On Orthodox Iconography

From the Nativity 2005 issue of The Harvest, a publication of the Monastery of the Glorious Ascension, Resaca, Georgia, USA, Jerusalem Patriarchate.

Orthodox Iconography is not merely an art, but is also the science of the knowledge of God and His holy ones.

The Icon is not intended to conform to outward or “empirical” precision, according to the eyes of the flesh. Nor is it intended to be an expression of the soulfulness, or creativity of feeling, of the author/painter, for that would be merely “psychical” – of the soul.

Both of these would still be worldly art, or perhaps religious painting, or portraiture. But neither would be iconography; for iconography taps into the realm of “the spirit.”

Orthodox icons are windows into heaven, into that noetic realm of men [sic] and angels, the Heavenly Jerusalem, Mt. Zion – the city of the living God. It is not merely that those depicted have been transfigured, but we too are transformed and changed by our viewing of them. We are transported “from glory to glory” by this vision.

Through iconography we are made to behold things as they really are, after the fashion of the world to come, and not according to the things of this world…which will pass away and be changed.

Icons, when depicted after the traditional manner and within the traditional ethos of patristic spiritual life, are indeed a “foretaste of glory divine” – that Glory, Uncreated and Divine, which the Son of God, Jesus Christ, shared with His Father (and the Holy Spirit) from “before the foundation of the world.”

This is the “shekinah,” or glory-cloud, manifested continually throughout the Old Testament as the perceptible presence of the Divinity, of Jehovah or YHWH, who is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob…who is the God of Moses, who saw the fire of Divinity present in the Burning Bush, which burned with fire but was not consumed. And Moses stood on Holy Ground, unleashed his sandals, and heard the Word of God, the Angel of Great Counsel.

It is this King of Glory, the Lord of Israel, our Saviour Jesus Christ, the Son and Word of God Himself, who came down from Heaven and dwelt in a temple made of flesh. This temple is, as the Gospel says, his very own Body, which was taken from the pure and ever-virgin Mary – and she is called the Theotokos, the one who gave birth to the incarnate God.

Icons, depictions of Holy things and Holy people, were ultimately made possible by Christ’s incarnation. By His taking on of matter and of visible existence, He has sanctified the things of earth and made them spiritual, bearers of the Spirit and vessels of God.

God is “wondrous in His saints,” as King David said in the Book of Psalms. And we wonder at and behold the mighty acts of God by viewing holy icons of the incarnate God, of His Holy Mother, of the angels (who, by the way, were depicted in the Holy of Holies and on the Curtain, even in the Old Testament Temple), and of the lives, persons, and great deeds of all the Saints who have served our Lord Jesus Christ.

To God be Glory: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.


  1. Desert Pilgrim

    Thank you so much for this. I have just written my first Icon. I have visited Monastery of the Glorious Ascension many times.
    Blessings in Christ.
    Desert Pilgrim

  2. Leo Peter O'Filon

    You’re welcome, Mother. Please pray for us all.

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