October 3, 2004
Icons in the Orthodox Faith - Part 2
- Sayings of the Fathers: St. Macarius the Great of Egypt - again, on humility. Macarius was a 4th century monk, recluse (he lived alone in the desert after the fashion of St. Anthony) and a wonderworker who emphasized the need to be humble and not judge anyone - even the very worst of sinners.
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.
- Summary of last week - Introduction to Icons
- Icons are a unique hallmark of the Orthodox Faith, you'll see them in the Church and in Orthodox Christian homes, cars, portable - and we venerate, kiss them, carry them in processions - so we need to have a scriptural defense for the presence of icons in our lives and in our worship
- In Exodus God commands us not to make any "graven image" of Him who is invisible. The Israelites had a knack of worshiping idols and God wanted to prevent this - although we know that Jewish history is filled with examples of how they failed to obey Him.
- We mentioned that God however, did permit and even instructed the Jews to create images of created things in heaven and earth - the cherubim, plants and animals (bulls) for the His tabernacle and His temple. So not all images were forbidden, but depictions of the LORD Himself were forbidden. We can conclude from this and other Scriptures that God's creation is good and that man can actually learn something about God by contemplating the creation.
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."
The Struggle for Truth in the Orthodox Church
- While man was forbidden to create an image of the invisible God for worship, we must remember that Man was created in the image of God - Adam and Eve are together clearly the Icon of God. As a matter of fact, the Church teaches that all human beings are the icon of God
- "Then God said, let us make man in our image (icon), after our likeness
so God created man in his own image." (Icon) (Genesis 1:26 and 27)
- The Icon of God has been marred however, in that Adam and Eve sinned. Fallen, sinful Man is still in the image of God, but tragically, it is not the original image. IN the OT, God is dealing with sinful man prior to the "Fullness of Time" - but when the time comes - Christmas!
- The Incarnation The eternal Mystery of God is realized when God himself makes Himself into a human being, in order to show us the original image and save us so that we can become what we were intended to be. Nearly everything the Church does and says flows from this fact: Christ IS the image of the Father. He is the perfect Icon of God. And God is Human.
- Christ is the icon of God: "He is the image (icon) of the unseen God." (Col. 1:15)
- "He is the radiant light of Gods glory and the perfect copy of his nature." (Hebrews 1:3).
- "Philip said, Lord, let see us the Father and then we shall be satisfied To have seen me is to have seen the Father, so how can you say, let us see the Father." (John 14:8-11)
- Affirming the Incarnation affirming that the God-Man Jesus Christ is the perfect icon of God the Father, is perhaps the primary litmus test of Orthodox Christianity.
- 1 John 4:2,3 - By this you know the Spirit of God. Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God - this is the spirit of Antichrist
- In the Orthodox Church, the Icon is the celebration of the Incarnation and a witness against the Antichrist. In short, to the same degree that God, in the second commandment, emphatically prohibited the Jews from any futile attempt to create a material or visual likeness of Himself, the Orthodox Church, by the Holy Spirit, now encourages the creation, presence and veneration of icons as a celebration and testimony to God's incarnation as material man.
- This honor is also extended to include the commemoration of His image and likeness in the heroic men and women of the Church, the Saints, the prototypes of His sanctification and holiness unto salvation. St John of Damascus wrote:
"If you make an image of Christ, and not of the saints, it is evident that you do not forbid images, but refuse to honour the saints. You are not waging war against images but against the saints themselves." (The Defence of Icons)
- Icons were a subject of controversy for many centuries following Christ's Ascension. Not everyone - not even all the Church Fathers, felt that painting icons and incorporating them into the life and worship of the Church was the right thing to do.
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 do know that by the 4th century icons were used to aid the teaching of theology and to combat heresy. Alpha and Omega (A W) appeared on icons of Christ about this time in order to combat Arianism. Arianism had taught that Christ was created before the creation of anything else. The symbols are derived from The Book of Revelation 22:13
- Many of the Greatest of the Church Fathers including Chrysostom, Basil, Gregory and many others, affirmed the role of icons in the Church (quotes?)
- The Quinisext Council is also known as the Trullan Council, or Council in Trullo or the 5th and 6th ecumenical councils, and marks the beginning of icon theology. The most important ruling was canon 82. It forbade the use of symbolic representations of Christ. For the first time the connection was made between images of Christ and his incarnation. The theme of the incarnation was to become the very foundation of all icon theology. Canon 82 reads:
"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.
The Iconoclasts and the Seventh Ecumenical Council
- The issue of icons in the Church all came to a head in the early mid 8th Century. Because of a variety of social, political and religious forces at work in the Byzantine, Islamic and European nations, Icons were banned and destroyed, people were persecuted and killed, and for over 100 years the entire (Christian) civilized world wrestled with the question of icons. (More Detail?)
- Most of the Old Testament Scriptures we have referenced and mentioned were used to argue the iconoclast position: Exodus20, Deuteronomy 21
- Instrumental in the defense of the use of Icons during this period was St. John of Damascus a sampling of his writings:
- "From the time that God the Word became flesh He is as we are in everything except sin, and of our nature, without confusion. He has deified our flesh forever, and we are in very deed sanctified through His Godhead and the union of His flesh with it."
- "Of old, God the incorporeal and uncircumscribed was never depicted. Now, however, when God is seen clothed in flesh, and conversing with men, I make an image of the God whom I see. I do not worship matter, I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake, and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. I will not cease from honouring that matter which works my salvation. I venerate it, though not as God. How could God be born out of lifeless things? And if God's body is God by union, it is immutable. The nature of God remains the same as before, the flesh created in time is quickened by, a logical and reasoning soul."
- "If we made an image of the invisible God,  we should in truth do wrong. For it is impossible to make a statue of one who is without body, invisible, boundless, and formless. Again, if we made statues of men, and held them to be gods, worshipping them as such, we should be most impious. But we do neither. For in making the image of God, who became incarnate and visible on earth, a man amongst men through His unspeakable goodness, taking upon Him shape and form and flesh, we are not misled. We long to see what He was like. As the divine apostle says, "We see now in a glass, darkly." (I Cor. 13.12) The image, too, is a dark glass, according to the denseness of our bodies. The mind, in much travail, cannot rid itself of bodily things. Shame upon you, wicked devil, for grudging us the sight of our Lord's likeness and our sanctification through it. You would not have us gaze at His saving sufferings nor wonder at His condescension, neither contemplate His miracles nor praise His almighty power. You grudge the saints the honour God gives to them. You would not have us see their glory put on record, nor allow us to become imitators of their fortitude and faith. We will not obey your suggestions, wicked and man-hating devil."