Like all sacred art, the goal of icons is to lead the viewer into deeper reflection and prayer, and to make the divine present in some way to the viewer. We do not worship an icon. Veneration means to honor who the icon represents. In the Eastern tradition, icons are considered “windows” to heaven. When we venerate an icon through our prayerful silence before it or with a bow or a kiss we are to see through the icon into the divine love and reality it represents.
In his meditation on icons St. John the Damascene wrote the following:
I do not venerate matter, I venerate the fashioner of matter, who became matter for my sake and accepted to dwell in matter and through matter worked my salvation, and I will not cease from reverencing matter, through which my salvation was worked.
It is said that we do not simply look at icons; we "read" them. Similarly, an iconographer does not "paint" an icon, but rather, "writes" it.
This is because the iconographer is not creating something new, but transmitting a spiritual and artistic tradition and the visual theology contained in it. He takes the bones of his work from icons made before him, adding his own interpretation yet keeping the essence intact to continue this tradition. In this way, icons are a living link to the earliest iconographers. In the Orthodox tradition they are believed to be a link even to Jesus Christ and his Mother Mary and the saints.
This coming Sunday, October 15, as we pray for peace for Ukraine and the Holy Land, there will be an icon graciously lent to us by Jim B. The icon is of the Theotokos - Mother of God of Tenderness. The Theotokos is especially meaningful to the people of Ukraine. They venerate the Theotokos as a protectoress of Ukraine and those who defend her. October 14, until recently, has been the day designated for the Feast of the Intercession when Ukrainians give thanks for the Theotokos’ love of humankind and her protection which is spread over the world.