The autor tries to present an up-to-date understanding of Orthodox teaching about icons. There are several thematic cycles.
The veneration of icons in the Orthodox Church is one of the essential characteristics of her believers’ pertaining to lutuirgical and private life of prayer. This veneration of icons has its ups and downs in the Church’s history. Nowadays we experience a deep crisis of „iconodoulia” (because of the materialistic spirit of our age, because of the iconoclastic sects, a secular interpretation of history of arts, a hedonistic mentality of our generation, etc.) Our contemporary theology ought to present the truth about icons, and make it understandable to the modern world.
Theological studies of iconography deal with its history, typology of the sacred painting and aesthetic formation. Painting of icons exists since the very beginning of Christianity as a direct expression of the incarnation of Logos. The historic development of the Christian iconography (its symbolism, Byzantine period, modern times) contains a modification of a seed which grew from the beginning of the Church. This modification, however, does not relativize the value of icon, but it rather puts it into the flux of time and space. Typology of iconpainting (Christ, Virgin Mary, angels, saints) witnesses to the inchangeability of the original figures, which stand as the projection of the archetype upon the painted image (icon). The icon is therefore an eschatological transposition of the archetype mediating the actual presence of the prototype. That is the reacon why the figures of the saints should not be painted arbitrarily, but according to the strict rules (written in Hermeneia and elsewhere). Creativity in the act of iconpaintdng is seen in the evernew vision and presentation of the original saint’s figure to a contemporary believer. Painting of an icon is not ,a sheer copying, but a lifegiving pictorial anticipation of a meeting with the depicted saint. The importance of the artist is linked with his degree of inspiration, since ,he tries to make accessible the inaccessible celestial figure of the saint, by the way of his artistic skill.
The iconoclastic stuggle In Byzantium between 716 and 842 aimed not only to remove the icons from churches and homes but the goal of the iconoclastic emperors was to put the Church out of the reality of this world. -They wanted to reduce the mystery of Christ’s incarnation and its impact upon this world which is manifested through the icons’ miraculous influence.
The Seventh Ecumenical Council (787) expressed the self-conscience of the Church and gave instructions for the further iconological achievements. It stated that the image (icon) bears witness to the presence of the prototype depicted on it. The image and prototype should be distinguished but not separated. The inner value of the icon is not only above portraitistic and photographic arts but even above a mere symbolism, because Christ’s incarnation was not a symbolic one and the very basis of iconography is the Incarnation of God. An icon is not an object of veneration by itself, but because of the figure depicted on it, ultimately because of Christ-God Incarnate Who is the only worthy of worship and veneration. Thus the veneration of an icon depends on its link with its prototype. Henceforth the Orthodox veneration of icons (praying in front of them, kissing them, incensing and lighting candles before them) is theologically quite justified.
The sacredness of the icon comes to its full expression trough its wonder-making influence. A material icon radiates invisible spiritual energies. Thus the icon is one of God’s means for salvation and deification. The visibility of the icon points first of all to its aesthetic comprehensibility and, then, its ethical impact. Looking at the icon is not a mere naturalistic watching, but a spiritual participation in the heavenly reality. Hence the ethical transfiguration of the believer who contemplates. This transfigurating function of the icon is possible only in the Church where deifying energies of the Holy Spirit are at work. The influence of the icons spreads into three fields: liturgical, kerygmatic and wonder-making (healing of the sick and other miraculous help). Therefore putting an icon into a museum hinders even the aesthetic understanding of it. To the exclusively profane approach the icon is incomprehensible both by its content and its form.
The veneration of icons shares the destiny of the Church in this world. Whoever denied the icon as a sacral image, denied also the Church as the spiritual Body of Chist. The icon is the visible side of the invisible God, Who dwells in his saints. That is the christological justification of the iconodoulia in the Church.