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Can someone explain statues and icons to me?

Discussion in 'Exploring Christianity' started by 777GodLover777, Jul 16, 2021.

  1. 777GodLover777

    777GodLover777 Theist

    Hello, I'm learning about Christianity currently and this is something that I've had some hard time understanding by just reading about it online.

    What is the purpose of statues/icons? What is the difference between the two? Do they serve different purposes? What is the difference between veneration and worship? Why is veneration practiced? What denominations have statues and/or icons? Why are they necessary? Is there any literal holy significance to statues/icons in some denominations or are they always just considered to be objects?

    I think this is all the questions I have about them off the top of my head, I might have more in the replies. Forgive me if any of the questions are offensive in any way. Also, this isn't really related but I'm also having a hard time understanding what Saints are and their purpose, as well as who Mary is and the opinions about her between different denominations.

    Looking forward to seeing different opinions and interpretations,

    Thanks :)
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  2. seeking.IAM

    seeking.IAM Episcopalian Supporter

    United States
    Here is an excellent video having to do with icons. The priest explains an icon is the painted Word of God. For many years of Christian history the average Christian was illiterate and/or did not have access to a mass produced printed Bible on their nightstand. Icons tell a story without having a Bible or needing to know how to read.

  3. Maria Billingsley

    Maria Billingsley Well-Known Member Supporter

    United States
    In Relationship
    Welcome to CF! Your query is denomination specific, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox. I do not belong to either of these denominations so I can't help. What I can say is many Christians, outside of these two ,find no purpose for them.
    Happy seeking !!
  4. GreekOrthodox

    GreekOrthodox Psalti Chrysostom

    United States
    Eastern Orthodox
    [QUOTE="777GodLover777, post: 76096908, member: 436212"

    Looking forward to seeing different opinions and interpretations,

    Thanks :)[/QUOTE]

    Iconography is probably the most unique aspect of Eastern Christianity. These are seen as "windows into heaven" and are used in a number of ways. First, as a teaching device, such as a nativity set. It enables us to teach about a particular event or saint. Second, because God became incarnate in Jesus, theologically, we can now portray Him in visible art. As for corporate and personal prayer, we venerate the icon not because the icon itself is holy but rather than the person portrayed is holy. So just as I have a picture of my wife and family or deceased father on my dresser and occasionally kiss it, I am not showing love to the photograph but to the person in it. The same holds true to icons, as in my profile picture. I reverence the icon of Christ because He is the God-man who was crucified, died and resurrected.
  5. GreekOrthodox

    GreekOrthodox Psalti Chrysostom

    United States
    Eastern Orthodox
    FYI, Fr. Paul's (a fellow classmate) discussion on icons and the iconostasis begins around 30:00.
  6. angelsaroundme

    angelsaroundme Well-Known Member

    United States
    The way I see it is the saints are inspiration and role models. They help you to absorb your mind in good things.

    "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." - Philippians 4:8
  7. Akita Suggagaki

    Akita Suggagaki Well-Known Member

    United States
    Consider them visual meditation.
  8. throughfireytrial

    throughfireytrial Truth-Lover Supporter

    Some churches have statues and icons to tell a story of the Gospel to the illiterate...at least initially. They are not necessary Biblically speaking and some people have been known to worship them though they should not and so there is a record of doing away with them in modern churches...
  9. ViaCrucis

    ViaCrucis Evangelical Catholic of the Augsburg Confession

    United States
    In Relationship
    Like our Jewish cousins in antiquity, Christians engaged in artistic work to communicate their faith. Engravings on tombs and catacombs, mosaics in churches, etc.

    Icons/art in churches served a few purposes, one of the most practical purposes was that it aided in teaching Scripture and important matters of Christian faith. Something important, especially for the illiterate.

    In this way icons served as focal points of Christian contemplation. An icon of Christ directs our focus upon Christ, not the icon itself. Likewise images of the saints remind us of the "great cloud of witnesses", the saints who have come before us are not distant ancestors, but family who remain near by our unity in Christ. The Church on earth and the Church in heaven are one and the same Church, united by God's grace.

    Some matters concerning icons and statues are points of disagreement among different branches of Christianity. For example, the Eastern Churches eschew statues, as such one is going to find a lot of icons in the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches, but statues are something you'll find in Western churches (Catholic, Anglican, and some Protestant). Some Protestants disregard images of either kind altogether, or to varying degrees.

    The theological question of images became a matter of theological controversy in the 7th and 8th centuries with what is known as the Iconoclast Controversy. Iconoclasm was a heretical teaching that emerged in the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire. The Byzantine Empire had lost land to the Rashidun armies, and Emperor Leo wanted to understand how--he concluded that the Muslims despised all images and that God must be punishing the empire for having images, so Leo began a campaign of removing images from all the churches. This was harshly resisted by the bishops of the Church, who understood that icons were not merely images, but were signposts of theology. As such the Second Council of Nicea was convened.

    The council laid out a theological defense of icons, but also proscribed certain rules about images. For example, icons of Christ were acceptable because Christ, though God, became man; however icons of the Father and the Holy Spirit were rejected. The council affirmed that since Christ said, "If you have seen Me you have seen the Father" that icons of Christ do present the Father, but in the right way: The Father is present in His Son, and thus it is in the Incarnate Jesus that we meet and know His Father. As such icons of Christ accomplish this. Now with this said, that hasn't stopped the occasional inappropriate icon or image from showing up in the centuries since then; but these are technically contrary to the ruling of Nicea II.

    Statues were not really covered by Nicea II, but it isn't really until in the centuries after Nicea II that we begin to see the use of statues. From the Catholic perspective, statues are simply icons of another sort. Thus a crucifix is an icon. As such in Western Churches one can find crucifixes and large crosses adorning our sanctuaries (both Catholic and Protestant), while the Eastern Churches do not, but rather insist on two-dimensional icons. An Orthodox crucifix is still a two-dimensional icon, rather than three-dimensional.

    Veneration is distinct from worship (specifically adoration), as a distinction is made between the kind of honor we give to one another, our fellow creatures, our parents, to judges, (or to the Bible, to icons, etc) and the honor that is due to God alone as God. Thus veneration is an honor given to lesser, created things, rather than a form of worship which belongs to God exclusively.

    We teach children to venerate their elders, to honor mother and father, and to grow up into well-rounded and respectful adults. We likewise also recognize that there are things worthy of being honored, for example the Virgin Mary and all the rest of the saints who have come before us, from Abraham to Moses to the Apostles. We honor and respect the Bible because we believe here is God's word for us.

    Veneration is respect.
    Worship is worship.

    Noting also that depending on which branch of Christianity one is talking about, differences in thought, opinion, and practice are very present. So called "low-church" Protestants are less likely to have images in their churches, and are less likely to talk about venerating the saints. Both "high-church" Protestants and Eastern Orthodox Christians are possibly going to find some ways in which Catholicism honors the Blessed Virgin Mary uncomfortable, a form of hyperdulia, which Catholics regard as the special honor which Mary deserves as Christ's mother, but which others consider to be perhaps at times excessive.

    I suppose the really short version is really this:

    Christians use images to aid us in our Christian faith and walk, as potent reminders of God's grace, work, and word. Because in the Christian faith we confess that God became man, that God's way of revealing Himself is personal, material, and visible (Jesus); the Church has never shied away from being about the personal, material, and the visible. God's grace comes to us in external, visible means: the preaching of the Gospel, the Sacraments. Christians have our Scriptures, the word as material, visible text. We speak of the resurrection of the flesh when Christ returns and God renews all creation, not some ghost-like existence up in a place called "heaven" for all eternity. Christianity is a religion of images. This is literally true in the use of icons, but it is true in every fact of Christian faith and practice: we use our bodies to pray--prostrating, kneeling, standing, sitting, hands turned up, or hands clasped together. We use our bodies to feed the hungry, to give water to the thirsty, to clothe the naked.