As a Pastor I see this is can be very dangerous! Icons have become objects of worship, or prayed to, which is idolatry. We are to worship God alone, and pray to God alone and not to some saint. I have not seen any scriptural evidence of the positive use of icons, nor any evidence in scripture of anyone praying to a saint as those who are in the Catholic church do.
In addition....what is the purpose of the icon in the first place? What is its role in worship? Does it become an object of worship? If it helps one focus on worship....are we focusing on the icon or are we worshiping God?
Elsewhere he writes, "No man has seen God at any time ... except that God has revealed himself unto us." It is therefore believed that because God took the form of man in Jesus Christ that we may see him.
I believe it is also the teaching that each person bears the image of God, icons, which are, so to speak, images of God (divine images) therefore are present in any church which contains people. It is a matter of how we treat the icons not whether we have them. Is it more proper to face a pastor or worship leader or an image of Christ and his Mother?
I am not able or worthy (if John was not either) to speak of the finer distinctions of this.
I can see, however, that there has been much injury and offense in this subject, leading to a misunderstanding of the image of God. We offer veneration, that is, respect and honor, to icons and well as to holy people and even we should to any human being. I do understand that a lot of reaction to icons is tied up in the Roman Catholic church and in particular various free floating cults of the saints that are vaguely associated with her. This includes things such as 'Santoria' (spelling it wrong, I think.)...
If this is the case, that we are all icons, then we risk idolizing each other just as much as we do a painted icon. Presenting the cloud of witnesses, those who came before - and their presence with us through Christ does not, I believe, present any greater or lesser risk of idolatry than does the presence of an exemplary person in the flesh.
Read John, if you will, and keep in mind that a cross - any cross - as well, is an icon of the crucifixion, with our without Christ on it.
PS - there was a serious corruption in iconography in the west, taking the more blessed art and polluting it with naturalism, and in particular a strange feminized touch that makes everything look soft and dreamlike. this corruption even touched Russia during the 1800's and other places that were influenced by her.
Luther called the church the speaking-house - to get an idea of what we can easily focus on even without any icons present.
The view of icons in the western church is very different than the eastern church so I don't want to say that icons are good or not good. To be honest, the western church has it's own 'icons' and traditions. Anything that draws our attention to God and prods us to think on Him, meditate on His Goodness, to seek His face is good - could be a song, some wall hanging with an inspirational saying and photo, could be a stained glass window or the cross or bible in the sanctuary, could be the icons found in the eastern orthodoxy, even the traditions of Judaism especially when viewed in light of Christ. The caviat is that we, as humans, can easily start to focus on the object or the feelings created by the object and lose perspective.
As Christians, we are to pursue a relationship with God. We have access to the Holy One thru the blood of Jesus. We need to continually develop this relationship and allow God to develop us as He sees fit. The techniques we use to distance ourselves from the world and focus on God may vary but that is the goal isn't it - to seek God - to hotly desire God. As we mature, I think we should lessen the use of these techniques and work more on the relationship.
One last thought - when we get to heaven, are we going to have any of our 'icons' to help us worship?
Ah! That's a question no man can answer. But then we will see face to face. Lewis might have known something about it, in his book, 'The Great Divorce'.
Worship can be understood to not just be what the Orthodox refer to as 'rational worship', that is, singing praise, praying written or spontaneous prayers in a language, doing prostrations, reverencing the holy things, and so forth, but also every act that God made us to do. When it says God made us to worship him it does not mean he made us to stand and praise him, but that he made us to remember and dwell in him in all of our tasks, making them sacred and life giving. This has a lot to do with Paul's saying: "Pray unceasingly". (There is a book called 'The Way of The Pilgrim' in which a Russian peasant hears this Epistle reading and wonders how such a thing is possible! So he sets off on a pilgrimage to find out.)
So in heaven there may be no church services or painted icons at all - since there were none in the Garden - in fact if we expect to be standing in a giant crowd and constantly singing hymns we might be disappointed. For no-one knows what we shall be after the Resurrection. Perhaps I will simply be a gardener, dwelling constantly in the Lord, growing a garden which has no bounds? And in that place surely, no one will say to his neighbor, "Know the Lord" for all shall know him.
But if each person is a living icon, then there will be plenty of icons in Heaven.
Then again, when we die we will be in Paradise (if we are able and God wills) awaiting the resurrection of the dead. Then after that there will be the New Jerusalem. The oft - cited notion of Heaven that many Christians have is not scriptural (neither is the vision of Hell.) What the real meaning and import of the Final Judgment is is impossible to fathom. The most we can do is 'Be perfect as [He] is perfect."
Speaking of the relationship with God, here's an interesting podcast about what that 'looks' like.
It is not simply a picture. And anyway, what justifies you or me being up on stage instead of Christ? And if you say that 'its just a thing' recall that in Acts, the mere shadow of the apostles and their possessions healed and performed miracles. We are also told, in the words of Gregory the theologian, that the creation is divinized and redeemed by participation through us in the worship of God. Therefore we should seek that any art be drawn into Christianity - the visual arts are redeemed in the icon, and the icon in its integration into the life of Worship. Then wherever an icon is, a man is mindful of God whether that icon be of the Incarnate Lord or of any of the Holy ones. The symbol, in this case icon, is a participant in what it symbolizes while not being actually it. Therefore instead of viewing whatever, our minds are occupied with contemplating the icon of our Lord.
I don't have any really strong views either way, I believe that as long as we are focusing on God and developing our relationship with him that is more important. Looking at the image of a cross can help us focus and remind us of the sacrifice Jesus made. Having images supposedly of Jesus I find a bit difficult. We are made in God's image, not the other way round. Having an image or icon of Jesus has a danger of trying to portray Jesus in our own image.
As others have mentioned, some kinds of iconography can end up being the focus of our worship. Also, it could hinder in other ways such as believing that we have to be in that particular place, to worship. Does it help us get into God's presence or is it something between us a God. Under the new covenant, we have a priesthood of all believers, we all have access directly to the Father through Jesus, the days of special places (For the Jews it was the temple) have passed. The early church showed us a new style of worship where individually we came into God's presence (As opposed to just the priest) when the Corinthians were worshipping they were so into it and so many prophecies and tongues were being brought that it was a complete shambles that Paul had to address. They weren't loving one another and not listening to each other, so Paul gave some advice on what they should do to enable their worship and God's response to build up the entire church.
I do believe that we can worship in many different styles, the values remain though.
Thanks for the question though Anthony. I do think that it is brave of you to open these discussions knowing that most on here have a very different style. It is always good to examine what we do any why.
The Divine Word took on our nature, therefore he is one of us. If we allow a picture of any man, than we must allow a picture of Christ. I will not say you have to, since that is never the way of the Christian, in that God never forces himself onto us but always calls and awaits our response.
As for special places, they always exist. They were in myth, in history, and therefore they are real. Denying them simply kills the mind. If someone tells me that, hmm,
The place where Christ was baptized is not a holy place, then where is? Christ is everywhere; so every place has the potential to be returned to its intended state: holiness. Therefore going to the holy places is not 'necessary' but it is, like all things we have as Christians, a help to our salvation. Any one thing can be the focus of our worship if we desire, but eliminating or adding things will not alter this situation. Can we say that the barbarians - those without any formal religion at all - were less idolaters than the Hellenists, with their formal cults?
Also, a bit of logical work here - if we come into the presence of Christ, what does that mean? If others are in his presence, then we are in their presence also. Icons remind us also of this reality.
Thanks for responding. I am greatly sad that not only have icons fallen out of use but they are so poorly understood these days. To fully comprehend this it would be necessary to find a place where their traditional use is maintained fully, since there are many aspects to their use that I know not of nor could explain in words.