In the Orthodox Church, the first Sunday of Lent is celebrated as Orthodoxy Sunday. That was yesterday.
Orthodoxy Sunday celebrates the day in 843AD when the Roman Empress Theodora ordered the restoration of all the icons to their proper place in the churches, after a century of controversy and iconoclasm. As a former Protestant, I was fairly ignorant of the high-level debate around icons in this period of history. I thought praying to icons was just some pointless, superstitious religious exercise that old Russian babushkas did.
But icons are a big deal, and iconoclasm a real threat to sound doctrine. So much so that at the second Nicean Council of 787AD a Bishop declared:
“This heresy is the worst of all heresies. Woe to the iconoclasts! It is the worst of heresies, as it subverts the incarnation of our Savior!”
Really, what icons say is that people can be Holy, and objects can be Holy, and furthermore, they depict real, material people who were filled with the Spirit of God. In the case of Christ, they testify that He came in the flesh, that He purified bodies, that He resurrected bodies (especially His own) and made them Holy. They testify to what we see in Acts 19:11-12 – that if even the Apostle Paul’s discarded snot-rags can work miracles, how much more can the Holy images of Christ and the Saints?
Icons are your friends. Honestly, I don’t know how I used to pray without them. They’re not idols, but Holy windows to Heaven by which we can glorify Christ and Christ can bless us. They transform Christianity from an intellectual (gnostic) faith that seeks escape from the material world and its trappings, to a faith of both soul and body, that saves and restores both.
These are the ones I have at home:
In the words of Nicea II:
“The Holy Synod cried out: So we all believe, we all are so minded, we all give our consent and have signed. This is the faith of the Apostles, this is the faith of the orthodox, this is the faith that has made firm the whole world. Believing in one God, to be celebrated in Trinity, we salute the honorable images! Those who do not so hold, let them be anathema. Those who do not thus think, let them be driven far away from the Church. For we follow the most ancient legislation of the Catholic Church. We keep the laws of the Fathers. We anathematize those who add anything to or take anything away from the Catholic Church. We anathematize the introduced novelty of the revilers of Christians. We salute the venerable images. We place under anathema those who do not do this. Anathema to them who presume to apply to the venerable images the things said in Holy Scripture about idols. Anathema to those who do not salute the holy and venerable images. Anathema to those who call the sacred images idols. Anathema to those who say that Christians resort to the sacred images as to gods. Anathema to those who say that any other delivered us from idols except Christ our God. Anathema to those who dare to say that at any time the Catholic Church received idols. Many years to the Emperor!”