Sunset - Larnaca

Sunset - Larnaca

Monday, 26 October 2015

Saint John of Damascus on the Veneration of Icons

'Veneration [προσκύνησης, proskynesis] is a symbol of submission and of honour. And we recognise different sorts of it – first, that by way of worship [λατρεία,latreia], which we present only to the God who is by nature to be worshipped; then that which is presented because of the God who is by nature to be worshipped to his friends and servants -- as an angel was venerated by Joshua the son of Nun and by Daniel – or to places that belong to God – as David says, ‘Let us venerate this place, where his feet have stood’ – or to things dedicated to him...'

Saint John highlights that we only worship God (Luke 4:8) , but venerate, revere and honour His holiness through His blessed people and creation. In the same way, Saint John stresses the importance of Iconography; as a means of worshipping our Lord and God, through the icon, depicting our Saviour, or one of His Saints. It is of course important to remember that each time we venerate a Saint, asking for their intercessions, we are glorifying Christ, our Saviour and the fulfiller of all. By recognising and venerating the holiness of a human person, we acknowledge our Lord's magnificence, mercy and the gifts He has bestowed upon His people. The Church, always points us to Christ - and one of the ways it does so, is through its icons and Saints. If we read the daily hymns, commemorating the Saints, Martyrs and Apostles of Christ's Holy Church, we find that the words always flow back to Him Who is the source of sanctification and of love, which has been acquired by the specific saint of God;

'..Holy one, great Martyr Demetrios, invoke Christ God for us, that He may grant us His great mercy.' (Todays Apolytikion, commemorating the Great Martyr, Saint Demetrios)


'The genuine friend of Christ, Porphyrios, O Faithful, let us honour, who was filled with all the gifts of Grace from childhood ...Glory to Him Who gave you might, Glory to Him Who sanctified you, Glory to Him Who operates through you, healings for all.' (Apolytikion of Saint Porphyrios, recently numbered among the Saints) 


Saint John describes how the incarnation of God has truly blessed man and all of creation, meaning we can worship our Creator through reverencing His 'matter,' as it was through God's very incarnation (becoming matter) that salvation is offered to mankind:

'When God has appeared by means of flesh and dwelt with human beings, I image that of God which is seen. I do not worship matter, but I venerate the creator [demiourgos] of matter, the one who became matter for my sake and undertook to dwell in matter and through matter worked my salvation.'

Christ, through His incarnation, dwells among us, within matter, and acts through the human person to bless, forgive and save. In a similar way, the Gospels for example, are made of text, however we look through the text and words in order to understand the Theology, the meaning and truth of the passages.  Saint John emphatically writes:

'The ink and all-holy book of the Gospels – are they not matter? Or the life-bringing table which supplies us with the bread of life – is it not matter? Or the gold and silver from which crosses and pyxes and chalices are fashioned – are they not matter? Or, before all these, the body and blood of my Lord – are they not matter?' 

Therefore, our Creator and God clearly works through matter. In fact, 'the invisible things of God are perceived, being understood from the creation of the world by means of the things that have been made,’ (Rom 1:20) and so, as St John writes, 'we see images in created things that signify to us dimly reflections of the divine.' The holy icons of Christ, His Mother and Saints, are a reflection of, and window into, the divine Kingdom. Icons, just as the Risen Christ is witnessed and seen transfigured, make the incomprehensible comprehensible. By bowing down before an icon, we are doing so before our very Lord, as it reminds us of Him, and brings our attention and prayerful selves to Him:

'Images were put there for remembrance – not being honoured as gods, but rather being honoured as bringing a remembrance of the working of God.'


As Saint John concludes, 'We venerate your image. We venerate all that is yours -– your servants, your friends, and, before them, your mother the Theotokos.'



- All quotes from St John of Damascus, First Discourse against those who slander the holy images unless quoted otherwise.

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