Observance focuses on icons

The dominant theme of Orthodox Sunday, observed since 843, has been that of the victory of the icons.

In that year, the iconoclastic controversy, which had raged on and off since 726, was settled.

Icons and their veneration were restored on the first Sunday in Lent; this year, March 9.

Ever since, this Sunday has been commemorated as the “Triumph of Orthodoxy.”

The Seventh Ecumenical Council dealt with icons and their place in Orthodox worship. It was convened in Nicaea in 787 and attended by 367 bishops.

Almost a century before this, the iconoclastic controversy had shaken the foundations of both church and state in the Byzantine Empire.

Excessive religious respect and the ascribed miracles to icons by some people approached the point of worship, which is due only to God.

This instigated excesses by which icons were completely taken out of the liturgical life of the church by the Iconoclasts. The Iconophiles believed that icons served to preserve the doctrinal teachings of the church; they considered icons to be man’s dynamic way of expressing the divine through art and beauty.

The council decided on a doctrine by which icons should be venerated but not worshipped.

The decree of the council for restoring icons to churches added an important clause that still stands at the foundation of the rationale for using and venerating icons in the Orthodox church. “We define that the holy icons, whether in colour, mosaic, or some other material, should be exhibited in the holy churches of God, on the sacred vessels and liturgical vestments, on the walls, furnishings, and in houses and along the roads, namely the icons of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, that of our Lady the Theotokos, those of the venerable angels and those of all saintly people.”

A special service takes place on the first Sunday of Lent, the Sunday of Orthodoxy. Orthodox teaching about icons, as defined at the Seventh Ecumenical Council of 787, is embodied in the texts sung on this Sunday.

The Rev. James Barkett is president of Eastern Orthodox Clergy Association of Mahoning Valley.

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