Greek icon photo by Εγκώμια/Flickr

Ask an Eastern Orthodox Christian: Why do you kiss icons?

By Nicholas Damascus

What would you like to know about the Eastern Orthodox Christian faith? Submit your question.

Why do Eastern Orthodox Christians kiss icons?

easternorthodoxAn icon is traditionally a Byzantine-style portrait on several mediums, representing a person or an event of Christian history or scenes from the Bible.

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.

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