The meaning of Byzantine iconography

The word “icon”, in Greek language comes etymologically from the word “image” Speaking about byzantine iconography we mean the church art painting like this was established and confirmed in the course and the tradition of the Orthodox Church.

The Church, been conscious of spiritual value and significance of the holy icons as a means of sanctification and communion of believers, after the stated archetypes,had always been in great esteem, respect and reverence towards it. It is been said that was considered an important visual medium of instruction, a visual language of the Church. Moreover, the Ecumenical Council has decided to set the holy icons in the same level of honor as the Gospel and the Holy Cross.

The word “icon”, in Greek language comes etymologically from the word “image”, the capture of the characteristics of a prototype. This means that the image does not have its own status but its value lies in resemblance to the original. So the icon constitutes the sensed medium between the believer and the original, which in fact is unseen to them.

The picture is not simple work of art, but a sacred liturgical vessel which sanctifies man and brings him in direct relationship with the grace and the reality of the depicted saint. An important element for the proper understanding of the Orthodox icon is the importance given by the Church to the templates of the icons. These templates must only be by illustrating the very historical figures and never other unrelated persons. For artists that have no boundaries and limits, their work could look like and icon, but in fact would “touch” the limits of blasphemy.

The true iconographer must be not only be in communication with the illustrated icon-original, by his participation in the body of the Church, but as well be a creative artist who accepts and reveals the holiness of another through their own experience.

Byzantine Orthodox iconography beyond being art is also a way of an ecclesiastical life of prayer and obedience. Obedience to the principles and rules governing the sacred art in conjunction with the dynamics of the personal expression of the artist. As an art, it expresses the deeper meanings “beyond this world”. Having its own expression with striking features (i.e big eyes, big noses, the vivid outlines), it pictures its depth, the spiritual content of the Christian worldview. The large eyes and vividly characteristics interpret all the intense mental life of portrayed holy figures. It is addressed not only in feeling, but mainly in the spirit.

Through this tradition, the byzantine Orthodox iconographer is merely a holdover and deacon of this Sacred Art, meaning to discover and depict God’s glory and Holiness.