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Why do Eastern Orthodox Christians kiss icons?
Icons serve to preserve the doctrinal teachings of the Church. They are an integral part of Orthodox faith and devotion. They have a sacramental character, making present to the believer the person or event depicted on them. The icon has connectivity to our lives; they represent what we believe. The icon speaks to us, preaches to us in its depiction, teaches us, illumines us and assists us to imitate the Saints and God.
In the Orthodox Church icons are venerated with the understanding that veneration is not paid to the material icon but to the person or event represented “in spirit and truth” (John 4: 24).
Veneration (σεβασμός) is a reverence (ευλάβεια), honor (τιμή) of love (αγάπη) or recognition “paid to all those endowed with some dignity” as portrayed on an icon. The events and persons depicted are in most cases, the Trinity, Christ, the Apostles, the disciples, the saints, the martyrs, the mother of God (Theotokos), and the church fathers. Veneration is often misinterpreted in the West as worship, however, worship (προσκύνησης) in the Eastern Orthodox Church is only reserved for God alone.
The veneration given to the icon passes over, as Saint Basil says, to its prototype, causing those who look at them to commemorate and love and respect in remembrance of that person or event.
So an icon emanates the living presence of God, who is wondrous in his Saints and grace is thus transmitted to the faithful who venerate it. Through the grace of God, the Saint comes to us, interceding for us in a way that is mystical and cannot be understood by human reason though it is known to the believers.
When we venerate the icons with faith, we are living within the realm of the Church, and we become part of that mystical union with Christ and all the saints, members of the precious body of Christ, a living breathing organism.
As an infant, I was baptized as an Eastern Orthodox Christian. However, I would say that becoming a Christian is a work in progress, and I often wonder would there be enough evidence to convict me of becoming a Christian. The Orthodox Church is the ancient Church that Christ and the Apostles established. It is not a religion but rather a way of life. It is not about rules and regulations but rather guide posts to make choices to transition to what we were designed to become. Becoming Orthodox is not a conversion but more so a transformation of self. It’s not about being right: it is about “right being.” In John 14:6, Christ says I am the Way (to love and serve one another), the Truth (there is only one reality), and the Life (that life source is love). I invite you to submit any topics or questions to “Ask An Eastern Orthodox Christian” on the website. Join me in finding our way back home to the original teachings of the Church. When you change the way you look at things, things change the way they look.