In the church on the iconostasis, along the walls, and at
home in the corners are the holy icons, before which we say our prayers.
An icon or image is what we call the
representation of God Himself, the Mother of God, the angels, or the saints.
This representation is consecrated with Holy Water and prayer. Through this
blessing the Grace of the Holy Spirit is imparted to the icon, and we reverence
the icon as being holy. There are icons, through which the Grace of God that
abides in them is revealed even by miracles, for instance in the healing of the
The Saviour Himself gave us His portrait. Moved to
compassion, He wiped His sacred face with a towel and miraculously depicted His
face on this towel for the sick prince Abgar. When the sick prince prayed
before this icon of the Saviour, that had not been made with hands, he was healed
of his illness.
When praying before an icon, we must remember that
the icon is not God Himself or a saint of God, but only the depiction of God or
His saint. Therefore, we must not pray to the icon, but to God or the saint who
is depicted on it.
The holy icon is a sacred book. In a sacred book
we reverently read the words of God, and on a holy icon we reverently behold
the holy faces which, like the Word of God, lift up our mind to God and His
saints, and inflame our heart with love for our Creator and Saviour.
What do we call the holy icons? Where are the holy icons placed at home and in
the church? Why are they called holy icons? Who blessed the use of holy icons
by His example? What do we remember when we pray before the holy icons? What icon
of the Saviour is named the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands?
How God is Portrayed in the
God is an invisible Spirit. However, He appeared
to holy men in a visible image. Therefore, we depict God in the icons in the
form in which He appeared.
We depict the Most-holy Trinity in the form
of three angels sitting at a table. This is because the Lord once appeared to
Abraham in the form of three angels. In order to represent more clearly the
spirituality of the angels that appeared to Abraham, we represent them with
God the Son
is represented in the form in which he appeared when he came down from heaven
for our salvation and became man: an infant in the arms of the Mother of God,
teaching the people and working miracles, transfigured, suffering on the Cross,
lying in the tomb, resurrecting and ascending.
God the Holy Spirit is represented in the form of a dove, as He revealed
Himself at the time of the Baptism of the Saviour in the Jordan by John the Baptist; and in the form of tongues of fire,
as He descended visibly on the holy Apostles on the fiftieth day after the
resurrection of Jesus Christ.
If God is an invisible Spirit, how can He be depicted in the holy icons in a
visible form? How do we depict the All-holy Trinity in the holy icons, and why
do we depict Him in this way? How do we depict God the Father, God the Son, and
God the Holy Spirit in the holy icons, and why do we depict Them in this way?
Others Besides God Who Are
Depicted in the Holy Icons.
Besides God we depict in the holy icons the
Mother of God, the holy angels and holy people.
We should pray to them not as to God, but as being
close to God, as having pleased Him by their holy life. Out of love for us they
pray for us before God, and we should ask for their help and intercession
because the Lord for their sake will more speedily hear our sinful prayers.
It is worthy of note that the first icons of the
Mother of God painted by the disciple of the Lord, St. Luke,
have been preserved down to our time. There is a tradition that when the Mother
of God saw Her portrait, she said, "The Grace of My Son will dwell with
this icon." We pray to the Mother of God because She is closest of all to
God, and at the same time, She is also close to us. Because of Her motherly love
and Her prayers God forgives us many things and helps us in many ways. She is a
great and compassionate intercessor for all of us!
Besides God, who is depicted in the holy icons? How should we pray to the
Mother of God, the holy angels and holy people? Who painted the first icon of
the Mother of God? Why do we pray to the Mother of God more than to the other
The Holy Angels.
In the beginning when neither the world nor men
existed yet, God created the holy angels.
Angels are bodiless spirits, therefore invisible
and immortal. The Lord God granted to them loftier powers and abilities than to
mankind. Their mind is more perfect than ours. They always fulfill the will of
God. They are without sin, and now they are so filled with the Grace of God in
doing good, that they do not desire in any way to sin.
Many times the angels have appeared in visible
form, taking on a physical appearance, when God sent them to people to relate
or to announce His will. The word "angel" means "messenger."
Every Christian is granted by God at his Baptism a
Guardian Angel who invisibly protects him during all his earthly life
from misfortunes and dangers; he warns against sin, guards us at the terrible
hour of death, and does not depart after death.
The angels are depicted in icons in the form of
handsome youths, as a sign of their spiritual beauty. Their wings show that
they speedily fulfill the will of God.
When were the holy angels created? What are angels? What powers and abilities
did God grant them? Can the holy angels sin? When did angels appear visibly and
what does the word "angel" mean? How do we call the holy angels that
God gives us at Baptism? Why are the holy angels depicted in the form of youths
and with wings?
About the Saints.
On the icons also we represent holy people
or the saints of God. We call them by this name because when they lived
on earth, they pleased God by their righteous life. And now, dwelling in Heaven
with God, they pray for us to God and help us who live on earth.
The saints have different titles: prophets,
apostles, martyrs, hierarchs, holy monks, unmercenaries, blessed ones, and the
The prophets are the saints of God who, by the
inspiration of the Holy Spirit, foretold the future, primarily about the
Saviour. They lived before the coming of the Saviour.
The apostles were the closest disciples of
Jesus Christ, whom He sent during His earthly life to preach. After the coming
of the Holy Spirit upon them, they preached the Christian faith in all lands.
At first there were twelve of them, and later, seventy more.
Two of the apostles, Peter and Paul, are
called leaders of the apostles, because they labored in preaching the
faith of Christ more than the others. Four of the apostles, Matthew, Mark,
Luke, and John the Theologian, who wrote the Gospels, are called
Saints who spread the Christian faith in various
places like the apostles, are called Equal-to-the-Apostles, as for
example, Mary Magdalene, the first woman-martyr Thecla, the pious
monarchs Constantine and Helen, the pious Russian prince
Vladimir, Saint Nina, the Enlightener of Georgia, and others.
The martyrs are those Christians who accepted
terrible tortures and even death for their faith in Jesus Christ. If they died
in peace, that is, not as an immediate result of their sufferings for Christ,
then we call them confessors.
The first to suffer for the Holy Faith after
especially terrible sufferings for faith in Christ were Archdeacon Stephen
and St. Thecla, and therefore they are called the first
Those who died for the Holy Faith after especially
cruel tortures, such as not all the martyrs were subjected to, are called great
martyrs, as for example, holy Great Martyr George, and the holy Great
Martyrs Barbara and Catherine.
The confessors on whose faces the persecutors
branded or tattooed blasphemous words are called branded.
are bishops and prelates who pleased God by a righteous life, such as St.
Nicholas the Wonderworker, St. Alexis, Metropolitan of Moscow, and
Hierarchs and priests who suffered persecution for
Christ are called hieromartyrs.
The hierarchs Basil the Great, Gregory
the Theologian, and John Chrysostom are called ecumenical
teachers, teachers of the entire Christian Church.
Holy monks and nuns are righteous people who abandoned the life of the world
in society and pleased God by preserving their virginity (not entering into
marriage), by fasting and prayer, and dwelling in the wilderness or in
monasteries. Some examples are Sergius of Radonezh, Seraphim of Sarov,
St. Anastasia, and others.
Holy monks that endured suffering for Christ are
called Monk Martyrs.
Unmercenaries are saints who served their neighbors with the unmercenary healing of
illnesses; that is, without payment they healed illnesses, both physical and
spiritual. They include Cosmas and Damian, the Great Martyr
and Healer Panteleimon, and others.
The Righteous led a righteous life that was
pleasing to God, living as we do in the world, with a family, as for example, Joachim
and Anna and others.
The first righteous people on the earth were the
patriarchs of the human race, who are called forefathers. They include Adam,
Noah and Abraham.
Who are depicted in the holy icons, apart from God and the Mother of God and
the holy angels? What names do they have? Whom do we call prophets, apostles,
martyrs, hierarchs, holy monks, unmercenaries and righteous?
About Haloes on the Icons.
Around the heads of the Saviour, the Mother of God
and the holy saints of God, in the icons and pictures of them there is depicted
a radiance or a circle of light which is called a halo.
In the halo of the Saviour there are three
letters: Ο ΩH, which translated from Greek into English mean
"Being," or "He Who Is," for God alone always
Over the head of the Mother of God are placed the
letters: ΜΡ ΘV. These are the first and last letters of
the Greek words which mean "Mary, Mother of God."
A halo is the depiction of the shining of light
and glory of God which transfigure a man who is united with God.
This invisible shining of the light of God in the
saints sometimes becomes visible for people around them.
Thus, for example, the holy Prophet Moses had to
hide his face with a veil so that people would not be blinded by the light that
proceeded from his face.
Also the face of St. Seraphim of Sarov shone like
the sun during his talk with Nicholas Motovilov about the acquisition of the
Holy Spirit. Motovilov himself wrote that it was not possible for him to look
at the face of St. Seraphim.
Thus the Lord glorified His holy saints, who shine
with the light of His glory even here on earth.
What do we call the circle of light which is depicted around the head of the
Saviour, the Mother of God and the saints? What does the halo signify?
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