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Author Topic: Status of Icons in OO Churches  (Read 3046 times) Average Rating: 0
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« on: February 20, 2005, 10:18:48 PM »

What is the status of Icons among the Oriental Orthodox???  I have read that they do not have the same place as Icons in EO churches, if they are there at all.  I just wanted to get a first hand perspective from those who actually know.

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« Reply #1 on: February 20, 2005, 10:45:12 PM »

IMO, since the OO Christians never had to deal with the problem/heresy of iconoclasm, icons do not have the same place in OOxy as they do in EOxy.  In the latter, I think icons became so much more important after the Triumph of Orthodoxy to the point where icons are sorta mandatory--I don't think I could imagine it without icons.  I don't think they can imagine it without icons either.  A friend tells the story of an incident during a class here at school.  In one of the classrooms, they were about to start the lecture with a prayer, but when everyone turned to the corner where the icons usually are, they found bare walls: they were taken down while the room was being cleaned and/or repainted.  The priest looked everywhere for the icons, and wanted to find them before starting the prayer.  This went on for a couple of minutes, I guess.  Afterwards, an Indian friend remarked to some other friends over lunch "What's wrong with these people?!  They can't pray without icons?!"  Smiley

Our churches have icons, and our people have icons in their homes.  However, depending on the Church, they will be emphasised more or less.  Copts and Ethiopians have icons, and their churches sometimes remind me structurally of Byzantine churches to an extent, iconostasis and all.  Armenians, Syrians, and Indians tend to emphasise icons less, and may not have as many icons in the church--some churches in India that I've seen have only one or two.  I'll let the Copts here answer for how, if at all, they venerate icons.  Among Indians, I think you'd more likely find people venerating the Cross or the Gospels than venerating icons in Russian style.  It's just not customary, in my experience, although I don't think anyone would have a problem with it.  Given exposure, they might even do it themselves.  For instance, having attended EO churches for a while (when I was in college, now at seminary, etc.), I do it.  However, with reference to the story above, icons are not as strict a necessity for us (I've seen people pray in rooms without icons...any "crisis" is over figuring out what direction is East), since we've never had any issue with them, one way or the other.         
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« Reply #2 on: February 21, 2005, 01:02:18 AM »

Well I am not OO, but I would like to make some observations.

When I was in Egypt ('92 or '93 can't recall) I was impressed that the Coptic churches were so similar to Byzantine ones with respect to the iconostasis replete with icons. I remember being in a church and a young man came in and knelt before the curtain (the royal doors) and took the image of the Theotokos (IIRC) embroidered on the curtain and kissed it. Obviously he was venerating it.

Also I was blessed to witness HH Pope Shenouda bless the iconscreen of a church in S NJ last summer. He anointed the icons and when he anointed each the women started ululating. Obviously the icons have some importance.

Like Mor points out above there was no iconoclasm struggle in the OO churches. Reactions to turmoil mark theologies strongly, events like iconoclasm in the Byzantine Empire and the Reformation in the West have left indelible marks on the respective theologies. Things needed to be said so they were (or at least perceived as needed to be said). My hunch is that if you pinned someone down in the churches that have more icons like those of Alexandrian heritage, they would pretty much agree with the Byzantine position.

Just some thoughts from an outsider.

T
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« Reply #3 on: February 21, 2005, 02:15:26 AM »

Actually, some of us OO did have to deal with iconoclasts.  It is argued that the first defense of Holy Images ("Surp-a-badger" in Armenian) came from an Armenian Church Father, over a century before that of St. John of Damascus.  If you go to the following link:

http://www.geocities.com/derghazar/symbol.html

and click on the article #  7  "The Iconoclasts and the Armenian Church"

you can learn about this.
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« Reply #4 on: February 21, 2005, 11:11:45 AM »

Actually, some of us OO did have to deal with iconoclasts. It is argued that the first defense of Holy Images ("Surp-a-badger" in Armenian) came from an Armenian Church Father, over a century before that of St. John of Damascus. If you go to the following link:

http://www.geocities.com/derghazar/symbol.html

and click on the article # 7 "The Iconoclasts and the Armenian Church"

you can learn about this.


That's very intersting.  Thank you.  Now, iconoclasm as a government policy seems to have been implemented by Leo (the Isaurian) IIRC.  My understanding was that it was within the Byzantine Empire. 

When you say the Armenian Church had to deal with iconoclasts do you mean theologically or in the political sense?

T
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« Reply #5 on: February 21, 2005, 12:18:23 PM »

Dear T,

I know for certain that there were iconoclastic elements within the Armenian Church that had to be dealt with on the theological level (hence the above mentioned work), but I am uncertain about any political dimensions of iconoclasm in Armenia. I'll see what I can dig up on this question. I'm thinking that the Paulicians might've been iconoclasts, if so, then there probably were political ramifications in Armenia. But I'll check.
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« Reply #6 on: February 21, 2005, 02:12:17 PM »

There is the influence of Church of the East in India.  Even fathers of the Orthodox church taught that only the Cross should be used. 

The Church of the East does not use Icons. But they use Cross and venerate relics.  "The Assyrian Church's Bishop Mar Bawai Soro explained that in the early centuries the Assyrian Church did have iconography, and does not object to iconography today, but the tradition was lost during many centuries of isolation amid an overwhelming Muslim majority."  (The Ukrainian Weekly, September 26, 1999, No. 39, Vol. LXVII)

Currently, within the Indian Orthodox, the theological seminary is doing a great deal of work towards promoting the use of Orthodox Icons. There are books written by theological scholars on the importance of Icons. Also there are trained Iconographers.  In Indian Churches, it is customary to have 2n +1 (n >= 0)  altars in a church. One altar is always dedicated to St. Mary (one to the left of main altar, i.e. right side of the priest when he faces the congregation) with an Icon or image of St. Mary installed inside the altar. The second altar is dedicated either to Apostle Thomas or one of the other Indian saints.  In most parishes there is an image of St. Mary and St. Thomas.

-Paul
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« Reply #7 on: February 21, 2005, 07:40:47 PM »

Peace,
in the Coptic Church, we venerate icons very much and icons have an important place in our spiritual life and practice, but because we had never had tp deal with an iconoclast heresy, there is no much literature that defends the use of icons. We had to endure a lot of persecution and bringing down of churches for our veneration of icons, for this in Islam is idolatry. But never did we cease to use icons. It is sad (and ironic) that in the beginning of the 1900's, when the Protestant movement started in Upper Egypt, the small number of converts made raids on Coptic churches to bring down the icons and they damaged a dozen churches in Assiot, Upper Egypt.

There is a certain pattern for use of icons inside the church. The icon holder, between the altar and the chorus, has on the right hand side (observer facing the altar) an icon of the Lord Christ, on the left hand side an icon of the Theotokos carrying the incarnate God and Lord Jesus Christ. The altar is consecrated in the name of the Lord Christ and a saint, and the icon for this saint is next to the Theotokos.
Then comes and icon of St.Mark the Evangelist, the beholder of God. The 12 disciples are divided on both sides of the altar on the holder.
I believe the rest of the icons can be chosen from other saints without specific traditional rules, but I am not sure. Usually the Fathers of the Coptic Church and the monastic life will be added, and spmetimes the icon of Archangel Micheal stepping on the devil or Gabriel in the announciation or any St.John the Baptist will be added.

Icons play a very important role in the life of Copts. We carry them in our wallets, we have them in our homes, and we pray in front of them seeking their intercession (if saints) or praying to Lord in front of his crucifixion icon or any other icon that depicts Him. Many miracles have happened from icons that are reported in the Coptic tradition.

Coptic iconology is also interesting to study, for the icons have a certain style that is different than the Byzantine, although it is not unusual to have Byzantine style in Coptic Churches, specially in the Americas and Europe.

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« Reply #8 on: February 22, 2005, 04:12:16 PM »

Peace,
in the Coptic Church, we venerate icons very much and icons have an important place in our spiritual life and practice, but because we had never had tp deal with an iconoclast heresy, there is no much literature that defends the use of icons. We had to endure a lot of persecution and bringing down of churches for our veneration of icons, for this in Islam is idolatry. But never did we cease to use icons.

It is the stress of the Coptic Church on faith that helped the Church to survive Islamic domination. It is a great example to all OO churches. If the stress is on unimportant issues, the Church will be affected in the long run. 

Peace

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« Reply #9 on: February 24, 2005, 05:47:55 PM »

Our churches have icons, and our people have icons in their homes. However, depending on the Church, they will be emphasised more or less. Copts and Ethiopians have icons, and their churches sometimes remind me structurally of Byzantine churches to an extent, iconostasis and all. Armenians, Syrians, and Indians tend to emphasise icons less, and may not have as many icons in the church--


I think that our Oriental Orthodox relaxed approach to Icons is problematic. Since we do not have any systematic and unified dogma about Icons, other than that we can use them, I think that we are a bit vulnerable to the cultural and hence theological influence of western imported paintings. If we do not explicitly state what we stand for then our chances for falling for trends and innovations is multiplied.

Icons are not simply nice paintings or pictures. It is true that it is liturgically important for the Church to look heavenly and beautiful and good Icons are an important part of that. It is also true that in Christianity Icons have always had the function of teaching orthodox principles by visual means (in the beginning because books were not available in big numbers and even if they were most people couldn’t read).

For instance: traditionally, when children are taught mistere sellasie (the Mystery of the Trinity) it is taught using the Icon of the Trinity (from the Church in Lalibela and based on the three Old Men that visited Abraham). It is supposed to be painted with them all sitting on the same throne and all holding one globe to show that they are all united in their authority and their Godhead. But what is signified when someone loosely paints the Icon and has them all sitting on different chairs and doing different things? Worst still, what does it mean when the painting is a western import with an old Father, a young Son, and a bird Holy Spirit (even if that was one of the earthly manifestations of the Son and the Spirit)?

I have no quarrels that Michelangelo’s paintings are fine pieces of art and in some cases are inspiring (and Mel Gibson’s incorporation of that scenery into “The Passion” was another brilliant accomplishment); but what role do they have in an Orthodox Church? Are they not better suited for ones private collection or home decoration?

Byzantine Orthodox seem to be very clear that you do not show the vital organs of Christ on any Icons. So what good is it doing us when we allow Italian imported paintings of Christ with an exposed heart, with piercing vines wrapped around it?
 
It is disheartening to see some of our Churches in America totally without traditional and theological Icons and in their place a bunch of Renaissance paintings that one of the Deacons picked up at the flea market!

I am not complaining about “Pews vs. No Pews” or “Torch and Candle vs. Electric Light”—to the contrary theologically orthodox and consistent Icons are life or death. You let heterodox concepts creep into the Iconography you end up with heterodox beliefs.
 
In Ethiopia there is a special review board that reviews tapes of Orthodox “Music” before they are released to the public. If the theology and the hymnography are Orthodox then the stamp of approval of the Church is given, if not then it is not. Obviously our fathers understand that modern egocentric Protestant music is not healthy for Orthodoxy. Plus the danger of someone being intrigued by that snappy Protestant gospel music that you can dance to and wishing to incorporate it into traditional Orthodox music is too great to ignore.

Is Iconography any less important than music? If not then why have we not acted?

To the very least our Bishops should get together and ensure that we all commit to guard the theological expression of our traditional Icons and move away from flea market imports.

The necessity of a firm theology on Icons is not just to defend Tradition against the mumblings of Protestants and Islam. It is also to ensure that non-orthodox concepts do not creep into the Church and the role of Icons in Christian praxis remains solid. Otherwise we have “art for art’s sake” and not Orthodoxy.
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« Reply #10 on: February 25, 2005, 04:04:24 PM »

Peace Aklie Semaet,
Let us differentiate between two issues:

a- Acceptance of icons and refuse of iconoclast movement.
b- Rules on how to draw an icon.

For point a, there is no relaxed approach on venerating icons among OO churches, at least not the ones I have dealt with and visited their churches. The reason why is very simple. The iconoclast relied on two points:

- They thought that venerating icons is a pagan practice, which is a silly argument that does not need a lot of proofs to be refuted.
- The other argument is not as silly, but has its roots in other heresies, Nestorianism and Monophysite heresy. As St.Philoxenous of Mabbugh noticed in his writings, both heresies are in fact similar in many aspects, even though they seem on two different ends of the spectrum. They both deny the incarnation in general, and as such would object to making an icon of the Lord Christ, and he would be treated like The Holy Person of the Father in icons, namely, he is not in any icons.
This point is readily refuted if the Church has the right understanding of Christology and that would take care of allowing iconoclast to spread. The refutation would be to refer to the writings of St.Athanasius, St.Cyril and St.Severus and any church father who has enlightened us with his teachings on Christology.

In either cases, the OO did have the right understanding from the beginning on the difference between paganism and icons, and had the Nature of Christ perfectly understood from the beginning.

On point b, the rules for icon drawing, there are rules in the Coptic Orthodox Church for example, and I believe the Syrian and Ethiopian church have the same. Few times the Bishop or Pope did not consecrate an icons with the Holy Miron because it has an error. Any icon that shows the Father as an old man, or as a man period is rejected. This was an icon introduced by the JW and Adventists and was banned from all bookstores in the Coptic Church.

I totally agree with you that all foreign icons should be banned, but not because of their style, rather because of a theological error. The same goes for music as well.
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« Reply #11 on: February 26, 2005, 11:50:19 AM »

Dear Brother Aklie,

I think you make a very important point. Holy Images are a part of the Holy Tradition of the Church and cannot therefore be subject to change at the whim of any so-called "artist." They are not mere art, as you have said, they are also theological statements. In the Armenian Church, we have the same problem you mention of western paintings infiltrating our Churches. Our Mother See, Holy Etchmiadzeen, in recent years has called for a revival of our historic approach to Holy Images. I believe a school or movement was established in this vain to help resurect what has almost become a lost or forgotten "art."

I'm happy to hear Starvo report that there are indeed Canons reglulating the Holy Images in our OO Churches as well. Perhaps they are just not being followed by some. I would be very interested in seeing these Canons and learning what they call for. If anyone knows of any they can share in this thread. That would be excellent.
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« Reply #12 on: February 27, 2005, 06:16:53 PM »

Aklie, I would just like to thank you for enriching the forum with this excellent post. The same issue has often troubled me. I have seen more than one Oriental Orthodox Church, of more than one jurisdiction, displaying either Catholic icons (like the "Sacred Heart" image you described) or even just Western paintings (like the famous "Head of Christ"). Often, the laity seemed to treat them in the same fashion as the Orthodox icons, not even questioning whether or not we believed in the "Sacred Heart" or whatever else was displayed in the painting, or whether the image was even an icon at all.

(To be fair though, this was always in "store front" Churches.  Still, they should know better.)
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« Reply #13 on: February 27, 2005, 06:37:57 PM »

IC XC NIKA

Actually, I myself have seen some Catholic art sold in our bookstore at our church, such as the sacred heart, immacualte heart, etc. But when I looked hard enough, the hearts weren't there.

Anyway, from "Introduction to the Coptic Orthodox Church" by Fr. Tadros Yacoub Malaty, on page 81 they show a picture of a heart, with a cross on top of it. The caption to the side says, "Found at first on houses of Egypt and became the symbol of the adoration of the sacred heart in the Catholic Church." Maybe that is why many Copts don't have problems with the pictures of the sacred heart, but should have problems with the theology behind it.

Actually, there are many things that Catholics believe are just Catholic, but if you look deeper, they are actually Orthodox. For example, the Hail Mary, the repition prayer on the rosary, was actually composed long before it was "given" to that Carmelite monk (whose name has slipped my mind) in Syria, by the Syrian monks I believe.

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« Reply #14 on: March 02, 2005, 10:52:42 PM »

+Irini nem ehmot

To add to Stavro's response just a little...

It is not at all unusual to see male acolytes entering a Coptic Orthodox Church, bowing before the Sanctuary and then kissing and venerating each icon of the iconostasis, or at least the Theotokos and the Icon of Christ (South of the Sanctuary).

I am so used to this that I was surprised when I saw sister OO Churches "lacking" icons.

Point *extremely* well taken from Aklie about laxity/laxness though.

Prayers, please.
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« Reply #15 on: November 24, 2008, 10:07:01 PM »

I was more or less wondering if the OO has the same doctrine about Icons?
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« Reply #16 on: November 24, 2008, 10:15:24 PM »

Please read the thread.  Also, you just started another thread about this in the private forum.  Please stick to one thread this time.  Also, I am going to ask that you ask questions that have not already been answered.  Thank you for your anticipated cooperation.
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« Reply #17 on: November 24, 2008, 10:21:55 PM »

Do you believe that images of Christ depict the prototype?
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« Reply #18 on: November 24, 2008, 10:25:55 PM »

Read.
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