In Praise of Icons  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Today our Eastern Orthodox friends celebrate the First Sunday of Great Lent, also known as the Sunday of Orthodoxy or the Triumph of Orthodoxy.  It is preeminently an affirmation of the role of icons in Christian life, following the long and debilitating struggle over iconoclasm.  An informative reference to the subject can be found here on the site of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North America.

Below can be found a quote from the decrees of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (Nicea, 787), which summarizes the Eastern Christian teaching on icons quite succinctly.


We define that the holy icons, whether in color, mosaic, or some other material, should be exhibited in the holy churches of God, on the sacred vessels and liturgical vestments, on the walls, furnishings, and in houses and along the roads, namely the icons of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ, that of our Lady the Theotokos, those of the venerable angels and those of all saintly people.  Whenever these representations are contemplated, they will cause those who look at them to commemorate and love their prototype.  We define also that they should be kissed and that they are an object of veneration and honor (proskynesis), but not of real worship (latreia), which is reserved for Him who is the subject of our faith and is proper for the divine nature.  The veneration accorded to an icon is in effect transmitted to the prototype; he who venerates the icon, venerates in it the reality for which it stands.

This entry was posted on Sunday, March 4, 2012 at Sunday, March 04, 2012 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


I remember, before I visited an Orthodox parish for the first time back in high school, being cautioned by one of my parish's curates not to kiss the icons."That's not for you," he said. This has puzzled me, because this priest seemed pretty knowledgeable of and open to EO spirituality in other areas. I wonder if it was because of the traditional Anglican privileging of the first four Ecumenical Councils left him cold to the Seventh, or was it that he thought we should venerate icons but he saw kissing an object as somehow a non-Anglican form of veneration?

March 8, 2012 at 8:45 AM

I don't kiss icons but see nothing wrong with it. Your curate was a weenie.

March 8, 2012 at 7:09 PM
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March 8, 2012 at 7:10 PM

Well, come to think of it, he was something of a weenie...

My later stint in Orthodoxy got me over any reluctance to kiss stuff - icons, Gospels, crosses, relics, priests' hands, you name it, I'll kiss it, even when I'm not supposed to (I've read that you're not supposed to venerate icons after receiving Holy Communion, but in the parishes I attended that seemed to be a rule more honored in the breach than in the observance).

March 9, 2012 at 1:58 PM

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