The early Church shared its wealth of faith and vision not only through the written and spoken word, but also through its art.
This sacred and splendid art steeped in tradition, that includes highly professional painting and work but writing the word of God in image, also known as "visual Theology" because it can be read and understood by all believers, including the illiterate.
An Icon is an image (usually two dimensional) of Christ, the Saints, Angels, important Biblical events, parables, or events in the history of the Church.
St. Gregory the Dialogist (Pope of Rome ca. 590-604), spoke of Icons as being Scripture to the illiterate:
"For what writing presents to readers, this a picture presents to the unlearned who behold, since in it even the ignorant see what they ought to follow; in it the illiterate read" (Epistle to Bishop Serenus of Marseilles, NPNF 2, Vol. XIII, p. 53).
To those who would suggest that this is no longer relevant in our enlightened age, let them consider the rather large functional illiteracy rate we have, and the fact that even the most literate societies always have a sizable illiterate segment... their young children.
Icons also lift up our minds from earthly things to the heavenly. St. John of Damascus wrote, "we are led by perceptible Icons to the contemplation of the divine and spiritual" (PG 94:1261a). And by keeping their memory before us through the Icons, we are also inspired to imitate the holiness of those therein depicted. St. Gregory of Nyssa (ca 330-395) spoke of how he could not pass an Icon of Abraham sacrificing Isaac "without tears" (PG 46:572). Commenting on this, it was noted at the Seventh Œcumenical Synod, "If to such a Doctor the picture was helpful and drew forth tears, how much more in the case of the ignorant and simple will it bring compunction and benefit" (NPNF2, Vol 14, p. 539).
Each Icon tells the history of the Faith and provide a glimpse into eternity…
Icons: Windows into Heaven
Do Orthodox Christians pray to Icons?
Christians pray in the presence of Icons (just as Israelites prayed in the presence of Icons in the Temple), but we do not pray to the image.
Do Orthodox Christians Worship Icons?
Orthodox Christians do not worship Icons. We do venerate them for what they represent.
Doesn't the 2nd Commandment forbid Icons?
The issue with respect to the 2nd commandment is what does the word translated "graven images" mean? If it simply means carved images, then the images in the temple would be in violation of this Commandment. Our best guide, however, to what Hebrew words mean, is what they meant to Hebrews—and when the Hebrews translated the Bible into Greek, they translated this word simply as "eidoloi", i.e. "idols." Furthermore the Hebrew word pesel is never used in reference to any of the images in the temple. So clearly the reference here is to pagan images rather than images in general.