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People don’t believe we need icons to know that Jesus was real. Then why do we need them to believe? Aren’t we just supposed to believe?
An icon in Orthodox Christianity can be said to be a picture or image representing an event, person, or teaching of the Church likened to an outward expression of an inward belief, a window into faith.
An icon can take on other forms as in the Old Testament in Genesis 1:26 Then God said: “Let Us make man in Our image (εικονα, icon), according to Our likeness.” And so we too (mankind) are created as an “icon of Christ.”
You are absolutely right when you say we don’t need icons to know or believe that Jesus is real! We also don’t need to wear or display any crosses, symbols, objects of worship, pictures of Jesus of any kind, Bible illustrations, manger scenes, and even displays of the Ten Commandments, to know that Jesus is real, right?
All that is needed to know Jesus is real is a leap of faith to “know” that He exists in the center of your consciousness by the following Scripture passage. Saint Paul says in Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me….”
Not everyone knew how to read or write let alone speak the same language in the ancient church. Many Icons depicted stories of believers who were involved in the persecution and testimony of the teachings of Christ and the Apostles.
Examples of those iconographic images and events were the saints, martyrs, the “cloud of witnesses,” the cross, the tomb, the resurrection, the ascension into heaven, the enthronement at the right hand of God the Father, and the second glorious coming, etc.
Saint Paul says to pray unceasingly, which for Orthodox Christians means to always have the consciousness of God in everything we experience throughout the day, no matter how mundane or insignificant we may think that event might be. The presence of Icons aids reinforces and reminds the believer of his faith and commitment in his daily walk in the pursuit of his love for God and his neighbor. Blessings.
Additional reading and references of Icons