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Struggling and need help

wooster

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Dear all,

I am from a Protestant background and although my faith is fragile and undeveloped, I am genuinely seeking truth and spiritual growth. I have no wish to ridicule or argue with anyone and I pray every day for truth to be revealed to me and for Jesus to lead me to the true faith he wants me to embrace.

I need to express an honest doubt in an attempt to get some help with it. I hope you will read my post in that light.

Orthodoxy is extremely attractive to me in so many many ways and I am strongly drawn to it. Although no English-speaking Orthodox Churches are near me, I have started to make some contacts in a community I visit regularly and have attended Liturgy there a couple of times. Although I feel a strong affinity with Orthodoxy, there are three things that bother me but I will stick to one in particular here: Icons.

This is a real stumbling block for me. It would perhaps be slightly easier if they were an optional aid but I struggle especially with their status as a compulsory part of worship. From what I’m reading, it seems the veneration of icons appears to be a practice developed by some, only starting a couple of hundred years after Christ. I also believe New Testament writers deny Christ could be visible until his return, and many sources suggest the early Church tradition and Fathers opposed the use of images of Jesus. I'm not sure if I've got this right or not.

In my searches, I even read an account of some monk who was struck blind for using a torch too near an icon of Mary. He had previously ignored a voice warning him to stop making the icon sooty by using a lit torch too close to it. According to this account, Mary later healed him in answer to his prayers. Now, I don’t know if you can imagine how that story sounds to a cradle Baptist but it isn’t easy to digest, to say the least! Please don’t take this as being disrespectful of anyone’s beliefs but try and understand the cultural leap I need to make here.

I don’t expect anyone to be able to resolve my difficulties using an internet post but if you could point me to any reading you feel might be helpful to me, I’d be very grateful.

Thank you kindly for your patience and help

William
 
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I have never paid much attention to accounts of fantastic occurrences around icons. Focus on the necessary aspects of the faith in which we have our hope in salvation by grace. A good short overview of Orthodoxy was written on by the late Archbishop Paul of Finland ( about 100 pp.). His book is called the Faith We Hold. While there are many good books on Orthodoxy, a person needs a concise and substantive overview.





 

Shanghaiski

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If, perchance, you saw someone desecrating the symbol or image of someone or something you loved very much (i.e., a national flag, a grave marker of a family member, a photo of your wife or children), you can understand how this would be upsetting in that it shows an utter lack of respect for you and the person or thing you loved, and shows the desecrator to be at a kind of enmity with not only you, but your principles - and not just your personal principles, but universal principles and human decency itself. Wouldn't you agree?

Now, magnify that by an exponential factor because it involves the things of God, and you are a man who loves God, who marvels at the works of God, who hopes in the salvation given by God.

This is part of what icons mean to the Orthodox Christians, from both the human and theological point of view. Icons are fundamental for our faith in that they are a confession of faith in the incarnation of the Son of God. Their very existence and honoring in churches and homes is an illustration of the Gospel revelation: that God became man. He was was unable to be seen or handled, became both visible and tangible, truly a man, for the salvation of the entire cosmos. The making and veneration of icons safeguards the Orthodox confession of faith. If the Incarnate God cannot be depicted, then was he really incarnate? And, if he was not really incarnate, how can anyone be saved? Did he undergo crucifixion and death as some kind of ruse, as many early heretics postulated? Indeed not!

Of course, there are many, many implications of the incarnation of the Logos that are very uncomfortable for Protestants because, fundamentally, these implications demand that the parts of Scripture Protestants have ignored or misinterpreted for hundreds of years (or just decades) be re-examined and their erroneous positions be changed. Interestingly, many of these things relate to the very incarnation of God - such as the Mother of God, the saints, actual righteousness instead of imputed righteousness, the sanctification of matter, etc.

With regard to the correction of irreverence regarding holy things, what you mentioned above is not some medieval fabrication. It happens even today in the face of disbelief and impiety. This relates to the sanctification of matter, which itself is made possible by the incarnation of the Son of God, who truly took on flesh, and remains united to such flesh even now and when he shall return in glory to judge the living and the dead. That deified human flesh sits at the right hand of the Father right now and forever. This is our salvation, and we proclaim it through the holy icons.

It is impossible to make a definitive case that there was a time when icons did not exist. We know from archaeological evidence that there are many Jewish synagogues prior to the time of Christ that were covered in iconography with images of the saints from the Old Testament. We also know from the Torah how God commanded Moses to create various images and even worked divine things through such images, as a foreshadowing of what would come in the New Covenant. But the reason that we today are so emphatic about icons is because of what I explained above - they are a confession of faith in the incarnation of the Son of God, which faith was attacked throughout the centuries by all the heretics.
 

RaphaCam

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From what I’m reading, it seems the veneration of icons appears to be a practice developed by some, only starting a couple of hundred years after Christ. [...] many sources suggest the early Church tradition and Fathers opposed the use of images of Jesus.
Indeed, we have few to no definitive evidence of veneration of icons until the 4th century, but we have a lot of early evidence of iconography, and lack of evidence doesn't mean much. The vast majority of historical records from Antiquity was lost. I recall once reading a number around 95% of the books. Let alone more informal things that could hold evidence, like epistles, diaries, homilies... Actually, the pre-Nicene era is very very murky, and there are even major Holy Fathers, like Quadratus of Athens and Papias of Hierapolis, that are only known from references.

From the 4th century on, there are already clear evidences of the regulation of icons, some of which are misconstrued by Protestant apologetics as opposing icons.

The first one was Canon XXXVI of the Council of Elvira, which states, in the middle of the greatest persecution ever suffered by the Church, that nothing (ne quod) that is reverenced and glorified should be painted on the walls. It was a measure against profanation. Protestant interpreters claim that ne quod shouldn't be read as an expression, but rather as words with separate meanings. This would mean that the correct translation is that what is reverenced and glorified shouldn't be painted on the walls. This means only God should be reverenced and glorified, not things that can be painted. This makes absolutely no sense, because God can be painted, since Christ is God. The question they're positing is whether God should be painted. Context tells the answer is yes. Also, I think their translation may be even objectively wrong, I think it would only make sense if it were ne quem rather than ne quod, but this is above my paygrade.

I can't find the other examples I had in mind right now, but there are also one forbidding that crosses be painted on the floor (not a canon, an imperial decree) and one forbidding Christ from being depicted like Zeus. The latter may be a few centuries later than I recall, though.

Now, what about the alleged iconoclastic (anti-icon) Holy Fathers?
  • St. Irenaeus of Lyons criticises the weird rites that the Carpocratians, a syncretic heresy, did around images of Christ (that they alleged to have received from Pilate himself) and Pagan philosophers. These are definitely not icons.
  • St. Clement of Alexandria is very controversial, some wouldn't even call him a saint, in a large part because he focused too much on symbolism. Anyway, he argued that the immaterial shouldn't be portrayed materially at one point, and at another point he said the cherubim (immaterial) in the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:18-22) were not how the cherubim actually looked like, but rather that their characteristics were mystical symbols. In other words, the cherubim were iconic... Manifestations handed down directly by God are the only way we'll ever depict, say, the Holy Trinity (Genesis 18:1-15) or angels.
  • Tertullian thinks any picture or sculpture is an idol. He was an extremist who took everything to the letter, and this is why he was eventually excommunicated, and now he's just regarded as an ecclesiastical writer, rather than a Holy Father.
  • Lactantius seems to have supported an iconoclastic position, but, like Tertullian, he's not a Holy Father. Also, like Tertullian, he was a Berber, which may indicate a common local tradition. Berber Christians split in many different sects, were easily islamised, and then created many different sects again. Go figure. I have guesses for why they kept doing this, but they're not relevant for this thread and it's not polite to speculate on the history of living peoples with few information.
  • Eusebius of Caesarea, who's not a Holy Father, speaks of icons with neutral respect in some parts of his public work, but there's an alleged private letter that's clearly iconoclastic. There are more details that makes this a very interesting histoircal debate, but, since he's not a Holy Father and this text has a more apologetical tone, I'll only get there if anyone's curious.
  • St. Gregory the Great praises Serenus of Marseille for fighting for the abuse of Holy Icons, but he also gently reprimends him for having destroyed them, later claiming that the images serve for instruction, favouring memorisation and inciting compunction. Sts. Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory the Theologian and Paulinus of Nola also intervened against Serenus's actions.
  • St. Epiphanius of Salamis, who was the primate of the isolated Church of Cyprus, has an explicitly iconoclastic letter attributed to him. It was repeatedly alleged to be false. Since his disciple and successor St. Sabinus of Cyprus constructed a church full of icons in his honour, and Cyprus was an iconodule (anti-iconoclastic) hub when the Isaurians sanctioned iconoclasm. The emperor would even exile iconodule monks to Cyprus! Keep in mind Cyprus was an autocephalous (independent) geographically and even politically isolated church.
Now that we came to the story of the Isaurians... Long story short, they were an dynasty with Arab origins that ruled the Byzantine brought iconoclasm from Islam, as well as other things that lead modern historians agree with his contemporaries that their founder Leo III was "Saracen-minded". After a lot of ups and downs, iconoclasm was finally condemned, in the Seventh Ecumenical Council. When major heresies were defeated, the rite would be changed to denounce heretics and teach people so heresy doesn't come back. Then, the result of the Seventh was putting a lot of icons on the walls, taking iconography very seriously and having people pay their respects to the icons, as a pedagogical practice to incite compunction.

I also believe New Testament writers deny Christ could be visible until his return,
Sorry, but I don't see where this is coming from.

In my searches, I even read an account of some monk who was struck blind for using a torch too near an icon of Mary. He had previously ignored a voice warning him to stop making the icon sooty by using a lit torch too close to it. According to this account, Mary later healed him in answer to his prayers. Now, I don’t know if you can imagine how that story sounds to a cradle Baptist but it isn’t easy to digest, to say the least! Please don’t take this as being disrespectful of anyone’s beliefs but try and understand the cultural leap I need to make here.
I believe you'll understand it if you realise that the heart of the story is the moment in which he received his sight back. The experience made him grow spiritually, and better understand the power of the saints.

Anyway, many of these stories are pious fiction. This shouldn't be interpreted as dishonest, unless it involves names or it was made by someone trying to make a point they shouldn't be making.

Please, come back if you have any further questions. I feel you're ready to simply talk it out and we're not afraid of honest questions.
 
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I would also like to add links to an ancient church manual titled: The Didache which is from about 100 AD or earlier. The Nicene Creed and an Orthodox expression of the 10 commandments. All of this is probably about 20 printed pages.





Also read Colossians 1.
 
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wooster

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Thank you all, friends. The " Like" button is such an inadequate way to recognise gratitude for your responses.

There's a lot to unpack here and I'm going to take a few days and pray about this.

In the meantime, can I just clarify: if I didn't actively venerate icons ( ie liss them and bow to them) but just quietly respected their place in the worship of others and displayed reverence to their beliefs, would that be tolerated in the Church of not? I mean of course while fully recognising the Incarnation and all that Icons symbolise to others
 

Katechon

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Thank you all, friends. The " Like" button is such an inadequate way to recognise gratitude for your responses.

There's a lot to unpack here and I'm going to take a few days and pray about this.

In the meantime, can I just clarify: if I didn't actively venerate icons ( ie liss them and bow to them) but just quietly respected their place in the worship of others and displayed reverence to their beliefs, would that be tolerated in the Church of not? I mean of course while fully recognising the Incarnation and all that Icons symbolise to others
Take it slowly. Nobody in Orthodoxy is in a rush. Nobody expects you to get everything right at day 1 ( or even day 1000 or day 10.000 for that matter).
 

RaphaCam

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Thank you all, friends. The " Like" button is such an inadequate way to recognise gratitude for your responses.
There's a love button too! :p

In the meantime, can I just clarify: if I didn't actively venerate icons ( ie liss them and bow to them) but just quietly respected their place in the worship of others and displayed reverence to their beliefs, would that be tolerated in the Church of not? I mean of course while fully recognising the Incarnation and all that Icons symbolise to others
Listen to @Katechon . Observe how people do it with an open heart, though, and you'll see that St. Gregory the Great's words are very up-to-date.

Also, you may look into the iconodule apology of St. John of Damascus. It's very late, inside the context of Byzantine iconoclasm I mentioned and all, but that's not an issue here, because I'm commending it for its theology, not for historical evidence.
 

Ainnir

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In the meantime, can I just clarify: if I didn't actively venerate icons ( ie liss them and bow to them) but just quietly respected their place in the worship of others and displayed reverence to their beliefs, would that be tolerated in the Church of not? I mean of course while fully recognising the Incarnation and all that Icons symbolise to others
Each priest guides a little differently, but the priest who received me into the Church did not make a huge issue of this. It was a bit of a hurdle for me, too. I remember the first time I "venerated" an icon, all I could do was pause and nod. 😊 No one laughed at me or chastised me. It was while I was still inquiring, I think. In a way, it makes sense. The people in these icons are strangers to you. Why would you venerate them? And our Western culture is kind of funny about physical affection anyway. But we understand that we kiss what we love and we bow to what we honor. And that is what the Orthodox are doing. It isn't that we love or honor the materials with which the icons (or chalice or crosses) are made but the people they depict and ultimately the God that has made them holy. We definitely love and honor Him, and so we kiss and bow. For Scripture, you only need to look at when Christ chastised the Pharisees and reminded them that the temple sanctifies the gold and the altar sanctifies the gifts. Why? Because already God made that place and that thing sacred, and they in turn sanctified what was rightly offered within and on them.

Another key point that helped me understand this issue and several others is we don't view the physical and spiritual as two separate realities with a glass wall between them. It's one reality, two dimensions (so to speak). God is not "the man upstairs." He's here and now, "In Whom we live and move and have our being." We swim in His Divine Presence... it's just most of us most of the time aren't aware of it, don't want to be, or couldn't handle it. But we recognize in our prayers that God is "everywhere present and filling all things." This is true omnipresence. Understand that, and then it's easier to understand how He can sanctify people, places, and physical objects, and why we would then love and honor them.
 
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In my searches, I even read an account of some monk who was struck blind for using a torch too near an icon of Mary. He had previously ignored a voice warning him to stop making the icon sooty by using a lit torch too close to it. According to this account, Mary later healed him in answer to his prayers. Now, I don’t know if you can imagine how that story sounds to a cradle Baptist but it isn’t easy to digest, to say the least! Please don’t take this as being disrespectful of anyone’s beliefs but try and understand the cultural leap I need to make here.
Uzzah was killed for touching a box that had old food, a stick, and some stone tablets in it. Most Baptists are fine with that story. The Mother of God is the true Ark. Besides, she gave fair warning, unlike with Uzzah.
 

wooster

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Uzzah was killed for touching a box that had old food, a stick, and some stone tablets in it. Most Baptists are fine with that story. The Mother of God is the true Ark. Besides, she gave fair warning, unlike with Uzzah.
On balance, you are more than likely right in saying most Baptists would accept that event without question. The reason they would is that it is recorded in the Bible, which makes it quite a big deal to most Baptists. The Ark had been previously referenced on several occasions - also in the Bible - and there were strict rules as to its handling and the reverence due to it, made clear in the Bible. There were indeed warnings issued as to the consequences of touching it incorrectly, also recorded in the Bible.

On the other hand, as far as I know, the veneration of Icons is not mentioned in the Bible and no mention of the consequences of going to near one with a torch. The very same Baptists you reference would also most likely have a different view of Mary from the Orthodox one; this was most certainly true of the Church in which I was raised.

My point was that given all these differences, it was quite a leap for me and hope it isn't too hard to see why given my background I might have a hurdle to jump. That's all I was saying

I'm not arguing against the Orthodox view of Icons: I came here hoping to learn about Orthodoxy not to bash it, however, I can't see these two events as being comparable or a reason, in itself, why a Baptist should accept the Icon event.

Having said that, as I mentioned above there's a lot to consider and you have all given me food for thought. So thank you for all your help
 

xariskai

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TheTrisagion

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On balance, you are more than likely right in saying most Baptists would accept that event without question. The reason they would is that it is recorded in the Bible, which makes it quite a big deal to most Baptists. The Ark had been previously referenced on several occasions - also in the Bible - and there were strict rules as to its handling and the reverence due to it, made clear in the Bible. There were indeed warnings issued as to the consequences of touching it incorrectly, also recorded in the Bible.

On the other hand, as far as I know, the veneration of Icons is not mentioned in the Bible and no mention of the consequences of going to near one with a torch. The very same Baptists you reference would also most likely have a different view of Mary from the Orthodox one; this was most certainly true of the Church in which I was raised.

My point was that given all these differences, it was quite a leap for me and hope it isn't too hard to see why given my background I might have a hurdle to jump. That's all I was saying

I'm not arguing against the Orthodox view of Icons: I came here hoping to learn about Orthodoxy not to bash it, however, I can't see these two events as being comparable or a reason, in itself, why a Baptist should accept the Icon event.

Having said that, as I mentioned above there's a lot to consider and you have all given me food for thought. So thank you for all your help
There are undoubtedly accounts involving icons that are not factual, or perhaps a better way to say it is that they are intended more as a pious expression of faith rather than an actual historical event. Other times, they might actually be outright fraud. As someone who does believe that miraculous events can and do occur in the presence of icons, I think it is important to recognize that just because it may happen in one place doesn't mean that they are all true.

With that preface, I think it is helpful to understand what actually is taking place. For example, when the Hebrew priests burned incense on the alter of incense, they did so in front of a large curtain with the iconography of angels on it. When they put blood on the Holy Seat, they did so while censing a statue of two angels with wings outstretched over the Holy Seat. To an unknowing onlooker, those priests were worshiping that imagery. Of course, we know that is not what was happening. They were worshiping God in the presence of imagery. With icons, it is the same thing. If I ask a saint to pray for me in the presence of his icon. I'm not worshiping the icon or the saint. Instead, I'm providing a visual tool to assist me in my petition. If I'm praying to God in the presence of an icon of Christ, I'm not worshiping the icon. I'm using it as a tool. My mind can easily wander during prayer, and an icon can help me remain focused. Icons are also used as tools of teaching and learning. There are many things portrayed in icons that have the purpose of providing theological instruction. Hope this helps!
 

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One of my “a ha” moments came from an AFR podcast. The host was a priest who had a Protestant visitor one Sunday. The visitor was having trouble with the icons and said (more or less), “If I were to decorate a church, I’d cover the walls in Scripture.” The priest said the visitor then looked around and after a bit said, “Oh.”

The Bible is a written testament to God’s interaction with man. Icons are a visual testament.
 

wooster

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There are undoubtedly accounts involving icons that are not factual, or perhaps a better way to say it is that they are intended more as a pious expression of faith rather than an actual historical event. Other times, they might actually be outright fraud. As someone who does believe that miraculous events can and do occur in the presence of icons, I think it is important to recognize that just because it may happen in one place doesn't mean that they are all true.

With that preface, I think it is helpful to understand what actually is taking place. For example, when the Hebrew priests burned incense on the alter of incense, they did so in front of a large curtain with the iconography of angels on it. When they put blood on the Holy Seat, they did so while censing a statue of two angels with wings outstretched over the Holy Seat. To an unknowing onlooker, those priests were worshiping that imagery. Of course, we know that is not what was happening. They were worshiping God in the presence of imagery. With icons, it is the same thing. If I ask a saint to pray for me in the presence of his icon. I'm not worshiping the icon or the saint. Instead, I'm providing a visual tool to assist me in my petition. If I'm praying to God in the presence of an icon of Christ, I'm not worshiping the icon. I'm using it as a tool. My mind can easily wander during prayer, and an icon can help me remain focused. Icons are also used as tools of teaching and learning. There are many things portrayed in icons that have the purpose of providing theological instruction. Hope this helps!
Nothing you have said here makes a difficulty for me and I can completely get the logic behind all of it. In our Church, as is the case in many Protestant Churches, we had stained glass windows and it’s certainly plausible that some of the congregation would have used these as tools during worship in exactly the way you describe. I do find the kissing and bowing odd. Really, it would be odd if I didn’t because I’ve never encountered it before, and because I'm a dour Scot extremely reluctant to engage in public displays of hugging or kissing. Nonetheless, in the context of your illustration, I can see it as an extension of the “aid to worship” idea and it’s true that I’d have no problem having a cross around my neck and ( at least in private moments ) kissing it.

The main shock for me was the idea of the icon somehow having the power to strike a man blind. It implied a much more “magical” view of them than I’m really comfortable with and suggested to me that the people giving this account saw the icon in question as much more than an aid to worship.

This has given me a lot to consider. I am not sure the extent to which I have assumed a clear separation between the Spiritual and the material and if this is my issue here, and if so, what this means for me. It's quite a lot to get my head around and I'm finding it challenging. I'm not sure I'm up to kissing icons yet, but I will talk to the priest about it and see what he suggests.
 

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Lord, guide this child as You know best. Thank you for his searching heart. Grant peace and light dear Savior!
 

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Nothing you have said here makes a difficulty for me and I can completely get the logic behind all of it. In our Church, as is the case in many Protestant Churches, we had stained glass windows and it’s certainly plausible that some of the congregation would have used these as tools during worship in exactly the way you describe. I do find the kissing and bowing odd. Really, it would be odd if I didn’t because I’ve never encountered it before, and because I'm a dour Scot extremely reluctant to engage in public displays of hugging or kissing. Nonetheless, in the context of your illustration, I can see it as an extension of the “aid to worship” idea and it’s true that I’d have no problem having a cross around my neck and ( at least in private moments ) kissing it.
Yeah, there's a huge cultural part. Kissing icons was instituted in a culture in which men would often lip-smack each other. I don't think any Brazilian Protestant who's not some Calvinist nerd would have an issue with profusely kissing the Bible in public.

The main shock for me was the idea of the icon somehow having the power to strike a man blind. It implied a much more “magical” view of them than I’m really comfortable with and suggested to me that the people giving this account saw the icon in question as much more than an aid to worship.

This has given me a lot to consider. I am not sure the extent to which I have assumed a clear separation between the Spiritual and the material and if this is my issue here, and if so, what this means for me. It's quite a lot to get my head around and I'm finding it challenging. I'm not sure I'm up to kissing icons yet, but I will talk to the priest about it and see what he suggests.
All power comes from God. Everything that haves grace is his vessel. He uses the icons in this way, and, if the story you read should be relied, it was something of that instance, apparently pedagogical, not of an inherent power of icons. Do keep in mind the point I made about we being more okay with fables, though.
 

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If you start attending an Orthodox Church, talk to the priest about your concerns. I can assure you that you won’t be the first Protestant seeker and inquirer of Orthodoxy he has met who had the questions you have about icons. They’re all valid questions coming from your orientation of Christianity,

Unless someone is leading you by the hand, pursuing your lips with an iron claw and then smashing your face into the icon, then it’s not “compulsory” as you noted in your op. Remember Orthodox praxis is for Orthodox Christians. Orthodox inquirers are invited to “come and see.” As you continue on in your journey, pay careful attention to the words you use, (I mean this gently) as you engage in comparative analysis. It will help you along as you describe the things you’re seeing to yourself. Also pay careful attention to the words your detractors will use, and they most certainly will, as you go further into Orthodoxy and further away from Protestantism.

Always remember you knew where to find the Orthodox Church because when you went there you found them behaving like Orthodox Christians.
 

wooster

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Thank you all for your support. I am still troubled by this whole Icon thing and it is easily my biggest doubt. I've been reading a fair bit from those in favour of the use of Icons and those opposed to them.

I'm sort of reluctant to ask too many questions on here because on a forum it can come across as arguing or being confrontational so I will talk to the priest when he is next available as it's easier and carries less chance of causing offence to ask hard questions face to face.
 
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Icon veneration in it’s outward expression is, I believe, is personal to the individual. Personally, I believe it is most important to just acknowledge it is a revered expression of faith by an individual within the church. I stress my point of within the church since an Orthodox believer should not feel uneasy when seeing another believer venerate an icon. Some people, whether cradle or convert, take to this more than others.

I was posting before your last post appeared but revising often before I posted.
 

wooster

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Icon veneration in it’s outward expression is, I believe, is personal to the individual. Personally, I believe it is most important to just acknowledge it is a revered expression of faith by an individual within the church. I stress my point of within the church since an Orthodox believer should not feel uneasy when seeing another believer venerate an icon. Some people, whether cradle or convert, take to this more than others.

I was posting before your last post appeared but revising often before I posted.
Hi and thank you. I do not find it difficult when others venerate and kiss icons at all; that's none of my business and I appreciate it is a sincerely held belief on their part. I understood it is an essential part of being accepted as Orthodox though. I'm not really sure it that's correct or not.
 
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Hi and thank you. I do not find it difficult when others venerate and kiss icons at all; that's none of my business and I appreciate it is a sincerely held belief on their part. I understood it is an essential part of being accepted as Orthodox though. I'm not really sure it that's correct or not.
When I enter the church building before liturgy or in general, I usually just make the sign of the cross & slightly bow to an icon of Christ ( as Creator as per Colossians 1:15-18), an icon of the Lord’s nativity, & an icon to His cross. Personal piety in this varies.
 
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Just wanted to add a primary Orthodox understanding of the 10 commandments by St. Gregory Palamas. Of course, the 2nd commandment understanding is most pertinent to the thread.

 

TheTrisagion

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Nothing you have said here makes a difficulty for me and I can completely get the logic behind all of it. In our Church, as is the case in many Protestant Churches, we had stained glass windows and it’s certainly plausible that some of the congregation would have used these as tools during worship in exactly the way you describe. I do find the kissing and bowing odd. Really, it would be odd if I didn’t because I’ve never encountered it before, and because I'm a dour Scot extremely reluctant to engage in public displays of hugging or kissing. Nonetheless, in the context of your illustration, I can see it as an extension of the “aid to worship” idea and it’s true that I’d have no problem having a cross around my neck and ( at least in private moments ) kissing it.

The main shock for me was the idea of the icon somehow having the power to strike a man blind. It implied a much more “magical” view of them than I’m really comfortable with and suggested to me that the people giving this account saw the icon in question as much more than an aid to worship. It is probably lack of faith on my part, but my first instinct is to doubt alleged supernatural events unless I have a good reason not to do so.

This has given me a lot to consider. I am not sure the extent to which I have assumed a clear separation between the Spiritual and the material and if this is my issue here, and if so, what this means for me. It's quite a lot to get my head around and I'm finding it challenging. I'm not sure I'm up to kissing icons yet, but I will talk to the priest about it and see what he suggests.
I'll be honest, I'm not sure what to think about an icon having the power to strike a man blind. I suppose, the "Orthodox" answer would be that God struck him blind, not the icon, but it was teaching moment for the monk. Personally, I tend to be rather skeptical of such stories and tend to think that it is probably a manufactured story that someone thought was useful in teaching the importance of being attentive in worship.

I completely understand the awkwardness of kissing icons. I grew up Fundamental Baptist, and the idea of such displays horrify that religious group. We would never have even kissed a Bible or even a picture of a close family member. It simply wasn't done. Everything was done out of a sense of practicality, and emotional displays in religion were viewed with the utmost of suspicion. I recall several older people clucking disapprovingly when someone raised their hands during a song. Going from that environment to a much more middle eastern faith was a massive shock to my system. I walked into the Orthodox parish and people were kissing icons, kissing each other, hugging, incense was burning, chanting, bowing, and the list goes on. It was a complete sensory overload and I didn't know what to be shocked about the most. Its been over 10 years now, and so it all feels very natural to me now, but it was very alien to me at the beginning. I resolved to accept the things that I could accept, and ignore the things I couldn't, and slowly try to understand them even if I didn't approve of them until gradually it all started to fall into place and make more sense. The one thing that I did know was that when I read the early Church Fathers, the Church they described made a lot more sense in the context of the Orthodox Church than what I had come from, so that is what I kept chasing. Perhaps you will discover something similar, or perhaps your will find some other place that is more consistent with those early writings, but for me, those writings along with Scripture were the criteria I used to try to find where I belonged.
 
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