The Meaning of Icons  (Vol III, Ch 9)

From Michael Ruse:

Icons are venerable, ineffable, mystical, myrrh-bearing, rainbow-hued, miraculous, hesychastic and meaningful. How exactly are icons meaningful to us? 

When we discuss the meaning of icons, there are several major topics that come up. They have a theological, an anthropological, and a cosmic meaning, which means it has to do with God, Christ the God-man, and all of creation and mankind including our experiences, moral and mystical. 

Metropolitan Hilarion draws a distinction between religious art during the Renaissance and Iconography as understood and experienced by the Orthodox Church, and the previous Chapter 8 has helped to set that foundation for us. 

How would we ourselves look in an icon? In the East, icons are “static,” not stuck in this world of bodily movements nor do they even focus on particular emotional experiences as some other religious traditions or philosophies promote. 

Neither are they “dynamic” and passionate as we see beautifully portrayed in Classical Western art of the often nude, muscular, agonizing bodies and realistic beasts that take their form from Greco-Roman mythologies. 

After the struggle with passions having been conquered, Orthodox icons are like the victory laps of the saints. We too struggle to receive that renewed body and mind. In this way, icons are both relatable to our daily struggle and also inexhaustible in their meaning.