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TheMistAnchorite

Are not icons images or idols that are forbidden by the ten commandments ?

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Orthodox Christians do not think that commandment to abstain from idols and idolatry (10 commandments and 3 John for reiteration in the New Testament). This was a very debated subject which was fully settled during the 8th and 9th century. The iconoclastic view is that there should be not portrayal of creatures (especially in the sphere of worship) based on the second commandment. Iconoclasts have sometimes even suggested that the cross is not a permissible object. The consensus of the ancient apostolic Churches (and this includes the Oriental Orthodox but not the "Nestorian" bodies) is that icons are permissible and guidelines have been issued as to was is permissible or not.

The Orthodox view of the matter can be expressed as follows, and it is a convergence of factors: (1) the Old Testament does forbid idolatry and in the context of the commandments of Sinai forbids graven images, but this must be understood in the context where (a) the Israelites are coming out of Egypt which was notorious for idolatry, (b) the Israelites has a great propensity toward this sin as we see in the incident of the Golden Calf and as we will see the Brass Serpent, (c) God informs Moses that the foundation is "you have not seen my form" (Deut 2:32-33). In spite of this prohibition, God does ordain that certain types of graven images be made, not only the Ark and the embroidered curtain with angels, but most notably the Brass Serpent.

The Brass Serpent is critical to help us understand the fundamental difference between icon and idol. This object was ordained by God to serve as icon - and it was in fact an icon of the "Icon of the invisible God" (Col 1:15) who is the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:14) - and it ended up being misused as an idol (2 Kings 18:4).

The difference between idol and icon is whether the latreia (divine service) is directed to the ultimate source (in Orthodox theology to God the Father) or stops at the person or thing which then becomes an idol. Proskunesis (to express adoration, to offer relative worship) is an act of reverence which can be suitable for things and people other than God, but this depends on the intention and context. Proskunesis is not idolatry if it is offered in a relative sense, with the intention to refer all things to the divine source. For instance, all honor is due to God, but we offer honor to parents and kings / rulers with reference to God who is the source and authority. Show less
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