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DEFENSE OF THE FAITH 
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WHY DO WE VENERATE IKONS?
 
Dear Orthodox Brethren,

        I would ask your patience and indulgence as I examine the Orthodox Faith and seek to understand it better.  I thank you for this excellent Web Site which shall give me many hours of fruitful study.

        The 7th Ecumenical Council declared an anathema upon all those who refuse to venerate or use icons  in their  worship.    I asked the question "why?" in another forum and was told that it probably had to do with the fact that the iconoclasts were also those who denied the Godhood of our Lord Jesus Christ.  As such,  the protection of icon veneration was considered to be also the protection of Christ's divinity.

        Is there any truth to this?   It also seems to me that for a subject so vitally important,  Holy Scripture is notoriously silent on this subject.  It strikes me (and please do not take offense to this) that it is much the same as the Roman Catholic insistence upon the Immaculate Conception,  which also receives no support from Scripture.  Therefore, in lacking support from Holy Writ,  why could this not be a matter of conscience?

        I ask this not as one unfamiliar with the practice.  I have been visiting Christ the Savior Holy Orthodox Church in Harrisburg PA and have made reverence to the icons of Christ,  Mary of Egypt, etc.   I realize for myself that what I am doing is no more than the hug of respect and love I give to fellow Christians upon seeing them.   Yet I understand the hesitancy of those who cannot follow such custom.   I also at this time am a member of the Reformed Episcopal church which does not hold to such practice.   According to the 7th Council,  I am to be anathematized for this.    Where is liberty of conscience as per Romans 14 in this?

        If this was indeed a matter of  protecting the divinity of our Lord, then I certainly understand the desire of this council and applaud it.  But there are many churches today which recognize His divinity yet are uncomfortable with the practice of icon veneration?


 
 
Dear  Ed,

          Why must we venerate icons? 

  1. The declaration of the Spirit-inspired 7th Ecumenical Council;
  2. The icon belongs to the Holy Tradition, reaching even to the Old Testament; 
  3. The icon involves "the communion of the Saints," that is, the unity of the earthly and heavenly Church.  Put another way, the Church has two dimensions, even as Christ has two natures.  The two natures, therefore, the two dimensions are joined without confusion or separation.  So, the "saints" of earthly Church have access to the "saints" of  the heavenly Church, and the heavenly Church shares in the life of the earthly Church.  This true is most evident at the Liturgy where heavenly and earthly Church offer together a "sacrifice of praise" to God the Father in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.  We are made aware of the heavenly Church through the icons.
Thus, when we venerate the icon,  the honor passes to the Prototypes.

          During the Iconoclastic period, the Monophysites forbade the veneration of icons, because, as they said, Christ has only one Nature: the humanity and Divinity of Christ form one Nature.  Icons cannot depict the Divinity Christ, so they cannot depict the humanity of Christ which is mingled with it; therefore, icons may not be painted.

          Nestorians opposed the painting of icons because, as they said, the two Natures of Christ are divided.  So, painting  Christ would involve only His human Nature; but Christ is both human and Divine ; and icons, consequently, Nestorians say, we must not be paint them because they can only capture His humanity.  And Christ is more than His
humanity. 

          The Fathers teach, following the Council of Chalcedon, that the humanity and Divinity are joined and, therefore, to have the one is to have the other.  This is the nature of the Incarnation: one Person recognized in two natures. Similarly, the icon epitomizes the Incarnation.

          "Churches" uncomfortable with the icon are "monophysite" or "nestorian" in their christological perspective; indeed, in their world-view. 

          "Liberty of conscience"?  Icons are the Will of God.  You want to the "liberty" to accept or reject His Will.  Do you want the "liberty" to deny that 2 plus 2 is 4? Where does Romans 14 allow you to dispute with the Truth of the Church, that is, with the Holy Spirit Who guides her into all Truth?

          There is more to the "theology of the icon" than some think. 
 Love in Our Lord,

         Your own unworthy priest,
          Fr. Michael Azkoul