|The Veneration of Icons
from "The Orthodox Companion"
by Rev. David F. Abramtsov
The veneration of sacred pictures of Icons is as old as Christianity itself. In the Cataboms representations are found of Christ, of the Theotokos with the Divine Child, and of blibical scenes from the Old and New Testament. These were intended to strenghthen the Christians in times of persecution by reminding them of God's omnipotence and of a future Resurrection. With the spread of Christianity the veneration paid to images increased. Sacred pictures and crosses were seen not only in the churches butin the marketplace and hishways.
We do not worship or pray to Icons; we do not believe that there is in them any divinity or virtue to be worshipped; or that anything ought to be asked of them, or that trust should be reposed in them, as was done of old by the Gentiles who placed their hope in idols. The honor which we show Holy Icons is referred to that which they represent. Thus when we kiss them, uncover our heads before them, prostrate ourselves before them, we worship Christ and venerate the Saints whose likeness they bear. The outward reverence we show to an Icon of Christ or to a Crucifix, for example, is the mark of the inward love and gratitude we wish to bestow upon Our Lord Himself.
We are in need of visible and tangible representations of those Holy Persons to whom we offer our prayers. Holy Icons remind us of these Holy Persons or events, just as ordinary pictures remind us of people we love. As a loving son find an outlet for his affection by imprinting fond kisses upon the faded photograph of his mother, so does the true child of God express his love for the Saviour and His friends, the Saints, by tender veneration of their representations. We honor Icons in much the same way that we respect the portraits of those whom we love or esteem. Just as no one would say that we are worshipping the statue or portrait of some national hero when we salute it or uncover our heads before it, so we cannot be accused of adoring the sacred portrait of a hero of the Church. When we venerate the Cross we are worshipping Him Who died thereon. When the book of the Gospels is kissed, it is the Word of God therein contained that is venerated. And when incense is burned or tapers lighted before Icons, it is a symbol of the light of the Holy Spirit and the virtues with which the Saints were endowed. It is not from the Icons themselves that we ask help, it is from God, through the intercessions of the Saints.
Above all representations of the Saints or of holy things we venerate the Cross of Our Saviour. There is not a single church or altar or cemetery without a cross. Such is the honor in which the Church holds the Cross of Christ that she allows no Sacrament to be administered, no Liturgy to be celebrated, no act of Divine Worship to be performed unless in presence of the Cross.
Icons ought to be found in every Christian household; it does not speak well for the inhabitants of a house if none but secular pictures adorn its walls. We ought always to place the Icons in a fitting and proper place in our home where we may glance at them frequently and think, even if only for an instant, of the love of Christ and the Saints they represent. Icons are called Holy not only because of what they represent, but because they are blessed by the Priest with special prayers. They should be handled with reverence. Many people place Icons in the main corner of the first room of their home. Sometimes several Icons are placed together in one row or frame called a kiota. It is here that family prayers are said.
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