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Icons in the Orthodox Church

Updated on March 1, 2019
James A Watkins profile image

James A. Watkins is an entrepreneur, musician, and a writer with three non-fiction books and hundreds of magazine articles read by millions.

THE HOLY FAMILY ORTHODOX ICON
THE HOLY FAMILY ORTHODOX ICON

Iconoclasts versus Iconophiles

There arose a great controversy over icons in the Eastern Church in the 7th and 8th centuries. Everyone, from simple believers to emperors, got involved. The argument began because of criticism of icons by Muslims. People who defended the use of icons were known as iconophiles. Those against the icons were known as iconoclasts (those who destroy icons).

The iconoclasts went on a rampage destroying icons in churches. New churches built in the late 8th century were dedicated without them. The Second Council of Nicea in 787 (the seventh and last ecumenical church council) retaliated by ordering the confiscation of all iconoclastic literature and this was carried out so successfully, that not a single piece of it survives today.

The worship of images was based on the belief that material objects can possess divine power, which might provide certain blessings to those who touch them. The sacraments were based on this same belief, particularly the Eucharist (Holy Communion).

"OF THREE HANDS" ORTHODOX ICON
"OF THREE HANDS" ORTHODOX ICON
HOLY NAIL RELIC FROM THE CROSS OF JESUS IN TRIER, GERMANY
HOLY NAIL RELIC FROM THE CROSS OF JESUS IN TRIER, GERMANY

Battle Erupts Over Orthodox Church Icons

Both sides claimed to represent the common folk. The iconophiles supported the use of religious art as a means to convey Bible stories to the illiterate. They were not opposed to unsophisticated people worshipping sacred art or relics. They believed that some might not understand a sermon, but everyone could understand a painting or mosaic representing a story from the life of Jesus—and learn from it. Besides, did not the creation story say that man was made in the "image" of God?

The iconoclasts also invoked concern for the peasantry in their arguments, claiming the ignorant could be led astray by lifeless objects into idol worship. Sure, educated people could tell the difference between the image and the divine; but the simple might not be able to make the appropriate distinction. Since the founding of Christianity, the Church had worked to rid pagans of their idols; and now churches had allowed idols in their own worship services.

Both sides tried to show that the use of icons and relics did—or did not—exist in the earliest churches. Iconoclasts insisted that neither Jesus, the apostles nor the Church Fathers had used images. It was true that some of the Church Fathers had prohibited images of Christ, his mother, or the apostles.

The aversion to the worship of idols had deep roots in the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible). The Ten Commandments forbade graven images. Jews considered them deceptive, dead matter. Iconophiles countered that King Solomon had made many objects to adorn the temple, for the glory of God.

MUMMIFIED RIGHT HAND OF ST STEPHEN RELIC IN BUDAPEST, HUNGARY
MUMMIFIED RIGHT HAND OF ST STEPHEN RELIC IN BUDAPEST, HUNGARY
COMPLETE SHROUD OF TURIN
COMPLETE SHROUD OF TURIN
ROMANIAN ICON OF ST GEORGH SLAYING THE DRAGON
ROMANIAN ICON OF ST GEORGH SLAYING THE DRAGON

The Adoration of Icons

The use of images arose within the Church not based on what was taught, but more on what was believed. And this came from a growing devotion to the relics of saints (and martyrs). People would see, touch, or kiss these relics; shed tears; and pray to the dead saint. Many stories had been passed around the Christian Community that relics first, and then later, sacred images, had produced miracles on behalf of believers. It came to be believed that these objects represented the divine presence.

The powerful leader of the iconoclasts was the Byzantine Emperor Constantine V (718-775). He called a Church Council in 754 to condemn icons. Icon painters and worshipers were imprisoned and tortured. Constantine V decried the "hellenization" of Christianity through images; and declared there was no authority in Scripture, or the apostolic tradition, for the use of them. He was opposed by two prominent leaders in the Church, Nicephorus (758-828) and Theodore of Stoudios (759-826).

The iconophiles argued that the iconoclasts were mistaken to apply Biblical passages against pagan idols to Christian images, because the intent is completely opposite. They also objected to the emperor claiming authority over Church matters, as this was not approved in the New Testament. Iconophiles also noted that iconoclasts themselves worshipped the holy cross—itself an image. The symbol and the sign of the cross were ubiquitous in Christianity—and could be traced directly back to the apostolic church.

CHRIST ON THE CROSS ORTHODOX ICON
CHRIST ON THE CROSS ORTHODOX ICON
FOOT OF ST JAMES RELIC IN NAMUR, FRANCE
FOOT OF ST JAMES RELIC IN NAMUR, FRANCE
KIEV CAVES ORTHODOX ICON FROM 1073 "DORMITION OF THEOTOKOS"
KIEV CAVES ORTHODOX ICON FROM 1073 "DORMITION OF THEOTOKOS"

Is an Icon a Graven Image?

Constantine V also expunged references to Mary from litanies (responsive petition) and canticles (song or chant) used in worship. He denied that Mary, or any saints, could intercede for the faithful. Most iconoclasts agreed that though proper respect should be paid to Mary and the saints, never should they be addressed in prayer, nor should images of them be worshipped. Even worse, they believed, were images of angels.

Since no one has ever seen angels, and they do not have physical bodies; images of them were to be prohibited. Pagan materialism should not be allowed to violate the spirituality of worship. Iconoclasts proclaimed this to be the work of the devil, deceiving the Church to worship created images rather than the Creator.

The iconophiles declared that the Incarnation of Jesus as a man had made His image portrayable. The reverence for images was deeply ingrained in the Eastern Christians and theological clarification was needed in the defense of them as icons, not idols.

The Orthodox Church believed that icons were holy in a holy church, whether of Jesus, Mary, saints or angels. It claimed the devil was working through the iconoclasts to destroy images in art and books that he hated because they were holy.

John of Damascus explained that Christians were not worshiping the icons themselves, but the reality behind the images; a reality that pagan idols did not share. Icons were acceptable props as a concession to human psychology, and the special role of sight among the senses.

Photius said, "Sight transmits to the mind the essence of what has been seen." Thus the icon served sight in the same way as preaching served the ear—especially for illiterate believers.

FINGER OF ST BONIFACE RELIC IN DOKKUM, NETHERLANDS
FINGER OF ST BONIFACE RELIC IN DOKKUM, NETHERLANDS
ORTHODOX ICON IN LEBANON
ORTHODOX ICON IN LEBANON

Veneration of Orthodox icons

Theodore of Stoudios said, "What person with any sense does not comprehend the distinction between an idol and an icon?"

Idol worship is worship of the devil but icons are dedicated to the glory of the one true God. Against accusations that worshipping an image of Mary was a revival of pagan goddess adoration, Theodore made clear that no Christian believes Mary to be a goddess, but she is Theotokos—the mother of God. The worship of saints supported—not perverted—the worship of Christ.

John of Damascus stated, "We portray Christ as King and Lord is such a way that we do not deprive Him of His army. Now the armies of the Lord are the saints."

He agreed that in Old Testament times images were prohibited; but explained that, with the New Testament of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, a "likeness of God was available; therefore the prohibition was superseded."

To deny this was to deny the humanity of Christ. John declared that the life and deeds of Christ should be represented in art and illustrated in books—from His birth to His crucifixion. "This beautiful exposition and beneficial description, how dare you to call it idolatry!"

The icons and the gospel told the same story. Since the content of the icon was identical to Scripture, "Why do you worship the book and spit upon the picture?"

Theodore of Stoudios explained that since only a truly human Christ could save, it was proper for His humanity to be portrayed. The remembrance of the history of Christ "in every ritual" of worship was a way of illumination for the mind. Nicephorus said that icons "convey theological knowledge, express the silence of God, and praise the goodness of God."

So, both sides claimed to be speaking for the illiterate masses, who could not have possibly have understood this Christological debate. But it was the fate of their faith at stake. Icons were cherished by the common folk, as objects of religious devotion and instruction. Still, many average Christians had misgivings about their propriety in worship.

Finally, the seventh ecumenical council reinstated the icons and pronounced anathema upon the iconoclasts. The icons had triumphed. The union of liturgy and images was restored.

HOLY GUARDIAN ANGEL ORTHODOX ICON
HOLY GUARDIAN ANGEL ORTHODOX ICON

THEOTOKOS

Theodore of Stoudios praised Mary as the only human who had ever transcended human nature, "Granting peace to the Church, strengthening orthodoxy, protecting the empire, driving away barbarian tribes, maintaining the entire Christian people."

Nicephorus called her "Our most holy Queen, the Mother of God, Empress and the Lady of the entire universe, the throne of mercy for mortals throughout the universe. We confess and proclaim that she has been appointed as our mediator and secure patron in relation to her Son, on account of the confidence she has as His mother."

Before these mariological concepts were taught by the Church, they had already been believed and celebrated by the people in the pews. Mariology led to the cult of other saints. Opposition to icons had many times included hostility to the worship of Mary and the saints.

The rehabilitation of the icons led to the reinstatement of the role of Mary and the saints as participants in the liturgy, life, and service of the Church. The cult of angels was soon to follow, largely based on the speculations of Dionysius the Areopagite, for whom angels were the missing link between the visible and invisible worlds; and the belief that when the Church worships God, it does so in the company of the angelic host. When the liturgy of the Church praised God, it did so along with Mary, apostles, saints, martyrs and angels. These were subjects of icons.

ORTHODOX ICON "PANAGIA"
ORTHODOX ICON "PANAGIA"

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    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      6 years ago from Chicago

      AudreyHowitt— Thank you for the accolades. I sincerely appreciate this visitation from you and your warm words. :D

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      6 years ago from California

      Very interesting article--I was particularly happy to note where the terms "iconoclast" and "iconophile" came from--really well done!

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      7 years ago from Chicago

      Orthodox Icons— You are most welcome. I do love art. And yes, I suppose my Hubs do draw a wide range of visitors.

      Thank you for blessing me. I will be seeing you soon on your pages. :-)

      Faithfully Yours,

      James

    • profile image

      stessily 

      7 years ago

      James: I appreciate your welcoming outlook towards my comments. And thank you for seeing me as "a blessing" to you "here on Hubpages." And three of my favorite words are "God bless you." So many many many thanks.

      Your appreciation of art is conveyed clearly and is also obvious in the aesthetics of your hubs.

      You have a real talent for drawing together a diversity of people, of all ages and backgrounds, through your writing. May you always honor that gift, as I am sure that you will.

      Blessings and kind regards, Stessily

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      7 years ago from Chicago

      stessily— Hello! I am well pleased that you appreciate the beautiful images on this page.

      Unfortunately, I do not know the origin of the last picture, the Holy Guardian Angel. It is of Byzantine origin but beyond that I cannot find any information about it. I just love it!

      I am glad that you enjoyed my sentence about Christian art in my home. :-)

      Thank you ever much for the voted up, beautiful, awesome, and interesting. You are a blessing to me here on HubPages. I always look forward to your lovely comments. God Bless You!

      James

    • profile image

      stessily 

      7 years ago

      James: This is one of my favorite hubs, not just because it's on one of my favorite art topics, but also because of your wonderful presentation and the truly beautiful images which you selected. I also like it that you didn't take a side. :-)

      That last guardian angel icon is so ethereal and the colors are so gentle and reassuring. (Perhaps I have finally seen a guardian angel!) Do you have any information on this icon? I have never seen it before.

      I also love your sentence about the prevalence of Christian art in your home so that, as you so clearly observe: "whatever room I am in, I am not far from being reminded what I'm here for."

      I especially appreciate the inclusion of the full extent of the Shroud of Turin. The photo conveys so much texture and shades in what ostensibly is a monochromatic fabric.

      Voted up, beautiful, awesome, interesting!

      Kind regards, Stessily

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      7 years ago from Chicago

      Make Money— Thank you for coming over to check out this humble little Hub of mine. I very much appreciate the two links to those fascinating articles about the Black Madonna and St. Nicholas.

      I had not ever heard that old St. Nick punched Arius. That's kind of funny, in its own way.

      I surely see nothing wrong in kissing your crucifix after morning prayers. It seems a proper act of devotion and love to me.

      I did write a little about Arius here:

      https://hubpages.com/religion-philosophy/History-o...

      I sure appreciate your encouragement, my friend. And I loved reading those two stories tonight. Thanks again. :D

    • Make  Money profile image

      Make Money 

      7 years ago from Ontario

      Nice hub James. Beautiful images too. You might be interested to know that there is a legend that claims that the icon of the Black Madonna, Our Lady of Cz?stochowa was painted on a cypress table top by St. Luke from the house of the Holy Family.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Madonna_of_Cz%C...

      I just recently found out about these three icons of St. Nicholas. During the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea (AD 325), Arius was called upon to defend his position on the inferiority of Christ. Saint Nicholas just couldn't listen to all of Arius' nonsense and so he stood up and laid in to Arius with his fist. Yep he smacked him. The emperor tossed St. Nicholas in jail and the bishops took away his personal copy of the Gospels and his pallium. But Lord Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary visited Nicholas in jail. Jesus gave him back his copy of the Gospels. Next, the Blessed Virgin vested Nicholas with his episcopal pallium. When the Emperor Constantine heard of this miracle, he immediately ordered that Nicholas be reinstated as a bishop in good standing for the Council of Nicea. Now in my opinion that is a very cool story of Santa Clause that should be more widely known. The three traditional icons of Saint Nicholas on this page depict this miracle.

      http://cantuar.blogspot.com/2010/12/saint-nicholas...

      By the way after my morning prayers each day I kiss my little Crucifix.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      8 years ago from Chicago

      stephane86— I surely agree with you that the East has much to offer in terms of religious genius—and not only for their art though it is spectacular. Thank you very much for visiting my Hub. I enjoyed your comments. I appreciate the compliments, too. :-)

    • profile image

      stephane86 

      8 years ago

      Wow! You are such an erudite of history. I have been fascinated with icons since my teenage years. There is something of their luminosity and sharpness in line of drawing that just draws the attention and captures the imagination. The East, indeed, has a lot to offer too in terms of religious genius.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      stars439— I love these photos, too, my friend. Thank you for your compliments and blassings. :D

    • stars439 profile image

      stars439 

      9 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

      Educational hub, and beautiful photographs. God Bless You

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      prettydarkhorse— You are welcome, Maita. I'm feeling better, thanks to an outpouring of love and support. I do have hope. :-)

    • prettydarkhorse profile image

      prettydarkhorse 

      9 years ago from US

      icons and orthodox traditions, thanks for this piece, i really love reading a part of explanations about icons, I hope your ok today, just keep on believing and dont lose hope, never, Maita

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      Petra Vlah— I get it. I wouldn't have known except I recognized your picture. Thanks for the clarification, dear. You are a great and classy lady.

    • Petra Vlah profile image

      Petra Vlah 

      9 years ago from Los Angeles

      Hi James,

      I just wanted you to know that I did not changed my Gabriella D'Anton name (my real mane for that matter, the one you considere to be elegant).

      Petra Vlah is my pen name and I am better known as Petra in the literary world

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      Gabriella D'Anton— I remember San Marino from my stamp collecting days. I would love to take that stroll. Thanks for that great tip.

    • Gabriella D'Anton profile image

      Gabriella D'Anton 

      9 years ago from Los Angeles, Ca

      If you make it to Ravenna James, going to Repubblica di San Marino is an absolute must see (only 30 minutes away)

      It is an independent state (just like the Vatican) within the state of Italy. You can walk through the entire state of San Marino in about 30 minutes, but you will never forget it. It is magnificent

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      Gabriella D'Anton— Thank you very much. You know, I haven't been to Ravenna but I have heard there are amazing sites there. I'll take your advice if I make it back to Italy—my favorite place to visit in the world.

    • Gabriella D'Anton profile image

      Gabriella D'Anton 

      9 years ago from Los Angeles, Ca

      Beautiful, informative and well documented hub (as usually a peasure to read). I have some great old orthodox icons, but the best orthodox mozaic icones I have ever seen are in Ravenna. Next time you go to Italy make sure you stop in Ravenna, see Dante's tomb and Theodoricus tomb as well.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      Kebennett1— You're not in any trouble with me. You're free to speak your mind always. Paul does say it is best not to be married so you can serve God and His people with all your attention and that's where the celibate clergy (and nuns) comes from. I don't see that as a bad thing. Protestants owe a debt to Catholics in many ways. I am not for baptizing babies. I think that is ridiculous, personally. I believe Catholics and Protestants will be in Heaven together. And that will be a glorious day!!!

    • Kebennett1 profile image

      Kebennett1 

      9 years ago from San Bernardino County, California

      Catholic Christians and Protestant Christians believe in a lot of the same things, but there are also a lot of differences. Catholics as you know believe in using icons such as rosaries, praying to Saints, going to confession, baptizing babies, clergy that can't be married... While Protestants don't. That is what I was talking about :) Not that I don't think there isn't a place for both in Heaven! Unlike a few people I have come across on Hubpages, I don't believe only one "religious belief" will make it to be with the Father! Did I clarify without getting into trouble with you :)

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      Kebennett1— I think Catholics are Christians, dear. :)

      The comments have been great on this thread. Especially yours! :-)

      I do love art. And I thank you for coming by and leaving your warm words. Always a pleasure to hear from you.

    • Kebennett1 profile image

      Kebennett1 

      9 years ago from San Bernardino County, California

      Ah James, The sparker of debate! Of course you knew this would happen, as this is still a hot issue today, to have and have not religious icons! The Catholics say yes, The Christians say no ( but we do have the cross!), and of course there are others in consideration who fall on one side, the other or somewhere in between! Your Historical data is always fantastic and very insightful and the artwork, superb! Wonderful Hub as usual.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      vanderhaven— This is quite a story. Sort of like your very own votive. I am glad it brought focus to your prayer life. Anything used in such a way seems good to me. And it worked, that's the main thing. God bless you for sharing this story. I appreciate you adding a personal touch to this thread. Thank you.

    • vanderhaven profile image

      vanderhaven 

      9 years ago

      I had a trying time a few years back when My oldest son was thinking of leaving the Marines. I had been praying a lot and there were some troubling things I won't go into right now, but basically, I really needed to focus and think soundly so that I could relate some kind of help or advice to my son. -- I am not Catholic but I saw this candle in the store that had a picture of some saint on it and for some reason I bought it and took it home and made this kind of "ritual" thing that each evening when I sat to pray for him , I lit that candle --not for any kind of supernatural voodoo type thing to happen but because to me- it brought some kind of focus and attention and deliberate action to my prayers. By me concentrating and actively lighting that candle, I was saying in my heart, to God, how sincere I was. --

      It made perfect sense to me at the time and I must say it worked for me. :) Our answers came, he stayed in the Marines - his anger toward their ways of doing things went away and all things worked out. Of course it wasn't because I lit some candle but simply because my heart was in the right place on the right message.

      Anyway--- I love your research and this was another well written hub. Looking forward to more from you.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      Alexander Mark— I understand. It's a pleasure to hear from you again, brother. I am going to check out that web site. I hadn't heard of it. Don't feel guilty on my account. Thank you for your compliment. Thank you for coming by and leaving word.

    • Alexander Mark profile image

      Alexander Silvius 

      9 years ago from Portland, Oregon

      James - I have been busy with school and out of the Hub loop for a while, I felt guilty every time I saw your hubs and couldn't read them. Plus I have been writing for Examiner.com. Lots of fun. I'm glad you didn't forget me. You have been busy! Seems like your hubs get better and better. Interesting point about the word "worship," appearing in comments both, "for and against," icons. But for me, there is no gray area. The trick for simple minded folk like me is to keep an open mind.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      Tina Irene— No offense intended. I offered no opinions of my own here. The inconophiles used this defense of icons, that their icons—just like the sacraments—represented the divine in physical form. They—not I—said that the images they used were akin to the cross, wafers, wine, rosary beads, baptism, anointing with oil, etc. I neither agreed nor disagreed. I simply reported what they, the iconophiles, said themselves.

      I do believe in miracles yes and what better place for one than in Holy Communion. I don't doubt you for a minute about that, dear.

    • profile image

      Tina Irene 

      9 years ago

      James -

      I didn't read all of this hub 'cause this caught my eye:

      "The sacraments were based on this same belief" (Divine Power and Blessings)", particularly the Eucharist (Holy Communion)."

      OK...but, have you ever looked into the numerous Eucharistic miracles? They're eye openers, for sure.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      dusanotes— What a pleasure it is to receive you here. I am sorry to disappoint, but I've never been to university. I became a professional musician at 15 years old and started playing on the road at 19. I am simply an autodidact who enjoys reading non-fiction to investigate things, especially the history of all things. Thank you for your gracious remarks. My goal is to explain great things in simple language. I appreciate you noticing that. I do love beautiful art.

    • dusanotes profile image

      dusanotes 

      9 years ago from Windermere, FL

      Like all your fans, especially ianto PF, I'm totally amazed at your depth of knowledge not only about the worshipful aspects of religion, but the art which memorializes it. You must have been a university art prof, right? You are such a scholarly person but have such an uncanny knack of putting everything in layman's language that each one of your fans seems to come away with great impressions. I think that's great. I, too, believe that communication can be done by art and by word and that the words need to be such that they don't overwhelm anyone. Keep up the great work.

      Don White

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      Mardi— You are welcome. Religious Art is comforting and beautiful. I have a collection of it in my home (all copies of course). While there are misguided beliefs, God reads the intentions in our hearts. If we seek Him, we will find Him.

      Thank you for your kind comments. I appreciate it.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      Tom Whitworth— Always a treat to receive a visit from you, brother. As usual, I find myself nodding in agreeance with you. Thank you for your wise words.

    • Mardi profile image

      Mardi Winder-Adams 

      9 years ago from Western Canada and Texas

      As always I have learned a great deal! Thanks James. I think that comfort and beauty can certainly be the essence of these icons but that human misunderstanding has created the misguided belief in them.

    • Tom Whitworth profile image

      Tom Whitworth 

      9 years ago from Moundsville, WV

      James I read the comment of Gicky Soriano which further illustrated my previous comment "It's the message that matters". The means of worship is based on orthodoxy and as long as the message is not overshadowed by the means it does not matter.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      robie2— It is my pleasure to receive this visit from you. I am pleased that you came to read my humble hub and that you expressed your enjoyment of it. Very nice. Your comments display keen insights that show me you are learned historically. I'll have to get over and read some of your work.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      Chesterton Wilde— I would say your namesakes have all the bases covered. :)

      Thank you for your visit and your remarks.

    • Chesterton Wilde profile image

      Chesterton Wilde 

      9 years ago from Quebec

      Great topic James...and one with many dimensions to explore. Thanks for this one.

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 

      9 years ago from Central New Jersey

      A fascinating hub and an even more fascinating comment thread.

      Interesting how the same tensions re-appear in Christianity over and over again-- from Muslims the the 8th centruy to English Puritans under Olivar Cromwell and beyond. The discussion between iconoclasts and iconophiles lingers on and goes far beyong the confines of the Orthodox Church.

      Thanks you so much for a well balanced, well researched informative discussion. I learned a lot and enjoyed it greatly.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      Sufidreamer— I agree. The comments have been interesting and tasteful.

      I have patience. I will await your future Hub. You are a great writer and photographer so I'm confident that the wait will be worth it. Ghost writing jobs are a blessing for you, I'm sure. Congratulations! It never hurts to make a few dollars.

      I thank you for the succinct explication here of the relationship between the Greek Orthodox and icons. Well put. The relationship between icons and the holy cross was a point used by iconophiles way back in the 8th century, and it is a good comparison.

      Your comment is helpful. You are welcome. Thanks for your commentary.

    • Sufidreamer profile image

      Sufidreamer 

      9 years ago from Sparti, Greece

      Hi James,

      An interesting discussion - it is also good to see that the comments are keeping to the original spirit and intent of the Hub. I would like to offer sincere thanks to everybody for the respect shown.

      As for the Orthodox Hub - it is going to be a slow burner, for two reasons. The first is that I have a couple of books to ghostwrite, so time is short. The second is that we do not have a car at the moment - when my brother-in-law moves over here, in a couple of months, we hope to buy one and take a tour of a few churches! However, this Hub is great for bouncing ideas :D

      I think that you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned the word 'icon.' Many of the problems and misconceptions arise because the meaning of the word, in English, has drifted away from the original Greek meaning.

      In English, we talk of 'Iconic' sportsmen and imbue the word with a heroic twist. The Greek word 'Eikona' means 'picture' or 'image.' The verb Eikonizo means to picture or to represent, nothing more. In fact, your reference to computer icons is actually closer to the original meaning, believe it or not!

      The other thing that I would like to mention is what an icon actually represents to an Orthodox Christian. When people see Greeks kissing icons, they naturally assume that they are worshipping them. This is not the case - I mentioned the idea of reverse perspective above because it represents how Greeks see icons.

      Instead of regarding them as physical objects, they see them as 'windows' to heaven. This subtle difference is one reason why Greeks believe that only somebody brought up in the Orthodox tradition can paint icons.

      The other distinction is that the Orthodox church pays great reverence to Saints, as with the Catholic Church. A Greek might ask St George or St Peter for help with their troubles, as part of the divine hierarchy!

      To sum up, think of the icons in the same way as the crucifix above an altar - a conduit rather than a physical object.

      Anyway, I hope that the comment helps - I am a fairly recent convert so there are still many, many things that I do not know about the Church, so this is a good learning process for me, too!

      Thank you for your patience :)

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      Gicky Soriano— Wow! That is quite a story. It's a great illustration of how simple devotion gets over-complicated by folks who mean well. Then, as I read it, the meaning gets lost amidst arguing over the ritual. Brilliant!

      Thank you for this fascinating addition to this thread. I very much appreciate it. It is elucidating.

    • Gicky Soriano profile image

      Gicky Soriano 

      9 years ago from California

      Thought I'd share this little story in line with the subject at hand:

      There’s the story about a Chinese holy man. He was very poor and living in a remote part of China. Somehow, he came to love God and made a vow to worship him all the days of his life. As poor as he was, he understood that worship involves some sacrifice on our part. Although he was in short supply of food, he put a bowl of rice and fish up on the windowsill as an offering to God. As he would do this everyday before prayer time, he noticed his cat would come along and eat the steamed rice and fish. To remedy this, he tied the cat to the bedpost each day before prayer time. The problem was solved permanently.

      In time this holy man who was held in high honor for his faithfulness gained a following of disciples who worshiped God as he did. Generations later, long after the holy man was dead, his followers would likewise offer up to God a bowl of rice and fish on the windowsill before their prayer time. Furthermore, each disciple bought a cat and tied it to the bedpost. After all, it was part of the honored ritual and it was a practice worth preserving.

      In time they would get into endless discussions and debates whether the rice should be steamed or served raw. Were they to use long grain rice, brown rice, or Uncle Ben’s instant rice? Or could you even use ready-made rice cakes instead of going through the tedious process of cooking the rice? What type of fish was proper for this practice? Should it be fried, broiled or baked? Was the cat supposed to be color black, white or possibly a mixture of both? Could a dog be used in place of a cat? And what on earth should we use to tie the animal down? Was a leather leash with a gold-studded chocker acceptable to God or should we use a hand-woven rope of virgin hemp to do the job? That is how tradition is created!

      The tragedy in regard to icons, relics or sacred Christian works of art is that over time the true meaning gets lost in translation. Thank you for such an in depth as well as informative hub on icons.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      Alexander Mark— What a pleasure to hear from, old friend. You must be busy in the aviation bidness. :-)

      I surely appreciate your kind comments. I agree with you that God certainly gave us incredible creative artistic powers. And the Bible says to use whatever gifts you have been given to the glory of God. With a pure heart, painting a picture of religious images, or writing religious hymns or songs, would seem to be the best use of creativity. I think you're right—worshipping them would be where the line is drawn. That said, I was surprised that both sides in this dispute used that word—worship—to describe what the icons were for. So, that puts us back in the puzzle box again—at least when considering those olden days.

      Thank you for visiting. Your comments have given me something more to think about myself.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      ArchDynamics— That interview you are watching does sound terribly interesting. It has never made sense to me that Jews—or Black Americans for that matter—support Liberals. I'll have to read a couple reviews of that book to get the gist of it at the least.

      I cannot thank you enough for the words you wrote in your comments regarding my work. I couldn't be more pleased by what you said.

      You pose a tough question. As an aside, I find it interesting that we use the word "icon" for smiley faces and desktop images. Are there other cases, in computer language say, where actual words are icons? Maybe.

      The word Christ does represent an invisible reality, as does a painting of Him. So, maybe so. You surely do think out of the box. I didn't see that question coming. I'll have to ruminate on that further. That's what great questions do—make on think. Thanks for that, too.

    • Alexander Mark profile image

      Alexander Silvius 

      9 years ago from Portland, Oregon

      Tough one to comment on, you were completely unbiased and did a great job teaching, while raising a myriad of issues.

      I have a feeling that belonging to God, and being his creations, we should emulate the creator, and why can't we use the talents and abilities he has given us even in glorifying him? God's warning is simply not to worship our creations, and that falls into line with not worshiping his creation. So in a manner of speaking, not worshiping idols, (things made by our hands) and not worshiping Creation are the exact same rule!

      Thanks James for giving me something to chew on and learn from.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      jiberish— Amen to that. I've seen many photos of Mother Teresa with them in her hand, so they can't be too bad to have. Thanks for checking back.

    • profile image

      ArchDynamics 

      9 years ago

      King James:

      I always enjoy reading your Hubs as I know they will be well-researched and carefully presented (and, on a good day, with a smattering of wit and charm as well).

      There is power in good writing, to wit: Some of your topics have no specific relevance or interest to me, but I read them because you write them.

      And, almost without fail, I find and enjoy the little surprises and 'ah-ha' moments that leave me a bit more enlightened than when I arrived.

      I have an opinion of the ultimate extrapolation of what constitutes an 'icon', however. Would it not make sense that, taken to a natural conclusion, even the written word 'Christ', being a 'physical representation of Him', constitutes an 'icon'?

      As such, it would have to be argued that the interpretation of what constitutes an 'icon' is simply that of the 'person-in-powers'' opinion, and, by extension, the contingent arrogance that accompanies it.

      Just food for thought.

      In any case, please continue. I'm now listening to Dennis Prager's guest Norman Podhoretz discussing his book, "Why Are Jews Liberals." Quite interesting.

    • jiberish profile image

      jiberish 

      9 years ago from florida

      Vldimir, I no longer use a rosary, and I would not guess as to what is right in God's eye. You either know when you have a relationship with Him or not.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      creativeone59— You are very welcome, dear. Thank you for tuning in.

    • creativeone59 profile image

      benny Faye Douglass 

      9 years ago from Gold Canyon, Arizona

      James, thank you for your very informative and religious hub. creativeone59

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      Tom Whitworth— I think we do, too, Tom. I agree with your philosophy. It's the message that matters—I like that.

      I'm with you all the way. Thank you for your gracious comments. You have a good heart.

    • Tom Whitworth profile image

      Tom Whitworth 

      9 years ago from Moundsville, WV

      James I think you and I believe a lot alike on religious matters. Whatever works for each and every individual is quite acceptable as long as the message of Jesus is accepted in the believers heart.

      It's the message that really matters. If icons help the believer accept the message then that fine with me. Much more important I believe it's fine with The All Mighty also.

      May peace be with you and God bless you brother.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      iantoPF— Well, I am humbly grateful for your gracious words. I am greatly encouraged by your response to this material.

      I have read a few of your articles,also. You are a good writer.

      Thank you for visiting.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      R Burow— I surely didn't mean to tempt you! :D

      Thank you very much for taking the time to read my article and for your compliments. Always glad to hear from you.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      Vladimir Uhri— Hello to you, my brother. God is a reader of hearts and will judge each one by what they did with the knowledge they received. At least, that's my belief. :D

      Thanks for coming by.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      Sufidreamer— You are welcome. Thank you for coming by to look at it. I kind of had you in the back of mind as I was writing this because I recall you are shooting some photos over there in Greece of the churches and iconography, which I am anxious to see.

      I have heard many charges flung around by all sides, from "the Pope is the anti-Christ" to "only Catholics are going to go to heaven." It reminds me of when Paul predicted the eye might some day say to the foot, "I don't need you!" And vice versa.

      I personally believe—though I can, of course, be wrong—that all Christians are different parts of the Body of Christ, performing their different functions in different ways for different people for different reasons. hmmm . . . That's a lot of difference.

      Christian Art is my favorite art. I will check out that website in a few minutes. Thanks for the link. I am ever learning.

    • iantoPF profile image

      Peter Freeman 

      9 years ago from Pen-Bre, Cymru/Wales

      James, I can't begin to tell you how much i enjoy your hubs. though not a Christian myself I find myself in awe at the depth of your knowledge and filled with respect for your spiritual path.

    • R Burow profile image

      R Burow 

      9 years ago from Florida, United States

      James I appreciate your attention to research. Job well done on presenting all the pertinent material, and for a well written article. I will not weigh in with an opinion on this one, though I am tempted. A thought provoking hub as always.

    • Vladimir Uhri profile image

      Vladimir Uhri 

      9 years ago from HubPages, FB

      You are right Jiberish.

      One can pray to anything and believes it will happen. But it does not make it right in the God's eyes.

      Hello also to you my friend, James.

    • Sufidreamer profile image

      Sufidreamer 

      9 years ago from Sparti, Greece

      Thanks for this fascinating Hub, James - a fair and sympathetic narrative of the history of the humble icon. They are a very complex and often misunderstood part of the Orthodox tradition, so you have cleared up some of the misconceptions.

      Sadly, there are still a few Christians who level the idolatry charge but, fortunately, most are like you and understand that splitting doctrinal hairs is a theological and philosophical dead end.

      Personally, I regard them merely as fine works of art - some of the icons in the monasteries and churches here are hundreds of years old. I have a few icons around the house and find them to be relaxing.

      I know a lady who paints icons for a living, and she gave me a fascinating lecture on the reverse perspective used. There is a whole theological and metaphysical world behind the technique.

      http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2008/07/n...

      Once again, great work and a definite thumbs up :)

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      jiberish— You know, speaking personally, and not historically, I think it's alright either way as long as your heart is right. If rosary beads give you comfort, I say have at 'em. I have attended Mass in Latin; and been to Pentecostal churches where they roll in the floor—and most every type of service in between. I enjoyed and was edified by all of them. I worshiped God in all of them.

      So, I completely agree with you. Beads are beads. I do have a ton of religious art. I don't gaze at it while I am praying. But I enjoy being surrounded by it. And whatever room I am in, I am not far from being reminded what I'm here for.

      Thanks so much for coming by and leaving your wise words. I always enjoy you.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      And a pleasure to have you.

    • itakins profile image

      itakins 

      9 years ago from Irl

      James ,

      A pleasure to visit as always.

    • jiberish profile image

      jiberish 

      9 years ago from florida

      James, I went to a Catholic grade school and high school, but in 6th grade I had a wonderful Sister who believed that by saying the rosary once a day it would keep you from harm. She was the one who taught me to speak English, and encouraged me to say the rosary. I have had many interesting events happen in my life, and have come to the conclusion that it's not the icons and relics, but rather the person who believes that has or is blessed with divine presence. Just my thought. Great Hub as always.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      itakins— I agree with you. The Lord certainly instituted the Eucharist as a sacred rite. The argument of the iconophiles—not my argument—was that since the divine presence was present with the wine and bread; to which everyone agreed; the divine presence could also be present in relics and icons. I love to take Communion myself. It is my favorite part of any church service.

      I very much appreciate you elucidating the Last Supper here. That is an edifying addition to this thread. Thanks for visiting, too.

    • itakins profile image

      itakins 

      9 years ago from Irl

      James,

      'The sacraments were based on this same belief, particularly the Eucharist (Holy Communion). '

      Christ went to great pains in speaking to the people to say 'Unless you eat of the flesh of Man and drink His blood,you shall not have life in you'.Many of His disciples found this a 'hard saying' and left.He was,however, adamant on this-He asked His apostle 'Will you also go'? to which Peter replied 'To whom should we go ,Lord ? you have the message of eternal life'.The Holy Eucharist was instituted at the last supper the most solemn and poignant moment of His life,when He said 'Take this all of you and eat of it,this is my body,which shall be given up for you'.

      Trans-substantiation was the belief of all christians at that time,so therefore,the Eucharist was somewhat more than a material object with divine powers.

      Great Hub!Just some friendly fire!

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      satomko— You are welcome. Thank you for being my first visitor! I appreciate your kind comments. I'm not taking sides. :)

    • satomko profile image

      Seth Tomko 

      9 years ago from Macon, GA

      Thanks for this article. You remain academic in your exploration of a topic that frequently drives people into an intolerant frenzy.

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