...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 9:16 AM [+]
Externally speaking (an perhaps internally as well) nothing differentiates the Eastern Orthodox from the rest of Christendom than our emphasis on and use of Icons. Yes, of course there are a few traditions that give a sometimes passive nod to them, (while others dogmatically and ignorantly brand them as idolatry) but let’s be honest here, it is difficult - if not impossible - to reflect upon the Orthodox Church and not also call to mind iconography.
There is an entire theology which revolves around the use of icons in the Church, and you will note that I did not say a separate theology. Something one finds out rather quickly in Orthodoxy is the fluidity and connectivity of all the doctrines, beliefs, prayers, and liturgies - they all seem to flow in and through one another, connected primarily by a profound emphasis on the Incarnation. And it is in the Incarnation, of course, that the defense of our use of icons has historically and, I might add, effectively arisen. There really aren't varied "schools" of Orthodox theology, there is no sense of a practical or systematic theology as opposed to a mystical theology that one might emphasize one over and opposed to the other.
I could go on and o and argue for the utilitarian benefits of icons in our prayer and worship...but that is much less important and much too overly emphasized in our "me" oriented culture (more on this later). Put simply, icons are important in no small sense because they fit into the great and beautiful tapestry that is Orthodox theology and spirituality (and by the way, we ought not to mistake these two as being terribly distinct either.)
Yesterday, the first Sunday in Lent is the day we commemorate the Restoration of the Holy Icons as established in the 7th ecumenical council of 787 AD. We proclaim today in perfect accord with what we proclaimed then:
As the prophets beheld, as the Apostles have taught,
As the Church has received
As the teachers have dogmatized,
As the Universe has agreed,
As Grace has shown forth,
As Truth has revealed,
As falsehood has been dissolved,
As Wisdom has presented,
As Christ Awarded, thus we declare,
Thus we assert,
Thus we preach Christ our true God, and honor His Saints in words, in writings, in thoughts, in sacrifices, in churches, in Holy Icons; on the one hand worshipping and reverencing Christ as God and Lord; and on the other hand honoring as true servants of the same Lord of all and accordingly offering them veneration.
This is the Faith of the Apostles,
This is the Faith of the Fathers,
This is the Faith of the Orthodox,
This is the Faith which has established the universe.