Praying with Icons: Part 3

With The Rev. Deacon Joe Dzugan


Our recordings are getting a wee bit better as we progress.  We were not able to record the session on October 3rd. However, all those in attendance on October 10th were not present for the third installment of Praying with Icons. Deacon Joe graciously recovered the information to allow for recording. With no further adieu, here is the third installment of Praying with Icons.....


October 10th, 2021

Praying with Icons – Part 3


No less than the written word, an icon is an instrument for the transmission of Christian tradition and faith. Through sacred imagery, the Holy Spirit speaks to us, revealing truths that may not be evident to those using only the tools of reason. Icons are an aid to worship. Wherever an icon is set, that place more easily becomes an area of prayer. The icon is not an end in itself but assists us in going beyond what can be seen with our physical eyes into the realm of mystical experience. -

Jim Forest, Praying with Icons, p. 13.


Brief History of Icons


Just as in our own time there is controversy about icons, so was there dispute in the early Church. [There was fear] that the art of the pagan world carried with it the spirit of the pagan world, while others objected on the basis of the Old Testament restrictions of imagery. Christianity was, after all, born in a world in which many artists were employed doing religious, political, and secular work. Idolatry was a normal part of pagan religious life. Thus we find that in the early centuries, in the many areas of controversy among Christians, there was division on questions of religious art and its place in spiritual life. It is instructive to notice that those who were reluctant to accept that Christ was God incarnate were also resistant to icons. At the heart of all theological disputes from that time into our own day, stands the question: Who is Jesus Christ?


The argument over icons reached its boiling point in the eighth and ninth centuries at the time when Islam was rapidly spreading in the areas that had formerly been Christian. In 725 Emperor Leo III, ignoring the opposition of both Patriarch Germanus of Constantinople and Pope Gregory in Rome, ordered the removal of icons from the churches and their destruction. He may have hoped his order would help stop the spread of Islam, which was firmly opposed to images in places of worship. May iconographers from the Byzantine world fled to Italy, finding protection from the pope. Some iconoclasts argued that images of Christ, representing as they did his physical appearance, diminished his divinity by revealing only his humanity. One beneficial consequence of the iconoclastic movement was that makers of icons searched for better ways to represent in paint the hidden, spiritual reality rather than merely the physical aspects of the person represented.


The first iconoclastic period lasted fifty-five years, until 780. Seven years later, at the Seventh Ecumenical Council, the bishops rose in defense of the icon. The Council affirmed that it is not the icon itself which is venerated, but the prototype whose image is represented in the icon. Iconoclasm was formally condemned.


Nonetheless, a second iconoclastic period, less severe than the first, was initiated by Emperor Leo V in 813. Orthodox resistance included an impressive act of civil disobedience – an icon-bearing procession in Constantinople by a thousand monks. With the death of Emperor Theophilus in 842, imperial objections to icons ended.


Jim Forest, Praying with Icons, pp. 5-9.


“Praying with Icons”, Deacon Joe Dzugan, St. Francis Episcopal Church, 2021.


Posted by Mark Hamby at 11:50 AM
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