An Icon Means Testimony

This Sunday is called “The Triumph of Orthodoxy.” On this day the last major heresy was condemned by the Seventh Ecumenical Council. By that time, the church already knew about the Persons of the Holy Trinity, the union of Godhead and the Manhood in Jesus Christ, and about Virgin Mary being the true Mother of God. And yet, another unprecedented heresy appeared, known as iconoclasm. It was started by the emperor Leo the Isaurian, declaring  icons to be idols. That resulted in icons being widely devastated, and the dissenters being cruelly persecuted for over a century.

The fact that the restoration of icon veneration is celebrated as the triumph of Orthodoxy is no coincidence. When Philip joyfully informed Nathanael that they had “found the One whom Moses wrote about in the law and the prophets,” Nathanael asked with doubt, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” To that Philip said, “Go and see.” Don’t we dream of seeing with our own eyes everything amazing that we hear from people? Don’t we ask them, “Have you seen this yourself?” when in doubt? Seeing affirms the solemn fullness of knowledge. “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”

When sending the Apostles to preach, the Lord said, “Go, teach all nations” (Matthew 28:19). He did not limit their teaching methods in any way. The Bible does not directly instruct us to write icons, but for that matter it does not say anything about writing books either. History does not mark the moment when the veneration of icons began. This is because it has always been in the church. Our icons serve as a solemn testimony of everything that the church has seen from the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ to this day, because everything that the Gospel says really happened at a certain time and in a certain place. God truly became a Man, and today we can see His human image, which our predecessors saw, and which they tried to capture and preserve. Thanks to these efforts, we can still see Christ lying in the manger, being baptized by St John, riding on a donkey into Jerusalem, being crucified on the cross, ascending to heaven and later coming to receive the soul of His Most Pure Mother. These images are there to excite our hearts and strengthen our faith.

The Lord said to his disciples: “…blessed are your eyes, because they see.” (Matthew 13:16), unlike the eyes of many believers before Christ, who, as the Lord said about them, only “wished to see”, “and did not see” (Luke 10:24). And yet by their faith some of them “conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword…” while others “suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment..”. All these things also testify to God’s glory and constitute the triumph of Orthodoxy. This is what the Apostle means when he says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” This “cloud of witnesses” is even greater for us, since it is joined by countless records of the last two millennia.

Our icons therefore are our battle banners, which we are marching under. They are the visible evidence of our faith, the graphic side of the Holy Tradition of our church. It is important that these banners remain in the hands of joyful victors, and not a mournfully retreating crowd.

Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds

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