Windows into Heaven
Key Facts and Ideas
Everyone (well, a lot of people) know that icons are very important in an Orthodox temple but not many know why. Some think that they simply to make the place look nice, colourful and homely, (or, a little better this) that they are there to inspire the worship or remind people of Our Lord, His Mother, the Saints and the Angels. All this is true but it's not really why we have icons.
The straightforward, but not obvious, answer is that the icons connect people to those whom they represent, the Incarnation having made the material realm a worthy vehicle for encounter with God in his friends and directly through His Son with His Mother and St. John the Baptist pointing the Way. Orthodox Christians venerate (not worship) icons to show their love to the prototype ... that is the person represented. I often explain this to children by saying that they might kiss a photograph of their mums and dads if they were away from them for a time staying with friends. This is not an exact analogy of course since Christ, His Mother and the Saints are NOT far away! Nonetheless it helps people understand I think that the icons make our contact with God in His friends and His Son more "real" ... tangible.
St. John of Damascus (c. 730) had a lot of good things to say about Orthodox veneration of the Holy Icons. (The link to the text is in the resources section). He reminds us that it is proper to venerate (reverence) the physical world because our Lord sanctified this good Creation by taking upon Himself our flesh in the Incarnation. Maybe if we took that message to heart we would spoil the earth less and create a lot more beauty around us!
We can connect with God through the created realm.
How do I feel about using my body and senses in worship?
1. In Defence of Icons by St. John of Damascus
2. Icons and Iconography (links) OCIC
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