The Greek word « Icon », which is used in all European languages, means image, figure, representation. Yet is it possible to represent God, who is invisible?
We know that the Second Hypostasis of the Holy Trinity, our Lord Jesus Christ, perfect God and perfect man, lived on earth, was approached by men and can be represented. We also can represent the Holy Theotokos (Mother of God), the Saints and the Angels who appeared to men.
The Holy Tradition tells us that the first Icon was of miraculous origin and 'not made by hand' of man. The Lord Himself had sent a reproduction of His features imprinted on a cloth to the ruler of Edessa, who suffered from illness. Since that time, copies of these Divine features were called "Not-Made-by-Hand Image" or "Saviour on Linen Cloth ". One of the most venerated copies, which was brought from the East in the Middle Ages, is kept in the Cathedral of Laon (France).
The Holy Tradition tells us that the first icons of the Holy Mother of God were painted by the saint evangelist Luke.
In the same way as we rise towards God in prayer, by the Icon and through the Icon, we aim to represent heavenly life and the transfigured body promised to eternal life
There is a profound difference between religious painting and the Icon. A religious painting represents an Old Testament or New Testament subject in an "earthly" manner. The Icon, on the contrary, deals with the same subjects in a spiritual way, with their deep significance and in the light of the transfiguration of matter.
Moreover, the image has to be sanctified and recognised as an Icon by the Church. By blessing the Icons, the Church conveys to the faithful an image of the world of beyond, a tangible link with the triumphant Church that will remind the faithful keeping the Icon of his Christian destiny and duty.
The rite of the blessing of the Icon contains the invocation of the Holy Spirit, the Guide and Pilot of the Church.
The church as a building represents heaven of earth, while the Icon is part of it. The Icon is a kind of gift and a blessing of the Church for the sanctification and protection of our household, of our house. The Icon reminds us of the life of the person who is represented on it and who must be an example to us.
We venerate not wood or matter, but the person represented on the Icon.
For a very long time, the veneration of the Holy Icons was accepted throughout the whole Church, but in the VII century, particularly under the influence of Islam, which prohibits any representation of God, as well as Arab conquests, an open struggle against Holy Icons began. Sometimes, more than half of the Church was taken over by the iconoclast heresy. The victory of the true Faith was won only at the VII Ecumenical Council, in 787.
On the first Sunday of the Great Lent, the Church celebrates the Triumph of Orthodoxy and victory over iconoclasm. The Church thus commemorates all those who contributed to the restoration of the veneration of Icons and anathemizes heretics who deny Christian dogmas.
For an Orthodox, the veneration of the Holy Icons is linked to the veneration of the Holy Cross, not the Crucifix, but the Cross, the symbol of victory over evil and sin. So while each Orthodox must have an Icon of his saint, the saint whose name he bears and who must be not only his protector, but also an example in his life, all Orthodox Christians also wear a cross on their chest as a sign of their sanctification in Baptism and a symbol of Christ's yoke.
The Orthodox Icon is a missionary of spiritual beauty and peace. The Icon has been re-conquering for some time the Christian world thirsting for visions of heavenly life. Through the Icon, the Western world is beginning to penetrate the soul of the Orthodox Church and comprehend her aspirations.French text from :
Feuillet du jeune orthodoxe N° 10
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