Protopriest Michael Konstantinoff
TRIUMPH OF ORTHODOXY
(from the series of sermons on Russian Radio in Australia)
The dogma of icon veneration holds a special place among Christian dogmas and has a special historical significance. For over one hundred years, the iconoclastic heresy rent the Church of Christ. By the will of the iconoclastic emperors, holy icons were thrown out of churches, burned and destroyed, and the zealots of Orthodoxy were subjected to cruel persecution. Even the decision of the Seventh Ecumenical Council of 787, confirming the dogma of the veneration of icons, did not bring the Church the desired peace. Even fifty years after this Council, the heresy of iconoclasm continued to upset the Church, until the year 842, when the veneration of icons was universally restored. In memory of this event, the Church established that on the first Sunday of Great Lent every year, the -ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â³Triumph of Orthodoxy-ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Âº is to be celebrated. The Seventh Ecumenical Council decreed that the existence of icons and their veneration is based by the Church not on Holy Scripture, which iconoclasts point to as containing no evidence in favor of icons, but on Holy Tradition. The first icon of the Savior, the Image-Not-Made-by-Hands, existed when the Holy Scripture of the New Testament had not yet existed. Holy Scripture itself is Holy Tradition laid down in writing. Over the first several decades of its history, the New Testament Church did not have Scripture, but lived only by Tradition.
The Seventh Ecumenical Council confirmed the divine inspiration of icons, for the very same Holy Spirit Who inspires the teachings of the Apostles and Holy Fathers, appears and inspires icon-painting. In both instances, the source of inspiration is the same. This justifies calling the icon -ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â³theology in images-ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Âº on par with theology in words (Holy Scripture).
The venerated icons from the first centuries of Christianity have not survived to our day, but church tradition speaks of them, as do historical references. The word -ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â³icon-ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Âº comes from the Greek and means -ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â³image,-ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Âº -ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â³portrait.-ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Âº In the history of the Church by Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, who lived in the third century, we find the following: -ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â³I saw many portraits of the Savior, of Peter and Paul, who survived to our day.-ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Âº Eusebius also gave a detailed description of a statue of the Savior in the city of Paneas (Caesarea Philippi, Palestine), erected by the woman with an issue of blood.
In examining the question of the veneration of icons, we must understand the difference between the image and that which is portrayed. An icon cannot be of the same substance as the subject, for then it would be the subject itself, for it would share the same nature. Honor bestowed upon an image is paid to the subject depicted by it. What was impossible to portray in the Old Testament becomes possible in the New, when God the Word, the Second Hypostasis of the Holy Trinity, Who is indescribable either by word or by image, but assumes man’s nature, is born of the Virgin Theotokos, remaining completely God, becoming completely Man, becoming visible, tangible, and consequently, describable. So the very existence of the icon is based on the Divine Incarnation. That is why in the eyes of the Church, the rejection of an icon of Christ is the rejection of the truth and the immutability of His very incarnation, and, consequently, the rejection of His plan for our salvation. At the Seventh Ecumenical Council, the Church condemned the iconoclastic heresy. In our day, there are still those who preach the heresy of iconoclasm and reject the veneration of holy icons. Let us pray the Lord that they -ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â³come into the true wisdom-ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Âº and that we become examples of the Orthodox Christian faith and life. Amen.
Protopriest Michael Konstantinov*
*Protopriest Michael Konstantinov has been rector of the Churches of Archangel Michael and St. George in the suburbs of Sydney, Australia, for over 30 years.