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Author Topic: Mary, the Saints, and Icons  (Read 4199 times) Average Rating: 0
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Hank
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« on: August 08, 2008, 02:00:58 PM »

Please be patient with me. I have only recently discovered the Orthodox faith and do not understand many things. The most glaring matters bothering me are these: the veneration of Mary and the saints, the kissing of icons, and praying to the dead.

I am of a Protestant back round and this veneration strikes me as pure idolatry. I understand that the church teaches against all forms of idolatry so I am not accusing or trying to start trouble. I cannot find any scriptural support for this. Moreover, I see the example of Saul who consorted with the Witch of Endor and do not want to imitate that bad example.

I feel that I love the Lord with all my heart, soul, and strength, but I cannot reconcile this stuff or reference it to anything that I can understand.

I am not looking for a verbal beating, but any help (in understanding these matters) will greatly be appreciated.
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« Reply #1 on: August 08, 2008, 02:20:11 PM »

Dear Hank,

I think you might try to talk about this with an Orthodox priest. As a rank-and-file layman Orthodox, I will only say this: we don't worship icons and we don't worship saints. Worshipping anyone or anything except the Most Holy Trinity would be, indeed, idolatry. But there is a difference between worshipping and veneration. The latter is simply giving the due respect. Also, importantly, when we look at icons, they to us are kind of like "windows" through which we "look" (with the help of the "eyes" of our faith) at Heaven and God. Seeing images of saints on icons helps us understand and appreciate that these people haven't died; they are alive in Heaven with our Lord, and they are active, they are incessantly praying for us.

That's just my 0.02 cents, and I am sure others will help you better (especially our clergy).

My all best wishes to you on your path of exploring our Orthodox faith.

George
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« Reply #2 on: August 08, 2008, 02:52:29 PM »

Please be patient with me. I have only recently discovered the Orthodox faith and do not understand many things.

Welcome!  It takes a lot of courage to open oneself up to others with one's misunderstandings, reservations, or disagreements.

The most glaring matters bothering me are these: the veneration of Mary and the saints, the kissing of icons, and praying to the dead.

I am of a Protestant back round and this veneration strikes me as pure idolatry. I understand that the church teaches against all forms of idolatry so I am not accusing or trying to start trouble. I cannot find any scriptural support for this. Moreover, I see the example of Saul who consorted with the Witch of Endor and do not want to imitate that bad example.

OK.  Let me give you some OC.net links to questions & answers for your first question (from people who have had the same or similar questions in the past), and maybe we'll get to the others in due time:

1. Veneration of Mary and the Saints.

"Did Jesus honor the Theotokos" http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,14804.0.html

"Mary, Saints, and Icons" http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,1602.0.html

Another healthy debate sparked by Protestant claims http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,2358.0.html

"Orthodox Mary" http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,7310.0.html

"What is the biblical basis of Saints having the ability to hear our prayers???" http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,14945.0.html

"Intercessions of the Saints" http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,199.0.html

"Prayers of the Saints in Judaism" http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,4500.0.html

"Saints and Prayer" http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,6564.0.html

"1 Samuel and the Saints" http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,3312.0.html

"Praying to the Saints" http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,1046.0.html

"Pray to the Saints... Confusion in Orthodoxy?" http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,7510.0.html

I feel that I love the Lord with all my heart, soul, and strength, but I cannot reconcile this stuff or reference it to anything that I can understand.

I am not looking for a verbal beating, but any help (in understanding these matters) will greatly be appreciated.

I hope you find help in the dialogues referenced above, and an understanding community here at OC.net!  (And no verbal beatings!)
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« Reply #3 on: August 08, 2008, 03:04:29 PM »

Thank you for all those links. I will be looking them over this afternoon.
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« Reply #4 on: August 08, 2008, 03:05:47 PM »

Hello Hank,

It might help to put it this way: We have devotions to Mary and the saints not to worship them or value them in themselves, but because they emit light and holiness whose source is God. They are like lamps through which God's brilliant light shines. They are special only because they have unified themselves most fully to Christ. So venerating Mary and the saints is just another way of singing the praises of our Lord. They point to Christ and can pray for us, being at his side in heaven. They are monuments to the power of the Holy Spirit to sanctify us.

Pax Christi tecum

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« Reply #5 on: August 08, 2008, 03:37:27 PM »

Welcome to the Convert Issues Forum Hank!

As you saw with Cleveland and Lubeltri we are always  here to help you answer your questions.  Hope you have fun starting those references Cleveland gave, I know I am going to have fun.

Once again welcome to the Forum!

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« Reply #6 on: September 23, 2008, 08:58:48 PM »

This may be slightly OT, but I wanted to follow on with a question... (btw, I'm an occasional lurker, but recently registered on the forum and this is my first post)

I'll *try* to give a brief background:  A few years ago I discovered, through various readings on church history and other things that seemed unrelated at the time, the Orthodox church.  I was raised in a Methodist church (a protestant denomination), then for a period of time in my 20s fell away from any regular church attendance for a variety of reasons.  My wife was raised in a fundamentalist Pentecostal church and absolutely hated the fire and brimstone, etc. stuff and while she is still a Christian, is somewhat suspicious of "formal religion" as she'd put it.  In any case, due to our daughter's (who is now 11 yrs old) attending a particular private school for a time, we spent several years attending a Lutheran church regularly, though we stopped attending for reasons unrelated to the church theology.  During that time my wife did attend with me but never really "got into it".

Now we've been attending an Orthodox church for some time, I have taken some catachumen classes from the Priest, though my wife has not been interested enough to do so.  All 3 of us attend the DL fairly regularly.  While I feel ready to be Chrismated myself, as does my Priest, I have felt strongly that I'm meant to wait until my wife and daughter are willing and ready to as well.  A lot of my wife's hesitancy to delve deeper into Orthodoxy is from her upbringing, though there are still some areas of Orthodoxy that seem to be a hangup in her mind, and I've not had much luck in convinving her.  So I'll start with just one subject matter for now...

OK, on to the question (sorry I really did try to be brief, but thought some background would help). My wife has a concern (and I don't mean to offend anyone with this question) with transmission of germs when venerating icons, as well as the cross used by the Priest for a blessing or kissing the priest's hand... she thinks this seems a little gross and doesn't understand why it is an important part of the role of icons, etc in Orthodox life.  I've not seen this specific aspect addressed elsewhere - usually it's quesitons on the theological concerns with icons rather than sanitary concerns.

Another point of background... at many protestant churches (and also the pentecostal church where my wife was raised) there is a very "detached" way of dealing with the few material aspects of worship as well as our fellow people.  For example, often communion (on rare occasions when it is served) is given out by using tiny, individual disposable plastic cups to hold the wine (or more likely, plain grape juice).  So coming from this background, I do see where it can be sort of a "culture shock".  It hasn't stood in my way, but the same isn't true for my wife.  Any thoughts or advice are much appreciated!!  Thank you!
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« Reply #7 on: September 23, 2008, 09:59:13 PM »

Welcome to the forum, 84fiero!
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« Reply #8 on: September 24, 2008, 12:22:25 AM »

Here's a link to one article which may help. I have others on file I can provide as well.

http://www.oca.org/QAPrintable.asp?ID=105

From a personal perspective, I work in a scientific, health-related discipline, which includes strict infection control procedures. I have no qualms whatsoever in venerating icons, the priest's cross, or taking communion from a common chalice and spoon.
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« Reply #9 on: September 24, 2008, 12:32:35 AM »

From a personal perspective, I work in a scientific, health-related discipline, which includes strict infection control procedures. I have no qualms whatsoever in venerating icons, the priest's cross, or taking communion from a common chalice and spoon.

I am in total agreement with you except I know of a family friend who refuses to take Communion because of germ issues.  The topic has been discussed in the forum numerous times.  As hard as I try to convince the family friend that Communion won't make her sick, she steadfastly refuses.   Sad
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« Reply #10 on: September 24, 2008, 06:50:15 PM »

Hey guys, new around here as well.

Hank I'm not Orthodox... well not formally anyway, I go to a Protestant Church and am fully aware of the sola-protestanta objections to icon veneration- though I'm no longer convinced by them (as the icons in my house attest too). My objections were largely based on what I, or my spiritual leaders were telling each other what icons were and what veneration was. It was quite a different thing to talk to Orthodox to find out what they actually said icons were and what veneration was.
       I find it ironic that we protestants are so quick to identify kissing an icon as "worship" when we never kiss anything but our wives and kids- are we worshipping them? Or are we showing our love, respect, and honor for them. We certainly don't kiss anything at our churches- not even so much as an imaginary kiss upon the feet of the Savior- so do we fail to worship the King of the Universe? I think clearly that we in the west have a problem defining in our lives (we're so good at running to a book or dictionary) what exactly worship is, thus the line between worship an veneration is undefined at best for us- and at worst undistinguished. In this way we can point the finger at an "icon-kisser" and cry that they're worshipping it- yet again curiously ignoring our own lack of definition and application of worship (except to use the oh-so-tired definition of "ascribing worth" or "worthship".
         The whole "praying to the dead"- now that is a curious term. While I admit I'm still sorting out how personally can apply the intercession of the saints, I can say with all certainty that this protestant catchphrase, of which I have been guilty of using, has an immediate glaring inaccuracy- the saints in Heaven are hardly dead- in fact they are more alive than we are in a sense.

Sorry for rambling, and sorry if I simply rehashed what might have already been better said in previous posts.
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« Reply #11 on: September 24, 2008, 06:54:04 PM »

Welcome, Rodger! You have a good handle on things already. These are issues all of us who convert from Protestantism have to work through. There are many of us who have made this journey, and if you'd like, take a look at the Orthodox-Protestant Discussion board. We discuss many of these issues specifically related to questions from current and former Protestants.

Again, welcome to the forum; I hope you stick around.

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« Reply #12 on: September 24, 2008, 06:57:42 PM »

Thanks much- I plan on it!
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« Reply #13 on: September 24, 2008, 07:37:30 PM »

ironsiderodger, your posts are most encouraging. You have definitely seen through the fallacy of "idol-worship" that many non-Orthodox hurl at the Orthodox. Another variant is to say to many Protestants: "How would you feel if a Bible or Gospel book is trampled or spat upon?". The Orthodox veneration of holy things, including crosses, Bibles, Gospels, and icons, is no different. These items may be but paper, ink, metal, or other matter, but, they are holy in the sense of what they represent. You are welcome to PM me for more info.

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« Reply #14 on: September 24, 2008, 07:58:30 PM »

Thank you LBK (its encouraging to see I get a few things right now and then), and I quite agree with your illustration. It is interesting to me that somehow we protestants really shy away from what we denounce as material things, and strictly limit the faith to something that can only be verbaly transmitted/explained/experienced. We forget that God created matter and called it good, and likewise we forget He can work through the physical realm just as readily as the "spiritual" realm- in fact, from what I have read from Fr Schmeman's book "For the Life of the World" (still reading it), it's really unneccesary to differentiate the two.

So that's just one of the reasons why I feel I cannot object to the Orthodox actually having sacred and Holy objects (btw, can you imagine my protestant surprise and scrambling when I read for the first time the Bible verse that told of the dead man being dumped on Elisha's bones and coming alive again). The fact that you reverence them, respect, and honor them seems quite fitting to me- you are all so very quick to give the glory to God anyway.
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« Reply #15 on: September 25, 2008, 01:01:05 AM »

This would have to be the finest short argument in favour of the veneration of icons, written by the redoubtable St John of Damascus, in his treatise On the Divine Images:

Of old God the incorporeal and uncircumscribed was not depicted at all. But now that God has appeared in the flesh and lived among men, I make an image of the God who can be seen. I do not worship matter but I worship the Creator of matter, who for my sake became material and deigned to dwell in matter, who through matter effected my salvation. I will not cease from venerating the matter through which my salvation has been effected.

While this was written in defence of iconography, it alo has great theological and practical ramifications in many other areas of the faith. There is just so much meaning and significance in that one paragraph.
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« Reply #16 on: January 12, 2009, 06:45:54 PM »

A lot of time and a lot of study has transpired since my last post, in August.

I have researched the question of Mary, the notion of "ever-virgin", the matter of the "brothers" of the Lord, and Johns assumption of the care of Mary upon the death of Jesus. I cannot find where scripture disproves the Orthodox belief in this matter. Moreover, the differences between veneration and worship are much clearer in my mind. Although I may never venerate an icon, as others may, neither do I object.

Thank you all for your help and encouragement.
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« Reply #17 on: January 12, 2009, 07:05:14 PM »

About icons:-

There's a lovely tale of Sir Winston Churchill (British Prime Minister during WWII) when he was fighting in the trenches in WWI. It's said that he had a photo of his wife with him, and occasionally he would take out the photo and kiss it.

He wasn't worshipping the picture or the frame, he was looking in fondness and love toward the one represented theirin.

(I'm searching for the book where I read this tale, but can't seem to find it atm, but will edit the post when I find it!)
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« Reply #18 on: January 12, 2009, 07:12:46 PM »

This may be slightly OT, but I wanted to follow on with a question... (btw, I'm an occasional lurker, but recently registered on the forum and this is my first post)

I'll *try* to give a brief background:  A few years ago I discovered, through various readings on church history and other things that seemed unrelated at the time, the Orthodox church.  I was raised in a Methodist church (a protestant denomination), then for a period of time in my 20s fell away from any regular church attendance for a variety of reasons.  My wife was raised in a fundamentalist Pentecostal church and absolutely hated the fire and brimstone, etc. stuff and while she is still a Christian, is somewhat suspicious of "formal religion" as she'd put it.  In any case, due to our daughter's (who is now 11 yrs old) attending a particular private school for a time, we spent several years attending a Lutheran church regularly, though we stopped attending for reasons unrelated to the church theology.  During that time my wife did attend with me but never really "got into it".

Now we've been attending an Orthodox church for some time, I have taken some catachumen classes from the Priest, though my wife has not been interested enough to do so.  All 3 of us attend the DL fairly regularly.  While I feel ready to be Chrismated myself, as does my Priest, I have felt strongly that I'm meant to wait until my wife and daughter are willing and ready to as well.  A lot of my wife's hesitancy to delve deeper into Orthodoxy is from her upbringing, though there are still some areas of Orthodoxy that seem to be a hangup in her mind, and I've not had much luck in convinving her.  So I'll start with just one subject matter for now...

OK, on to the question (sorry I really did try to be brief, but thought some background would help). My wife has a concern (and I don't mean to offend anyone with this question) with transmission of germs when venerating icons, as well as the cross used by the Priest for a blessing or kissing the priest's hand... she thinks this seems a little gross and doesn't understand why it is an important part of the role of icons, etc in Orthodox life.  I've not seen this specific aspect addressed elsewhere - usually it's quesitons on the theological concerns with icons rather than sanitary concerns.

Another point of background... at many protestant churches (and also the pentecostal church where my wife was raised) there is a very "detached" way of dealing with the few material aspects of worship as well as our fellow people.  For example, often communion (on rare occasions when it is served) is given out by using tiny, individual disposable plastic cups to hold the wine (or more likely, plain grape juice).  So coming from this background, I do see where it can be sort of a "culture shock".  It hasn't stood in my way, but the same isn't true for my wife.  Any thoughts or advice are much appreciated!!  Thank you!

Welcome to the forum!  I would answer your concerns with a question/point.  If the germs were really an issue, wouldn't your priest be sick all the time?  Would he not have transmittable diseases?  Why is it that he does not?  Perhaps there is more to it than just some bread and wine.  Just a simple thought, that may spark some good conversation between you and your wife. 
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« Reply #19 on: January 13, 2009, 01:54:16 AM »

Welcome to the forum!  I would answer your concerns with a question/point.  If the germs were really an issue, wouldn't your priest be sick all the time?  Would he not have transmittable diseases?  Why is it that he does not?  Perhaps there is more to it than just some bread and wine.  Just a simple thought, that may spark some good conversation between you and your wife. 

I'll try the "Healthy Priest" argument on friends who refuse to receive Holy Communion for the same health reasons.   Wink
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« Reply #20 on: January 13, 2009, 02:08:35 AM »

... and let's not forget that any Holy Communion remaining in the chalice after the faithful have communed is consumed by the priest, or by his deacon if one is serving. During times of plagues and epidemics, the clergy would be dropping like flies if it were mere "bread and wine".
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« Reply #21 on: January 13, 2009, 09:11:49 PM »

Welcome to the forum!  I would answer your concerns with a question/point.  If the germs were really an issue, wouldn't your priest be sick all the time?  Would he not have transmittable diseases?  Why is it that he does not?  Perhaps there is more to it than just some bread and wine.  Just a simple thought, that may spark some good conversation between you and your wife. 

I'll try the "Healthy Priest" argument on friends who refuse to receive Holy Communion for the same health reasons.   Wink

Let me know how it works.  I would be willing to bet that they don't care.  I think that the REAL problem is that they just don't want to be open to something OTHER than just the chalice and germs.  the germs are just a convenient excuse.  I would probe for something deeper. 

Also, if you want, I know a person as well as a priest who have Syliac's (where you are extremely/deathly allergic to wheat) who recieve communion regularly, and never had an allergic reaction (even though they should have died from consuming wheat). 

Just a further thought...


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« Reply #22 on: January 14, 2009, 12:19:59 AM »

Let me know how it works.  I would be willing to bet that they don't care.  I think that the REAL problem is that they just don't want to be open to something OTHER than just the chalice and germs.  the germs are just a convenient excuse.  I would probe for something deeper.

Some people only go to Church for funerals and memorial services ... not even for Easter.  These friends fit the description and there are deeper reasons that I'm not particularly interested in hearing.

Also, if you want, I know a person as well as a priest who have Syliac's (where you are extremely/deathly allergic to wheat) who recieve communion regularly, and never had an allergic reaction (even though they should have died from consuming wheat). 

Just a further thought...

Celiac Disease is not the issue.   Smiley
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« Reply #23 on: January 14, 2009, 08:22:51 AM »

Let me know how it works.  I would be willing to bet that they don't care.  I think that the REAL problem is that they just don't want to be open to something OTHER than just the chalice and germs.  the germs are just a convenient excuse.  I would probe for something deeper.

Some people only go to Church for funerals and memorial services ... not even for Easter.  These friends fit the description and there are deeper reasons that I'm not particularly interested in hearing.



Well...until you start probing you're never really going to help these people out.  So why are you even giving them these arguments (is a question you should ask)?  After several years of theological education (when I was a little younger), I went out and started asking people these kinds of questions and approaching them with these kinds of points.  Not only did it get me nowhere, but it caused resentment between me and my friends. 

It is good to make them think, but if you don't step into their lives then they'll think that all you want to do is prove them wrong.  That was my experience. 


Also, if you want, I know a person as well as a priest who have Syliac's (where you are extremely/deathly allergic to wheat) who recieve communion regularly, and never had an allergic reaction (even though they should have died from consuming wheat). 

Just a further thought...

Celiac Disease is not the issue.   Smiley

I was just giving the examples as a further bolster in your supporting arguments.   Smiley

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« Reply #24 on: January 14, 2009, 06:37:28 PM »

Completely off topic:
Welcome Hank and 84Fiero.  BTW, 84, I have a friend who had one (an 84 Fiero) back in the day in candy-apple red!  Smiley
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« Reply #25 on: June 14, 2009, 12:01:55 AM »

I've left Protestantism and am in the process of conversion to Orthodoxy.  This is how I see the whole "icon thing":

1.  God says He is the all in all and there is nowhere He is not.  I believe it.

2.  God knows my heart and intention.  He knows I am not worshiping the saint who is depicted, but worshiping HIM who lived and lives in that saint.

3.  Saints are alive (immortal) – not dead.  The Bible tells us to greet one another with a holy kiss; so we do.

4.  It was not our design to be created with five senses.  Using our senses heightens the entire experience of God.  Visual methods help us to form a more concrete (instead of shifting or vague) relationship with the saints, who are our brothers and sisters FOREVER.  Venerating forms more of a bond between us.

5.  It is between God and I whether I am worshiping the material or the immaterial.  If He knows the truth (that I am not worshiping an idol), then who else must I answer to?

Protestants get all up in arms about "graven images" – yet think nothing of judging others before taking a sip from their hand-painted Jesus mug.  Wink

Don't let them deceive you – they most certainly adore their "Christian" paintings, postcards, screensavers, WWJD stickers with a smiling Jesus, hand-carved crucifixes with Jesus' body still hanging on the cross and more.

If you don't believe me (and this is ONLY an example, for illustration)... 

Imagine if you were to take a popular picture of Jesus (even a photocopy) and throw it on the ground in front of them.  They'd flatten you in one second flat over it.





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Tags: Theotokos saints icons intercession 
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