Author Topic: the spirit in the Icons  (Read 894 times)

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Offline fellowthinker

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the spirit in the Icons
« on: December 03, 2011, 01:55:55 AM »
Hi,
I've been trying to understand the significance of icons and have run into this statement on traditionaliconography.com concerning them:
"The Spirit of the Saints live in them [icons] and they are a dwelling place for the persons represented."

What does that mean? I've heard an accusation from a protestant friend that this is why he considers icons to be idolatrous. I understand the argument that icons are like photographs that remind us of loved ones, and just like we'd kiss a photograph if we were far away from and missed a loved one, so we do with icons. But it seems like icons mean a lot more to the Orthodox than that - being blessed by priests, being the habitation of the spirits of saints, etc.
Anybody who can, please help me understand this.



Offline witega

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Re: the spirit in the Icons
« Reply #1 on: December 03, 2011, 02:33:44 AM »
Hi,
I've been trying to understand the significance of icons and have run into this statement on traditionaliconography.com concerning them:
"The Spirit of the Saints live in them [icons] and they are a dwelling place for the persons represented."

What does that mean? I've heard an accusation from a protestant friend that this is why he considers icons to be idolatrous.

I'd have to agree with your friend. The above quote is not part of any teaching I've ever heard on icons. It's definitely not in the declaration of the 7th Ecumenical Council (the one which defended the Holy Icons against the iconoclasts) or in the works of St. John of Damascus or St. Theodore the Studite, the two pre-eminent theologians/defenders of the icons.

Quote
I understand the argument that icons are like photographs that remind us of loved ones, and just like we'd kiss a photograph if we were far away from and missed a loved one, so we do with icons. But it seems like icons mean a lot more to the Orthodox than that - being blessed by priests, being the habitation of the spirits of saints, etc.

I wouldn't read too much into the fact that we get icons blessed. Orthodox bless just about everything--meals, the crosses we wear, our houses, water, cars before a trip, ourselves every time we meet a priest or bishop. Icons are an important part of our devotional life so of course we get them blessed, but an Icon is an Icon by virtue of what it depicts irregardless of whether it's been blessed by a priest yet or not.

There is more going on with icons than what you describe. One part being the idea that 'the honor shown to the image passes to the prototype" (St. John of Damascus). That is, we don't kiss an icon just because it depicts a loved one (that's true, it just doesn't go far enough). We bow to and kiss icons because doing so is a way of showing respect/honor/veneration to the individual depicted. I find the best way to explain this to modern Americans is by its reverse: if I take a picture of the president, pin it to the wall, and throw darts at it, most people understand that I am showing disrespect to the president. If I burn a flag, a symbol of a country, people perceive that as showing disrespect to the country. In the same way, but reverse, when I kiss an icon of the Theotokos or St. Seraphim or the Lord Himself, I am actively showing that individual the honor I believe they deserve.

A second part is that we don't believe the loved ones depicted in icons are 'far away'. They are no longer physically present, but they are with God and God Himself is always with us. Through our joined participation in the Body of Christ, the saints remain close to us and active in our lives. The icons provide a sensory reminder of this, a physical manifestation of that spiritual truth so it becomes real to us and not just an abstract concept.
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For it were better to suffer everything, rather than divide the Church of God. Even martyrdom for the sake of preventing division would not be less glorious than for refusing to worship idols. - St. Dionysius the Great

Offline Irish Hermit

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Re: the spirit in the Icons
« Reply #2 on: December 03, 2011, 03:55:39 AM »
I'd like to make just a small contribution, by quoting Mother Maria (Gysi), now deceased, who was abbess of a small monastery in Normanby, Yorkshire,  England.  She wrote a booklet on icons and one thing she wrote has always stayed in my mind.....

"When we kiss a holy icon, we are kissing the person depicted there..."   then she follows that with.... "In sober theology we can go no further."
« Last Edit: December 03, 2011, 04:02:48 AM by Irish Hermit »

Offline Jason.Wike

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Re: the spirit in the Icons
« Reply #3 on: December 03, 2011, 11:39:27 AM »
Wow, no, spirits don't live in icons. When we venerate icons the honour is given to the prototype, the Saints themselves, not the actual wood, paint or anything in it. Its kinda like Skype. ;D

Offline fellowthinker

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Re: the spirit in the Icons
« Reply #4 on: December 04, 2011, 12:47:44 AM »
Thank you everyone. :) That pretty much clears it up for me. I appreciate your responses.