Icons & Iconography

The Word “Icon” as It Appears in the Scriptures

The word icon is a transliteration of the Greek word eikon and is found in the New Testament, particularly in the letters of the apostle Paul. While most Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians are familiar with the biblical theme of Jesus as the Word of God made flesh (John 1:1-14), Orthodox Christians also celebrate the biblical theme of Jesus as the Icon or Image of God.

The icons found in Orthodox Churches are a celebration of the fact that Jesus Christ is indeed the Word of God made flesh and that anyone who has seen Jesus has seen the Father (John 12:45 and 14:8-12). As the 7th Ecumenical Council held in the city of Nicea in 787 AD proclaimed, icons are in color what the Scriptures are in words: witnesses to the incarnation, the fact that God has come among us as a person whom we can see, touch and hear. In fact, in the traditional language of the Church, icons are not merely painted but written and an iconographer is sometimes called “one who writes icons.”

Below are listed some of the places that the word icon is found in the original Greek text of the New Testament. Normally translated by the English words “image” or “likeness” in the New Revised Standard Version and the New International Version, in the texts given below the transliterated word icon has been left in the text.

“Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the icon of its Creator.”


Colossians 3:10

Colossians 3:10, Colossians 3:10
“He [Jesus] is the icon of the invisible God.”


Colossians 1:15

Colossians 1:15, Colossians 1:15
“And we all, with unveiled face, reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being changed into His icon from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is Spirit.”


2 Corinthians 3:18

2 Corinthians 3:18, 2 Corinthians 3:18
“In their case, the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the icon of God.”


2 Corinthians 4:4

2 Corinthians 4:4, 2 Corinthians 4:4

SELECT ARTICLES

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The Kissing Part

by FREDERICA MATHEWS-GREEN
On the Orthodox practice of kissing icons, crosses and the Gospel Books

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Praying with Icons: Integrating Body and Soul

by JIM FOREST
On icons and the beauty that bears witness to God

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Praying With Icons: A Short History of Icons

by JIM FOREST
extract from Praying With Icons by Jim Forest, published by Orbis Book, 1997; revised 2008

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Praying With Icons: Qualities of the Icon

by JIM FOREST
comments about the essential qualities of an icon

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Icons: Word and Image Together

by JIM FOREST
Christ the Word is also Christ the Image: Logos and Ikon

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Theology Without Words: Understanding the Language of Icons

by JIM FOREST
On the silent language of icons and their basis in Orthodox practice and worship

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Orthodox Art and Architecture

by JOHN YIANNIAS
Brief history and development of art and architecture in Orthodox worship

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The Role of Matter in Iconography & the Liturgical Arts

by CHRISTABEL HELENA ANDERSON
The importance of the material expression of the sacred in Orthodox Christianity

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SELECT WEBSITES

ICONOGRAPHERS

VIDEO RESOURCES

Iconography at St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church

Orthodox Christians, like the earliest Christian communities who met in the catacombs of ancient Rome and other places, believe that art can be used to praise and glorify the living God. To learn more about the beauty and meaning of the art that adorns the interior of St. Paul’s, please view the brief videos below:

Fr. Steven Tsichlis answers the question: Why are there icons in the Orthodox church?

Fr. Steven Tsichlis discusses the iconography in the dome of St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church

Venerating Icons

In this video, Frederica Mathewes-Green explains why Orthodox Christians kiss icons as well as how Orthodox Christians make the sign of the cross and the meaning behind it. 

In this video, Frederica Mathewes-Green talks about a lighting a candle in front of an icon. Is it idolatry?

Icons: Ancient & Modern

Classically trained iconographer, Lynette Hull, draws fascinating parallels between contemporary and ancient “icons.” 

In this video, FOCUS shows how each of us is an icon, made in the image of God. FOCUS North America is a national movement of Orthodox Christians, united in faith and joined by a desire to provide action-oriented and sustainable solutions to poverty in communities across America.

Icons in Egypt & Russia

The icons of Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai, Egypt

Revival of Orthodoxy In Russia – Exhibition in Moscow