Why Do Orthodox Christians Use Icons?

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When you walk into an Orthodox Christian Church, one of the first things you might notice is that it is filled with icons. This is in contrast to churches in other denominations, such as Protestant churches, which don’t display icons. The Greek Orthodox Church has a different view and icons are an integral part of worship. So, why do Orthodox Churches have icons anyway? Here’s more information:

Understanding What Icons Are

Orthodox Christians view icons as visual representations of the people and stories of the Bible. Webster’s Dictionary defines this type of icon as, “a conventional religious image typically painted on a small wooden panel and used in the devotions of Eastern Christians”. As mentioned above, Greek churches are filled with icons and many Orthodox Christians also display them in their homes. Orthodox Christians view icons as visual representations of God and do not believe that the images have a spiritual quality.

Painting Traditional Icons

The Apostle Luke is considered to be the first iconographer in the Orthodox tradition. Iconographers hold to some of the same methods and ideas and many of the images that he first painted are still being painted today. Typically, icons are done in a two dimensional style and are not very lifelike. This is done intentionally. Icons are created to represent Biblical events, the people of the Bible, and the saints and if they were too realistic, the concern is that they would be confused with idols, which is defined as an “object of worship” according to Webster’s Dictionary. Icons aren’t to be worshipped, they simply serve as reminders.

Venerating Icons

In addition to using icons to remind us of the stories, you may notice that Orthodox Christians pay their respects to them. Typically, the sign of the cross is made and the individual kisses the icon. If it is an icon of a person, the goal is to kiss the hand. If the icon is painted to show a scene or event from the Bible, the individual will kiss an arbitrary location. This is called “venerating” the icon and is done to show respect. This is not to be confused as a form of worship. We respect not the icon itself, but what the icon represents.

Purpose of Icons

One thing you might notice if you attend an Orthodox Church service is you might see people looking around the church throughout the service. It is natural for the mind to wander while at church. Icons can help keep the mind focused on church.

Another purpose of icons is that it can be integrated into your prayer life. Many choose to say their daily prayers in the presence of their home icons. if you choose to do this, just remember that you are not actually prayer “to” the icons, but rather using them to help keep your mind focused.

The next time you are in a Greek Orthodox Church, consider taking the time to notice the icons. They have a special purpose and are an important part of the lives of the members of the church.


OrthodoxWiki – Iconography

Wikipedia – Icon

OrthodoxWiki – Apostle Luke

The Religion section on GreekBoston.com was written by Greeks to help people understand some of the traditions of the Orthodox Christian religion, which is a religion practiced by people in countries such as Greece, Russia, United States, and other nations throughout the world. This article is not a substitute for information found in the Holy Bible or by our church fathers, priests, and other clergy members.

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