What is an Icon?

The word icon originates from the Greek word meaning picture. Originally, an icon was used as a general term for any kind of religious artistic picture on any kind of surface – be it a wall or a piece of wood. 

The cross that a Christian carries with him can also be seen as an icon for the original holy and life-giving cross; similarly, pictures in churchly items and vestments are icons. An official ruling on the matter was given by the Seventh Ecumenical Synod in the year 787: 

We decree with full precision and care that, like the figure of the honored and life-giving cross, the revered and holy images, whether painted or made of mosaic or of other suitable material, are to be exposed in the holy churches of God, on sacred instruments and vestments, on walls and panels, in houses and by public ways; these are the images of our Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ, and of Our Lady without blemish, the holy God-bearer, and of the revered angels, and of any of the saintly holy men.” 

Nowadays, however, the term icon is used generally in different languages to refer to a movable painting painted on wood.

In order to cherish the old traditions of the Orthodox church, an Orthodox icon follows a distinct and recognizable, simplistic style.



The purpose of the icon in liturgical life

Liturgical life, the services, are at the core of Orthodox tradition.In services, similarly to the songs of praise, the icon is used as a means to serve God and honour his saints. The icon leads the soul from the visible to the invisible, from the material to the spiritual. The icon is a door that leads to the Kingdom of God. Through the icon, the celebrated event or saint comes to be present not symbolically, but in a concrete manner.