Gleanings from Orthodox Christian Authors and the Holy Fathers

icons

15 Entries

...Just as words edify the ear, so also the image stimulates the eye. What the book is to the literate, the image is to the illiterate. Just as words speak to the ear, so the image speaks to the sight; it brings us understanding. For this reason God ordered the ark to be constructed of wood which would not decay, and to be gilded outside and in, and for the tablets to be placed inside, with Aaron's staff and the golden urn containing the manna, in order to provide a remembrance of the past, and an image of the future.

Who can say that these were not images, heralds sounding from far off? ...Obviously they were not adored for their own sake, but through them the people were led to remember the wonders of old and to worship God, the worker of wonders. They were images serving as memorials; they were not divine, but led to the remembrance of divine power. St. John of Damascus: On the Holy Images



A wise physician does not prescribe the same kind of medicine for all, or for the same patient at all times, but according to his condition. He distinguishes the place, the kind of sickness, the time and the age of the patient..." God, being "an excellent physician of souls," acts in the same manner. He forbade the making and veneration of images "to those who were spiritually in an infantile state and were suffering from the disease of idolatry, even considering the idols to be gods and worshipping them as gods, abandoning the worship of God and offering to creation the glory due to God." St. John of Damascus, quoted in Cavarnos, Guide to Byzantine Iconography

Byzantine iconography is a sacred art. It is an art that is spiritual in essence and aims. It has seven functions: (1) To enhance the beauty of a church with a beauty that has the impress of holiness. (2) To instruct us in matters pertaining to the Orthodox Christian faith. (3) To remind us of this teaching. (4) To lift us up to the prototypes, to the holy personages whom the icons depict. (5) To arouse us to imitate the virtues of these personages. (6) To help transform us, to sanctify us. (7) To serve as a means of worshipping God and venerating His saints. Introduction to Guide to Byzantine Iconography, V. 1, by Constantine Cavarnos

For if the people go forth with lights and incense to meet the images of the Emperors when they are sent to cites or rural districts, they honor surely not the tablet covered over with wax, but the Emperor himself. How much more it is necessary that in the churches of Christ our God, the image of God our Saviour and of His spotless Mother and of all the holy and blessed fathers and ascetics should be painted. Even as also St. Basil says: 'Writers and painters set forth the great deeds of war; the one by word, the other by their pencils; and each stirs many to courage. How much pains have you ever taken that you might find one of the Saints who was willing to be your importunate intercessor to the Lord?' Bishop Theodosius, Extracts from the Acts of the 7th Ecumenical Council

If you speak of pagan abuses, these abuses do not make our veneration of images loathsome. Blame the pagans, who made images into gods! Just because the pagans used them in a foul way, that is no reason to object to our pious practice. Sorcerers and magicians use incantations and the Church prays over catechumens; the former conjure up demons while the Church calls upon God to exorcise the demons. Pagans make images of demons which they address as gods, but we make images of God incarnate, and of His servants and friends, and with them we drive away the demonic hosts....If the Scripture says, The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of men's hands (Ps. 135:15), it is not forbidden to bow before inanimate things, or the handiwork of men, but only before those images which are the devil's work. St. John of Damascus: On the Holy Images

In former times God, who is without form or body, could never be depicted. But now when God is seen in the flesh conversing with men, I make an image of the God whom I see. I do not worship matter; I worship the Creator of matter who became matter for my sake, who willed to take His abode in matter; who worked out my salvation through matter. Never will I cease honoring the matter which wrought my salvation! I honor it, but not as God. How could God be born out of things which have no existence in themselves? God's body is God because it is joined to His person by a union which shall never pass away. The divine nature remains the same; the flesh created in time is quickened by a reason endowed soul. Because of this I salute all remaining matter with reverence, because God has filled it with His grace and power. Through it my salvation has come to me. Was not the thrice-happy and thrice blessed wood of the Cross matter? What of the life bearing rock, the holy and life-giving tomb, the fountain of our resurrection, was it not matter? Is not the ink in the most holy Gospel-book matter? Is not the life-giving altar made of matter? From it we receive the bread of life! Are not gold and silver matter? From them we make crosses, patens, chalices! And over and above all these things, is not the Body and Blood of our Lord matter? Either do away with the honor and veneration these things deserve, or accept the tradition of the Church and the veneration of images... St. John of Damascus: On the Holy Images

Let the icons of the saints bring to your mind how many intercessors you have always praying for you before God, and how many allies fighting for you in your unceasing battles. Having themselves courageously fought the enemies throughout their lives and overcome them, they have revealed and shown you the art of waging war. If, with their help, you are alert in fighting your battles, you will, like them, be crowned with victory in the eternal glory of heaven. Lorenzo Scupoli (Unseen Warfare: Chapter 23)

Often, doubtless, when we have not the Lord's passion in mind and see the image of Christ's crucifixion, His saving passion is brought back to remembrance, and we fall down and worship not the material but that which is imaged: just as we do not worship the material of which the Gospels are made, nor the material of the Cross, but that which these typify. For wherein does the cross, that typifies the Lord, differ from a cross that does not do so? It is just the same also in the case of the Mother of the Lord. For the honor which we give to her is referred to Him Who was made of her incarnate. And similarly also the brave acts of holy men stir us up to be brave and to emulate and imitate their valor and to glorify God. For as we said, the honor that is given to the best of fellow-servants is a proof of good-will towards our common Lady, and the honor rendered to the image passes over to the prototype. But this is an unwritten tradition, just as is also the worshipping towards the East and the worship of the Cross, and very many other similar things. St. John of Damascus, Exposition of the Orthodox Faith

Since the invisible One became visible by taking on flesh, you can fashion the image of Him whom you saw. Since He who has neither body, nor form, nor quantity, nor quality, who goes beyond all grandeur by the excellence of His nature, He, being of divine nature, took on the condition of a slave and reduced Himself to quantity and to quality by clothing Himself in human features. Therefore, paint on wood and present for contemplation Him who desired to become visible. St. John of Damascus, On the Divine Images

Some would say: Make an image of Christ and of His Mother, the Theotokos, and let that be enough. What foolishness! Your own impious words prove that you utterly despise the saints. If you make an image of Christ, and not of the saints, it is evident that you do not forbid images, but refuse to honor the saints. You make images of Christ as one who is glorified, yet you deprive the saints of their rightful glory, and call truth falsehood. The Lord says, I will glorify those who glorify Me (1 Sam. 2:30)....The Scripture calls the saints gods, when it says, God has taken His place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods He holds judgment (Ps. 82:1). St. Gregory interprets these words to mean that God takes His place in the assembly of the saints, determining the glory due to each. The saints during their earthly lives were filled with the Holy Spirit, and when they fulfill their course, His grace continues to abide with their spirits and with their bodies in the tombs, and also with their likenesses and holy images, not by the nature of these things, but by grace and power. St. John of Damascus: On the Holy Images

The holy Basil says: "Both painters of words and painters of pictures illustrate valor in battle; the former by the art of rhetoric; the latter by clever use of the brush, and both encourage everyone to be brave. A spoken account edifies the ear, while a silent picture induces imitation. St. John of Damascus: On the Holy Images

Things which have already taken place are remembered by means of images, whether for the purpose of inspiring wonder, or honor, or shame, or to encourage those who look upon them to practice good and avoid evil. These images are of two kinds: either they are words written in books, as when God had the law engraved on tablets and desired the lives of holy men to be recorded, or else they are material images, such as the jar of manna, or Aaron's staff, which were to be kept in the ark as a memorial. So when we record events and good deeds of the past, we use images .... St. John of Damascus: On the Holy Images

Typically, only Christ, Moses, and Elias are shown with halos in icons that depict the Transfiguration. In some, the disciples, too, have halos. This, however, is not proper, for they are not yet at this stage Saints, persons filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit, as is evinced plainly by the fact that they could not endure seeing the Divine light steadily, but were dazed and fell down to the ground. Moses and Elias, on the other hand, show themselves to have attained sainthood, because they could behold the Divine glory without being blinded by it and falling to the ground: they stand up on their feet in a peaceful, graceful and reverential attitude. Constantine Cavarnos, Guide to Byzantine Iconography, F. 1

What distinguishes stylistically the works of Byzantine iconography from those of classical art which also have these features [simplicity, clarity, measure, grace, symmetry] is above all the quality of `hieraticalness' - the spiritual solemnity, the sanctity which emanates from its figures. This is expressed not only by their halos, but also by their facial expression, their postures, their gestures, their garments. The hieratic manner in which they are depicted gives expression to the Christian virtues of purity, long-suffering, forgiveness, compassion, spiritual knowledge, and spiritual love. Constantine Cavarnos, Guide to Byzantine Iconography, V. I

What more conspicuous proof do we need that images are the books of the illiterate, the never silent heralds of the honor due the saints, teaching without use of words those who gaze upon them, and sanctifying the sense of sight? Suppose I have few books, or little leisure for reading, but walk into the spiritual hospital--that is to say, a church -- with my soul choking from the prickles of thorny thoughts, and thus afflicted I see before me the brilliance of the icon. I am refreshed as if in a verdant meadow, and thus my soul is led to glorify God... St. John of Damascus: On the Holy Images





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