Our Life in Christ:
October 3, 2004
Icons in the Orthodox Faith - Part 2
This is the mark of Christianity--however much a man toils, and however many righteous deeds he performs, to feel that he has done nothing, and in fasting to say, "This is not fasting," and in praying, "This is not prayer," and in perseverance at prayer, "I have shown no perseverance; I am only just beginning to practice and to take pains"; and even if he is righteous before God, he should say, "I am not righteous, not I; I do not take pains, but only make a beginning every day.
We also mentioned that, even in non-Orthodox Churches, certain objects, and images are used as religious symbols and are indeed given honor: Bibles, the Cross, the Dove (Holy Spirit), the communion bread and wine. Christians are zealous to prevent these objects and symbols from being desecrated or profaned by the unbeliever because of what they represent. This is especially true of the written Word of Scripture - because all true Christians believe that the Scripture is indeed a inspired, yet graven image of truth about God. But we would affirm with St. Basil the truth that:
"What the word transmits through the ear, that painting silently shows through the image."
There are two views of the origin of icons; the non Orthodox, or critical view sees them as the Hellenising and paganising of Christianity, which is dated from about the 4th century. Critics of Icons point to church fathers who condemned images; such as Origen (186-255), Tertullian (160-240), Eusebius (265-399) and Clement of Alexandria (150-216). They also point to the Council of Elvira, in Spain 300-303 which forbade the use of images in worship, but that was local to Spain and Southern Europe, and not considered an ecumenical council of the whole Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church defends the early origin of icons by claiming many of these people did not remain Orthodox and therefore do not represent the teachings of the Church.
"We decreed that henceforth Christ our God be represented in His human form, and not in the ancient form of the lamb. We understand this to be the elevation of the humility of God the Word, and we are made to remember his life in the flesh."
The Council decreed that lambs or fish or other things in creation should no longer be used as symbols to represent Christ. The reason for banning images of Christ as a lamb, etc., was because the period of Old Testament pre-figurations of Christ is now over, we have had the full revelation of God in human form.