart of every skilful man, that they may make all things which I have commanded thee.” (Ex. 31.1-6) And again: “Moses said to all the assembly of the children of Israel: This is the word the Lord hath commanded, saying: Set aside with you first fruits to the Lord. Let every one that is willing and hath a ready heart, offer them to the Lord, gold, and silver, and brass, violet, and purple, and scarlet twice dyed, and fine linen, goat’s hair, and ram’s skins died red and violet, coloured skins, selim-wood, and oil to maintain lights and to make ointment, and most sweet incense, onyx stones, and precious stones for the adorning of the ephod and the rational. Whosoever of you is wise, let him come, and make that which the Lord hath commanded.” (Ex. 35.4-10) See you here the glorification of matter which you make inglorious. What is more insignificant than goat’s hair or colours? Are not scarlet and purple and hyacinth colours? Now, consider the handiwork of man becoming the likeness of the cherubim. How, then, can you make the law a pretence for giving up what it orders? If you invoke it against images, you should keep the Sabbath, and practise circumcision. It is certain that “if you observe the law, Christ will not profit you. You who are justified in the law, you are fallen from grace.” (Gal. 5.2-4) Israel of old did not see God, but “we see the Lord’s glory face to face.” (2 Cor. 3.18) (Apologia Against Those Who Decry Holy Images Bk. I)

St. John of Kronstadt on Icons

Saint John of Kronstadt 1829-1904 

Icons are a requirement of our nature. Can our nature do without an image? Can we recall to mind an absent person without representing or imagining him to ourselves] Has not God Himself given us the capacity of representation and imagination] Icons are the Church’s answer to a crying necessity of our nature. My Life in Christ, p. 430, Jordanville 2000

St. Cyril on Icons

St. Cyril of Alexandria ca. 376-444

Even if we make images of pious men it is not so that we might adore them as gods but that when we see them we might be prompted to imitate them; and if we make images of Christ, it is so that our minds might wing aloft in yearning for Him. (Commentary on the Psalms: On Ps. 113B(115):16)



On Tradition and Holy Icons

St. John Damascene ca. 676-749

It is not in writing only that they have bequeathed to us the Tradition of the Church, but also in certain unwritten examples. In the twenty-seventh book of his work, in thirty chapters addressed to Amphilochios concerning the Holy Spirit, St Basil says, “In the cherished teaching and dogmas of the Church, we hold some things by written documents; others we have received in mystery from the apostolical tradition. Both are of equal value for the soul’s growth. No one will dispute this who has considered even a little the discipline of the Church. For if we neglect unwritten customs, as not having much weight we bury in oblivion the most pertinent facts connected with the Gospel.” These are the great Basil’s words. How do we know the Holy place of Calvary, or the Holy Sepulchre? Does it not rest on a tradition handed down from father to son? It is written that our Lord was crucified on Calvary, and buried in a tomb, which Joseph hewed out of the rock; (Mt. 27:60) but it is unwritten tradition which identifies these spots, and does more things of the same kind. Whence come the three immersions at baptism, praying with face turned towards the east, and the tradition of the Mysteries? Hence St Paul says, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have learned either by word, or by our epistle.” (II Thess. 2.15) As, then, so much has been handed down in the Church, and is observed down to the present day, why disparage images?

If you bring forward certain practices, they do not inculpate our worship of images, but the worship of heathens who make them idols. Because heathens do it foolishly, this is no reason for objecting to our pious practice. If the same magicians and sorcerers use supplication, so does the Church with catechumens; the former invoke devils, but the Church calls upon God against devils. Heathens have raised up images to demons, whom they call gods. Now we have raised them to the one Incarnate God, to His servants and friends, who are proof against the diabolical hosts. (Apologia Against Those Who Decry Holy Images Bk. I)

Saint John of San Francisco on Icons

Saint John of San Francisco

“Iconography began on the day our Lord Jesus Christ pressed a cloth to His face and imprinted His divine-human image thereon. According to tradition, Luke the Evangelist painted the image of the Mother of God; and, also according to tradition, there still exist today many icons which were painted by him. An artist, he painted not only the first icons of the Mother of God, but also those of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul and, possibly, others which have not come down to us.

Icons are precisely the union between painting and those symbols and works of art which replaced icons during the time of persecution. The icon is not simply a representation, a portrait. In later times only has the bodily been represented, but an icon is still supposed to remind people of the spiritual aspect of the person depicted. An icon is an image which leads us to a Holy, God-pleasing person, or raises us up to Heaven, or evokes a feeling of repentance, of compunction, of prayer, a feeling that one must bow down before this image. The value of an icon lies in the fact that, when we approach it, we want to pray before it with reverence. If the image elicits this feeling, it is an icon.

In calling to mind the saints and their struggles, an icon does not simply represent the saint as he appeared upon the earth. No, the icon depicts his inner spiritual struggle; it portrays how he attained to that state where he is now considered an angel on earth, a heavenly man. This is precisely the manner in which the Mother of God and Jesus Christ are portrayed. Icons should depict that transcendent sanctity which permeated the saints.”

Excerpt From Orthodox Life, Vol. 30, No. 1 (Jan-Feb 1980)

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)

On Iconoclasm

Nicea II 787, 7th Ecumenical Council

This heresy is the worst of all heresies. Woe to the iconoclasts! It is the worst of heresies, as it subverts the Economy of our Saviour. (Session 1: Extracts from the Acts)

No Lambs Allowed

Council of Trullo ca. 692

In some pictures of the venerable icons, a lamb is painted to which the Precursor points his finger, which is received as a type of grace, indicating beforehand through the Law, our true Lamb, Christ our God. Embracing therefore the ancient types and shadows as symbols of the truth, and patterns given to the Church, we prefer grace and truth, receiving it as the fulfilment of the Law. In order therefore that that which is perfect may be delineated to the eyes of all, at least in coloured expression, we decree that the figure in human form of the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world, Christ our God, be henceforth exhibited in images, instead of the ancient lamb, so that all may understand by means of it the depths of the humiliation of the Word of God, and that we may recall to our memory His conversation in the flesh, His passion and salutary death, and His redemption which was wrought for the whole world. (Canon 82)

St. Isaac on Venerating the Cross

St. Isaac of Syria died ca. 700

The limitless power of God dwells in the Cross, just as it resided in an incomprehensible way in the Ark which was venerated amidst great honor and awe by the Jewish people, performing by it miracles and awesome signs in the midst in the midst of those who were not ashamed to call it ‘God’ (see Num. 10:35-36, where Moses addresses the Ark as ‘Lord’) that is, they would gaze upon it in awe as though God, because the glory of God’s honored name was upon it. The Ark was honored with this name not only by Jewish people, but by foreign peoples, their enemies: “Woe to us, for the God of the People has come to the camp today”. (cf. 1 Sam. 4:7) That power which existed in the Ark is believed by us to exist in this revered form of the Cross, which we hold in honor in great awareness of God.

Did not Moses and the People prostrate before the Ark in great awe and trembling? Did not Joshua the son of Nun lie stretched out on his face before morning until evening? (Jos. 7:6) Were not God’s fearsome revelations manifested there, as if to afford honor to this object, seeing that the Shekhina of God was residing in it?

Blessed is God who uses corporeal objects continually to draw us close in a symbolic way to a knowledge of His invisible nature. (The Spiritual World of St. Isaac the Syrian by Hilarion Alfeyev, pp. 164-165, 170)

St. Gregory the Dialogist on Icons

St. Gregory the Dialogist ca. 540-604

Furthermore we notify to you that it has come to our ears that your Fraternity, seeing certain adorers of images, broke and threw down these same images in Churches. And we commend you indeed for your zeal against anything made with hands being an object of adoration; but we signify to you that you ought not to have broken these images. For pictorial representation is made use of in Churches for this reason; that such as are ignorant of letters may at least read by looking at the walls what they cannot read in books. Your Fraternity therefore should have both preserved the images and prohibited the people from adoration of them, to the end that both those who are ignorant of letters might have wherewith to gather a knowledge of the history, and that the people might by no means sin by adoration of a pictorial representation. (Bk. 9, Epistle 105: To Serenus Bishop of Massilia [Marseilles])

On Holy Icons

Nicea II 787, 7th Ecumenical Council

To make our confession short, we keep unchanged all the ecclesiastical traditions handed down to us, whether in writing or verbally, one of which is the making of pictorial representations, agreeable to the history of the preaching of the Gospel, a tradition useful in many respects, but especially in this, that so the incarnation of the Word of God is shown forth as real and not merely phantastic, for these have mutual indications and without doubt have also mutual significations.

We, therefore, following the royal pathway and the divinely inspired authority of our Holy Fathers and the traditions of the Catholic Church (for, as we all know, the Holy Spirit indwells her), define with all certitude and accuracy that just as the figure of the precious and life-giving Cross, so also the venerable and holy images, as well in painting and mosaic as of other fit materials, should be set forth in the holy churches of God, and on the sacred vessels and on the vestments and on hangings and in pictures both in houses and by the wayside, to wit, the figure of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, of our spotless Lady, the Mother of God, of the honourable Angels, of all Saints and of all pious people. For by so much more frequently as they are seen in artistic representation, by so much more readily are men lifted up to the memory of their prototypes, and to a longing after them; and to these should be given due salutation and honourable reverence, not indeed that true worship of faith which pertains alone to the divine nature; but to these, as to the figure of the precious and life-giving Cross and to the Book of the Gospels and to the other holy objects, incense and lights may be offered according to ancient pious custom. For the honour which is paid to the image passes on to that which the image represents, and he who reveres the image reveres in it the subject represented. For thus the teaching of our holy Fathers, that is the tradition of the Catholic Church, which from one end of the earth to the other hath received the Gospel, is strengthened. Thus we follow Paul, who spake in Christ, and the whole divine Apostolic company and the holy Fathers, holding fast the traditions which we have received. So we sing prophetically the triumphal hymns of the Church, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Sion; Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem. Rejoice and be glad with all thy heart. The Lord hath taken away from thee the oppression of thy adversaries; thou art redeemed from the hand of thine enemies. The Lord is a King in the midst of thee; thou shalt not see evil any more, and peace be unto thee forever.”

Those, therefore who dare to think or teach otherwise, or as wicked heretics to spurn the traditions of the Church and to invent some novelty, or else to reject some of those things which the Church hath received (e.g., the Book of the Gospels, or the image of the cross, or the pictorial icons, or the holy reliques of a martyr), or evilly and sharply to devise anything subversive of the lawful traditions of the Catholic Church or to turn to common uses the sacred vessels or the venerable monasteries, if they be Bishops or Clerics, we command that they be deposed; if religious or laics, that they be cut off from communion.

The holy Synod cried out: So we all believe, we all are so minded, we all give our consent and have signed. This is the faith of the Apostles, this is the faith of the orthodox, this is the faith which hath made firm the whole world. Believing in one God, to be celebrated in Trinity, we salute the honourable images ! Those who do not so hold, let them be anathema. Those who do not thus think, let them be driven far away from the Church. For we follow the most ancient legislation of the Catholic Church. We keep the laws of the Fathers. We anathematize those who add anything to or take anything away from the Catholic Church. We anathematize the introduced novelty of the revilers of Christians. We salute the venerable images. We place under anathema those who do not do this. Anathema to them who presume to apply to the venerable images the things said in Holy Scripture about idols. Anathema to those who do not salute the holy and venerable images. Anathema to those who call the sacred images idols. Anathema to those who say that Christians resort to the sacred images as to gods. Anathema to those who say that any other delivered us from idols except Christ our God. Anathema to those who dare to say that at any time the Catholic Church received idols. (The Decree)

The True Cross

“According to pious tradition, the size of the Cross of Christ was fifteen feet in height and eight feet in length. St. Cyril of Jerusalem (444 AD) writes: “The whole world has now been filled with pieces of the wood of the Cross” (Catachesis 4:10). He makes this statement no less than three times in his lectures to the catechumens of Jerusalem. St. John Chrysostom in the same century tells us that fragments of the True Cross were kept in golden reliquaries, which men reverently wore upon their persons. In 1889 two French archaeologists, Letaille and Audollent, discovered in the district of Sétif an inscription of the year 359 in which, among other relics, is mentioned the sacred wood of the Cross. Another inscription, from Rasgunia (Cape Matifu), somewhat earlier in date than the preceding, mentions another relic of the Cross.
St. Paulinus of Nola, some years later, sent to Sulpicius Severus a fragment of the True Cross with these words: “Receive a great gift in a little [compass]; and take, in [this] almost atomic segment of a short dart, an armament [against the perils] of the present and a pledge of everlasting safety” (Epistle 31). About 455 Juvenal, Patriarch of Jerusalem, sent to Pope St. Leo a fragment of the Precious Wood (Epistle 139). Later, under St. Hilary (468 AD) and under Symmachus (514 AD) we are again told that fragments of the True Cross are enclosed in altars. About the year 500 Avitus, Bishop of Vienne, asks for a portion of the Cross from the Patriarch of Jerusalem (P.L., LIX, 236, 239).”

In the Catholic Encyclopedia, the following is written to refute the Protestant and Rationalist argument that the amount of distributed relics of the Holy Cross throughout the world could be compared to the size of a battleship:

The work of Rohault de Fleury, “Mémoire sur les instruments de la Passion” (Paris, 1870), deserves more prolonged attention; its author has sought out with great care and learning all the relics of the True Cross, drawn up a catalogue of them, and, thanks to this labour, he has succeeded in showing that, in spite of what various Protestant or Rationalistic authors have pretended, the fragments of the Cross brought together again would not only not ‘be comparable in bulk to a battleship’, but would not reach one-third that of a Cross which has been supposed to have been three or four metres in height, with transverse branch of two metres, proportions not at all abnormal (op. cit., 97-179). Here is the calculation of this savant: Supposing the Cross to have been of pine-wood, as is believed by the savants who have made a special study of the subject, and giving it a weight of about seventy-five kilograms, we find that the volume of this Cross was 178,000,000 cubic millimetres. Now the total known volume of the True Cross, according to the finding of M. Rohault de Fleury, amounts to above 4,000,000 cubic millimetres, allowing the missing part to be as big as we will, the lost parts or the parts the existence of which has been overlooked, we still find ourselves far short of 178,000,000 cubic millimetres, which should make up the True Cross.

Today the largest portion of the True Cross can be found on Mount Athos (870,760 cubic millimeters; pictured above), followed by Rome (537,587), Brussels (516,090), Venice (445,582), Ghent (436,456) and Paris (237,731)

Source: Mystagogy

An Orthodox Perspective on Christ’s Death and Resurrection

There are two primary ways to properly display the Christian cross. The first is with Christ on the cross, with the skull of Adam underneath His feet. In this we see both His willingness to submit as man, being the victim of sinful humanity, as well as His victory over death, that of which He died for: to conquer death’s hold on us.

The second way to properly display the Christian cross is with no Christ on it at all, implying His resurrection (victory over death).  Although, if the cross is without Christ portrays a rather dull and rather confusing theology, in my opinion, and this is why I prefer that the ‘Christless crosses’ have additional symbolic/iconic theology with them.

This leaves us with the popular Roman and Lutheran crosses that have only the crucified Christ on them, with no Theotokos, no angels, no skull, usually nothing else at all. This presents us with a very legal and juridical theology; that Christ died for the sake of the Law (sacrifice is all we see in this one).

Most all Western Christianity teaches that Christ died for the Law; that He died to take the punishment that the Law demands from us. But this is not what Christ died for. The Law, as Saint Paul says, was a tutor to show the Jews Christ, and that salvation is not from the Law.

The penal aspect of God’s Law is not the means or springboard of salvation. The Bible does not teach through the Church that the penal aspect of the Law works salvation, but only teaches this through the doctrines of man.

Saint Paul says in Philippians 2:8 that Christ obediently became man to the point of death. This is referring to his obedience to human nature and not to the Law. Christ had to experience all that we would or could experience in order to be the “ransom” and beat death’s hold on our eternal glory and communion with God.

There has never been a “covenant of works,” as some teach, and salvation was never through works, even in the Old Covenant era. Saint Paul attests to this in Romans 4, where he says that Abraham was a part of God’s Covenant not through works but through faith.

A legal transaction, as Western theology supposes, did not need to take place. In fact, it goes completely against the gospel to say that the cross was a part of a legal transaction; that God was reckoning Christ to earn salvation through works!  God was not punishing Christ on the cross to end this supposed legal transaction. Christ was fully man and fully God and living this dual nature here on earth found Jesus on the cross! Christ becomes both the victim as well as the victor through the cross, being killed yet conquering death and its stronghold.

Tertullian on Images in the Early Church

Tertullian ca. 160-220

You shall have leave to begin with the parables, where you have the lost ewe re-sought by the Lord, and carried back on His shoulders. Let the very paintings upon your cups come forward to show whether even in them the figurative meaning of that sheep will shine through (the outward semblance, to teach) whether a Christian or heathen sinner be the object it aims at in the matter of restoration. (On Modesty 7)

In this work Tertullian in his Montanist period attacks a North African or Roman bishop of the Church for absolving Christians of adultery. He believed this to be wrong due to Montanist rigorism. This is the oldest proof that the catholic Church made use of images in it’s liturgy and in concert with it’s Mysteries.

Likewise, when forbidding the similitude to be made of all things which are in heaven, and in earth, and in the waters, He declared also the reasons, as being prohibitory of all material exhibition of a latent idolatry. For He adds: You shall not bow down to them, nor serve them. The form, however, of the brazen serpent which the Lord afterwards commanded Moses to make, afforded no pretext for idolatry, but was meant for the cure of those who were plagued with the fiery serpents. Numbers 21:8-9 I say nothing of what was figured by this cure. Thus, too, the golden Cherubim and Seraphim were purely an ornament in the figured fashion of the ark; adapted to ornamentation for reasons totally remote from all condition of idolatry, on account of which the making a likeness is prohibited; and they are evidently not at variance with this law of prohibition, because they are not found in that form of similitude, in reference to which the prohibition is given. (Against Marcion Bk. 2.22)

Why, once more, did the same Moses, after prohibiting the likeness of everything, set up the golden serpent on the pole; and as it hung there, propose it as an object to be looked at for a cure? Did he not here also intend to show the power of our Lord’s cross, whereby that old serpent the devil was vanquished—whereby also to every man who was bitten by spiritual serpents, but who yet turned with an eye of faith to it, was proclaimed a cure from the bite of sin, and health for evermore? (ibid. Bk.3.18)

Tertullian was so rigorous that at times he linked all images with idolatry. The Marcionites asked how was it possible to reconcile Old Tetstament images with a rigorist interpretation of the second commandment. They rejected the Old Testament God altogether thus avoiding the problem for them. Tertullian had to counter their assertions by creating a special class of images which could manifest the power of what they prefigured.

Fr. Steven Bigham: “What is therefore, the result of Tertullian’s writings on the question of images? The ambiguity remains. He accepted the equation “image=idol” but also accepted non-idolatrous images. He justified these latter images not only by appeal to an extraordinary divine precept, which he invoked not only the bronze snake, but also for the enlarging the category of permitted images that escaped the thunder of the 2nd Commandment. Having thus accepted, some 500 years before the iconoclastic crisis, the essential argument of the iconodules in reference to Old Testament images, Tertullian can only with great difficulty be called as a witness for the supposed hostility of early Christians toward all figurative art.” (Early Christians Attitudes Toward Images, pg. 127)

Eusebius on Images in the Early Church

Eusebius of Caesarea ca. 263-339

Since I have mentioned this city I do not think it proper to omit an account which is worthy of record for posterity. For they say that the woman with an issue of blood, who, as we learn from the sacred Gospel, received from our Saviour deliverance from her affliction, came from this place, and that her house is shown in the city, and that remarkable memorials of the kindness of the Saviour to her remain there. For there stands upon an elevated stone, by the gates of her house, a brazen image of a woman kneeling, with her hands stretched out, as if she were praying. Opposite this is another upright image of a man, made of the same material, clothed decently in a double cloak, and extending his hand toward the woman. At his feet, beside the statue itself, is a certain strange plant, which climbs up to the hem of the brazen cloak, and is a remedy for all kinds of diseases. They say that this statue is an image of Jesus. It has remained to our day, so that we ourselves also saw it when we were staying in the city. Nor is it strange that those of the Gentiles who, of old, were benefited by our Saviour, should have done such things, since we have learned also that the likenesses of his apostles Paul and Peter, and of Christ himself, are preserved in paintings, the ancients being accustomed, as it is likely, according to a habit of the Gentiles, to pay this kind of honor indiscriminately to those regarded by them as deliverers. (Ecclesiastical History Bk. 7.18)

Proof of the Gospel

And so it remains for us to own that it is the Word of God who in the preceding passage is regarded as divine: whence the place is even today honored by those who live in the neighborhood as a  sacred place in Honor of those who appeared to Abraham, and the terebinth can still be seen there. For they who were entertained by Abraham, as represented in the picture, sit one on each side, and He in the midst surpasses them in honor. This would be our Lord and Savior, Who though men knew Him not the worshipped, confirming the Holy Scriptures. (Bk. 5.9)

Life of Constantine

And besides this, he caused to be painted on a lofty tablet, and set up in the front of the portico of his palace, so as to be visible to all, a representation of the salutary sign placed above his head, and below it that hateful and savage adversary of mankind, who by means of the tyranny of the ungodly had wasted the Church of God, falling headlong, under the form of a dragon, to the abyss of destruction. For the sacred oracles in the books of God’s prophets have described him as a dragon and a crooked serpent; and for this reason the emperor thus publicly displayed a painted resemblance of the dragon beneath his own and his children’s feet, stricken through with a dart, and cast headlong into the depths of the sea.

In this manner he intended to represent the secret adversary of the human race, and to indicate that he was consigned to the gulf of perdition by virtue of the salutary trophy placed above his head. This allegory, then, was thus conveyed by means of the colors of a picture: and I am filled with wonder at the intellectual greatness of the emperor, who as if by divine inspiration thus expressed what the prophets had foretold concerning this monster, saying that “God would bring his great and strong and terrible sword against the dragon, the flying serpent; and would destroy the dragon that was in the sea.” This it was of which the emperor gave a true and faithful representation in the picture above described. (Bk. III.3)

And being fully resolved to distinguish the city which bore his name with especial honor, he embellished it with numerous sacred edifices, both memorials of martyrs on the largest scale, and other buildings of the most splendid kind, not only within the city itself, but in its vicinity: and thus at the same time he rendered honor to the memory of the martyrs, and consecrated his city to the martyrs’ God. Being filled, too, with Divine wisdom, he determined to purge the city which was to be distinguished by his own name from idolatry of every kind, that henceforth no statues might be worshiped there in the temples of those falsely reputed to be gods, nor any altars defiled by the pollution of blood: that there might be no sacrifices consumed by fire, no demon festivals, nor any of the other ceremonies usually observed by the superstitious.

On the other hand one might see the fountains in the midst of the market place graced with figures representing the good Shepherd, well known to those who study the sacred oracles, and that of Daniel also with the lions, forged in brass, and resplendent with plates of gold. Indeed, so large a measure of Divine love possessed the emperor’s soul, that in the principal apartment of the imperial palace itself, on a vast tablet displayed in the center of its gold-covered paneled ceiling, he caused the symbol of our Saviour’s Passion to be fixed, composed of a variety of precious stones richly inwrought with gold. This symbol he seemed to have intended to be as it were the safeguard of the empire itself. (Bk. III.48-49)



How the Gospel Came to Britain

Bede the Venerable ca. 673-735

Augustine [of Canterbury] thus strengthened by the confirmation of the blessed Father Gregory, returned to the work of the word of God, with the servants of Christ, and arrived in Britain. The powerful Ethelbert was at that time king of Kent; he had extended his dominions as far as the great river Humber, by which the Southern Saxons are divided from the Northern. On the east of Kent is the large Isle of Thanet containing according to the English way of reckoning, 600 families, divided from the other land by the river Wantsum, which is about three furlongs over, and fordable only in two places, for both ends of it run into the sea. In this island landed the servant of our Lord, Augustine, and his companions, being, as is reported, nearly forty men. They had, by order of the blessed Pope Gregory, taken interpreters of the nation of the Franks, and sending to Ethelbert, signified that they were come from Rome, and brought a joyful message, which most undoubtedly assured to all that took advantage of it everlasting joys in heaven and a kingdom that would never end with the living and true God. The king having heard this, ordered them to stay in that island where they had landed, and that they should be furnished with all necessaries, till he should consider what to do with them. For he had before heard of the Christian religion, having a Christian wife of the royal family of the Franks, called Bertha; whom he had received from her parents, upon condition that she should be permitted to practice her religion with the Bishop Luidhard, who was sent with her to preserve her faith. Some days after, the king came into the island, and sitting in the open air, ordered Augustine and his companions to be brought into his presence. For he had taken precaution that they should not come to him in any house, lest, according to an ancient superstition, if they practiced any magical arts, they might impose upon him, and so get the better of him. But they came furnished with Divine, not with magic virtue, bearing a silver cross for their banner, and the image of our Lord and Saviour painted on a board; and singing the litany, they offered up their prayers to the Lord for the eternal salvation both of themselves and of those to whom they were come. When he had sat down, pursuant to the king’s commands, and preached to him and his attendants there present, the word of life, the king answered thus: ­ “Your words and promises are very fair, but as they are new to us, and of uncertain import, I cannot approve of them so far as to forsake that which I have so long followed with the whole English nation. But because you are come from far into my kingdom, and, as I conceive, are desirous to impart to us those things which you believe to be true, and most beneficial, we will not molest you, but give you favourable entertainment, and take care to supply you with your necessary sustenance; nor do we forbid you to preach and gain as many as you can to your religion.” Accordingly he permitted them to reside in the city of Canterbury, which was the metropolis of all his dominions, and, pursuant to his promise, besides allowing them sustenance, did not refuse them liberty to preach. It is reported that, as they drew near to the city, after their manner, with the holy cross, and the image of our sovereign Lord and King, Jesus Christ, they, in concert, sung this litany: “We beseech Thee, O Lord, in all Thy mercy, that thy anger and wrath be turned away from this city, and from the holy house, because we have sinned. Hallelujah.” (Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, Bk. 1 Chap. XXV)

St. Methodius on Icons

St. Methodius of Olympus died ca. 311

For instance, then, the images of our kings here, even though they be not formed of the more precious materials— gold or silver— are honoured by all. For men do not, while they treat with respect those of the far more precious material, slight those of a less valuable, but honour every image in the world, even though it be of chalk or bronze. And one who speaks against either of them, is not acquitted as if he had only spoken against clay, nor condemned for having despised gold, but for having been disrespectful towards the King and Lord Himself. The images of God’s angels, which are fashioned of gold, the principalities and powers, we make to His honour and glory. (The Second Discourse on the Resurrection)

The History of Iconography

Because one of the intellectual defaults of our longstanding culture seems to be that of following hard and fast rules and keeping things as simple as possible, the more theological matters of the Bible, for instance, can encounter fierce opposition as they begin to take dominion over society; especially if they involve both heaven as well as earth. The intellectual default seems to be that of creating division between heaven and earth, completely separating the visible from the invisible. But this is not what Christ taught us.

All the earth is God’s and when a priest prays over a certain part of God’s matter to be set apart for veneration, God takes dominion of that matter. God’s blessing sets apart His matter for His specified purpose. Matter matters, as we can see with Christ as well as the Apostles – remember when people were being healed from Saint Peter’s garments, for instance? God desires that the kingdom be “ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN!” Sound familiar? It should, because those are the words of Christ!

Iconography, which means “image writing,” is one of these more theological matters of the Christian life that requires more than just what the eye can see. And not only the creating of the icons, but the knowing how to use them also requires more than what the biological eye has to offer. To embrace icons we need to understand and believe how God has commanded us to actually take dominion over matter and make it God’s! When an icon is blessed it is blessed within this sphere of time and space, thus taking on the full thrust of “on earth as it is in heaven.”  

It has been supposed by many that iconography is a result of the Byzantine Empire and the so-called heretical and apostate culture of the Church from that point into the rest of Orthodox history. But iconography has been a practice that the Church has embraced since its earliest times. Although iconography escalated in the 4th century, after the Nicene Council and Constantine established the Byzantine Empire, we have evidence of pre-Nicaea icons within the catacombs, showing that iconography is not simply a result of the period of Constantine.

Saint Irenaeus (A.D. 130–202) mentions icons in his Against Heresies, condemning the improper use of icons by the Gnostics. From the earliest times of the Church images of the saints were painted by and for the Church. Icons were primarily a tool of evangelism and doctrinal proclamation, but it seems that as they began to do their job those that recognized the revelation behind the icons began to teach others that this recognition was much more than a mental discovery, but more of a spiritual awakening to the wonders that are happening within the realm of heaven itself.

St. John of Damascus wrote: “We are led by perceptible Icons to the contemplation of the divine and spiritual”  (PG 94:1261a).

This proclamation that the icons were more than what the novice eye sees began to stir much controversy. There were many western Christians that opposed such views of the icons, believing that such recognition of matter giving off such holiness was idolatrous. Western Christianity was certainly the instigator of iconoclasm (anti-icon). A western council, the Synod of Elvira (c.305) was one of the earliest movements to prohibit icons: “lest that which is worshiped and venerated be depicted on the walls.” One of the earliest iconoclastic quotes in existence would likely be the third century teaching of Tertullian, who was known to have many heretical viewpoints: “Likewise, when forbidding the similitude to be made of all things which are in heaven, and in earth, and in the waters, He declared also the reasons, as being prohibitory of all material exhibition of a latent idolatry.” (Against Marcion Bk. 2. 22) Tertullian was at one point an orthodox clergyman and gained a powerful influence in the west, so it is likely that this teaching carried much weight for future iconoclasm.   

Although some in the west had launched their attacks against iconography, the majority of the east seemed to be flourishing with icons, despite the few bishops that opposed them. The emperor Justin II (A.D. 565-578) went as far as revolutionizing Byzantine by placing the image of Christ for the first time on the coins with the inscription, “King of kings.” 

With the approval of the use of images by the Trullan Synod (A.D. 692) of the Third Council of Constantinople, the debate was joined again. In this council it was decreed that Christ was not to be depicted merely as a lamb but in human form, “so that we may perceive through it the depth of the humiliation of God the Word and be led to the remembrance of His life in the flesh, His passion and His death, and of the redemption which it brought to the world.” The use of icons began to gain more ground and within a short period, in 726 Emperor Leo III, the Syrian (717-741) initiated the fight to overthrow the sacred images of the Byzantine Empire. This is what the Church had to deal with as a monarchial ministry; the relationship with the state was primed by the Apostles and Martyrs, given flight by Constantine and the Bishops of the Nicaean Council, but not to encounter a number of violent storms such as this controversy between the iconoclasts (those opposing icons) and iconodules (those advocating icons). The effects of iconoclasm were so devastating that they can be seen as comparable to the Arian controversy and the Monophysite conflict.

At the beginning of Leo’s initiative – which is said to have been a personal vendetta of Leo, perhaps due to his Monophysite background – Leo decided to prompt a very radical act by ordering the destruction  of the icon of Christ over the bronze doors if the imperial palace. There were some women that overturned the ladder of the workers that were engaged in the desecration, which then provoked a riot with several deaths. The women were arrested and condemned to lashing, mutilation and exile.

Amidst the emperors initiatives, the patriarch of Constantinople, Germanus, began to defend iconography and stated: “In eternal memory of the life in the flesh or our Lord Jesus Christ, of His passion, of His saving death and the redemption of the world, which result from them, we have received the tradition of representing Him in His human form, that is, His visible theophany, understanding that in this way we exalt the humiliation of God the Word.” Leo eventually stopped recognizing Germanus as the patriarch and assigned the emperors chaplain as patriarch. Bishops in the west, including Gregory II of Rome, refused to recognize the new patriarch. Gregory II died and was succeeded by Gregory III who formed a synod at Rome to excommunicate the iconoclasts, anyone who refused to honor the ancient custom of the Church. This infuriated Leo, who then sent a fleet to Italy, only to be destroyed by storms.

Between 726 and 730, Saint John of Damascus, a officer of the court, who gave up his position to serve as a priest, said this in regards to the defense of iconography: “If we made an image of the invisible God, we would certainly be in error, but we do nothing of the sort, for we are not in error if we make the image of the incarnate God, who appeared on earth in the flesh, an who, in his ineffable goodness, lived with human beings and assumed the nature, quantity, shape and color of flesh.”  

After Leo died, his son, Constantine V, proceeded to the throne and called a council in 754 at Hiereia. The council was not ecumenical nor was it even attended by the Oriental bishops or the bishop of Rome. The council proclaimed that the creating and venerating of icons is to be condemned.  By summoning this council iconoclasm became the official dogma of the entire Eastern Church. Many monks, laymen and clergy railed against this and were tortured and publically beheaded, including the Patriarch Constantine in 776.

After the death of the emperor Constantine V, Leo IV ascended to the thrown. Leo married Irene, a very influential woman who at the command of Patriarch Paul began to communicate with the Roman bishop to form a council. In September 24 of 787 the council of Nicaea II was formed, meeting at the Basilica of the holy Apostles in Constantinople. Nicea II declared icon veneration to be the orthodox and iconoclasm to be condemned as a heresy, and the destruction of all iconoclastic writings is ordered. 

The second phase of the iconoclastic controversy is dated 815-843 which began with the rise of Leo V as emperor, who reverted to iconoclasm. At a council in Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, in 815, Nicaea was repudiated and the decrees of the Iconolasts of 754 were declared to be the faith of the empire. But only five years later Leo V was assassinated in front of the altar of Hagia Sophia.

Leo V was replaced by Michael II who refused to allow the return of iconography or even it very discussion. A number of prominent bishops and monks joined the Patriarch and vowed to fight iconoclasm even to death itself.  Michael ordered that prominent, low-hanging icons in the Temple used for veneration be removed.  Patriarch Nicephorus refused and was deported to Asia Minor where he eventually resigned his office.

Michael’s son, Theophilus, assumed the throne in 829, and severely persecuted iconodules. He died in 842 and his power passed to his mother – due to the successor being only three years old – Theodora, who then elected an iconodule as Patriarch: Methodius. Patriarch Methodius declared sacred images to be lawful and condemned iconoclasm. Icons are lawful to this day within the Orthodox Church thanks to the struggle of these many saints. We honor their accomplishments on the first Sunday in Great Lent, Orthodox Sunday, with a procession of icons!

* All information in this article can be found in Orthodox Christianity, by Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev; The First Seven Ecumenical Councils, by Leo Donald Davis; and The Orthodox Christian Church, by J.M. Hussey

Cleansing your Mind Through Icons

Icons, a part of the Christian faith that have been very misunderstood by many people, are a sure way to cleanse the mind and heal the soul! Certainly, there have been a number of abuses with the use of icons but this does not make icons unorthodox. Let’s take a look at reason, Scripture and tradition (history) to see that icons are extremely useful for the Christian walk!

First, icons have been used as early as the first century. When the Christians worshipped in the catacombs, while hiding from the emperor’s men, they drew icons on the walls. Recent discovery of some first century documents carved in metal aslo show that the Church heavily embraced icons. Icons were a part of early Church worship!

St. John of Damascus wrote, “We are led by perceptible Icons to the contemplation of the divine and spiritual”  (PG 94:1261a).  This is an important quote of one the early fathers, in that it gives solid reason for icons. Icons shape the mind! Icons do what words take many pages to do. Icons can be a very powerful and concise way of communicating the faith: through image. See what the Psalmist says about images, in general:

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Recent Discovery of Apostle Icons

Rome has recently uncovered icons of the apostles that were believed to have been painted around 300 A.D. in the catacombs of Italy. The picture to the left is of St. Paul! Remember, the early church worshiped in an atmosphere of icons and displayed corpses of their fellow saints. Back then, the people of God were known as the very body of Christ, so paintings of Christians as well as their remains were not unusual to them. They were reverenced with humility and generosity.

I think I am going to grow my beard like St. Paul’s. That looks really cool;)  Not sure about the bald top though. That will probably come about in due season for me!

Be Bold, Show the Cross!

There are a variety of modern Christian churches out there that are following the paths of the cults, claiming that there is little to no symbolic nature in the Bible and that we should not use the cross as a symbol because it represents murdering Christ. My old Evangelical church used a dove instead, representing the Holy Spirit. This is fine but don’t claim that using the cross is somehow ungodly or not as effective for conversions. The Church has been using the cross for two thousand years. What makes them so inclined to suddenly halt this tradition for another more feminine solution?

We should not be fearful of using the cross to demonstrate our faith. The cross represents how Christ became man “unto death,” as Saint Paul says, and that he conquered death. It is a powerful truth that should never be hidden!

Take a look at these passages from St. Paul and how he uses the cross as a symbolic means of communicating the Gospel.

1 Corinthians 1:17
For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.

1 Corinthians 1:18
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

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