Friday, April 15, 2016

Venerating Icons – An Ancient Tradition

Icons maintain a significant part in the practice and worship of every Orthodox faithful. This is gradually moving to the Western churches, who wish to revisit the ancient ecclesiastical practice and tradition. However, venerating icons is not an innovation of the Church after Pentecost. St John of Damascus gives an interesting exegesis of how this existed since the beginning of creation. The English below uses the word image; however the ancient Greek version has the word εικόνα (icon). St John of Damascus claims:

 ‘That this invention off images and their veneration is nothing new, but an ancient tradition of the Church, accept from a host of scriptural and patristic sayings. In the sacred Gospel according to Matthew, the Lord said these things to his disciples, blessing also with them all who would take them as their model, and follow their footsteps: “ Blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. Amen I say to you, that many prophets and just people longed to see what you see, and did not see, and hear what you hear, and did not hear” [Matt 13:16-17]. We also therefore long to see what it is possible to see, “for we see puzzling reflections in a mirror,” [1 Cor. 13:12] and we are blessed in the image. God Himself first made an image and showed us images, for he made human kind in accordance with the image of God. And Abraham and Moses and Isaias and all the prophets saw images of God and not the very being of God. The [burning] bush is an image of the Divine Mother, and God said to Moses when he was about to approach it, “Loose the sandals from your feet, for the ground, on which you stand, is holy ground.” [Exodus 3:5].If, therefore, the ground on which the image of the Mother of God was seen by Moses is holy ground, how much more is the image itself? For not only holy, but, dare I say it, also the holy of holies. The Lord was asked by the Pharisees, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” And he answered, “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” [Matt 19:7-8]. And I say to you, that Moses, on account of the hardness of heart of the sons of Israel, ordered them not to make images, for he knew their tendency to slip into idolatry. But now it is not so; we stand securely on the rock of faith enriched by the light og the knowledge of God.’ (Treatise II, On the Divine Images, 20). 

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