5 Things to Know about Orthodox Church Icons

5 Things to Know about Orthodox Church Icons

If you have even been to Eastern Orthodox church, then you have definitely seen numerous hand-painted icons on its walls. Although they may differ a lot from Catholic icons and even look like simple paintings, each of them is still a unique piece of religious icon art created with a certain purpose. Here are 5 things you should know about Orthodox church icons to understand how they are made and what they are intended for:

How are Orthodox church icons made?

We are now not talking about framed icons of saints or frescoes – we are talking about large wall religious icon paintings that can be found in many Eastern Orthodox churches. So how do iconographers create them? The truth is that in most cases, they don’t paint icons directly onto the walls – they actually paint them on canvas. Such religious icon paintings are then simply brought to the church and glued onto the walls. After that, iconographers apply the gilding and other decorative elements.

Colors do matter

When it comes to religious icon art, colors play an important role. For example, Greek Orthodox icons are usually painted in earth tones like those used thousands of years ago, while Russian religious icons are predominantly created in bright colors. Moreover, each color has its own meaning. Thus, blue stands for heaven and red stands for earth. The only common thing between all of them is that they are made of only natural pigments mixed with egg yolk and vinegar. 

Orthodox church icons don’t have to look realistic

Unlike Catholic religious icons, Orthodox icons don’t have to look realistic. That’s why don’t be surprised to see elongated faces and hands, too large eyes, and disproportionate bodies of saints. Orthodox church icons are painted with the focus on the story and the soul rather than on the form or appearance of the depicted person. After all, they must first be spiritual and only then beautiful.

What icons can be found in the church?

If you visit several different Eastern Orthodox churches, you will notice that religious icons vary from one church to another. You will certainly find the icon of Christ in each of them, which is usually placed in the dome, the icon of the Mother of God, and also the icons of archangels around Christ. However, the icons of saints may differ. While one church traditionally displays the St. Nicholas icon or the icon of Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, another may choose a Saint George icon or any other, not to mention that each church has its own patron saint, whose icon is usually placed next to Mary.

Orthodox church icons tell stories without words

The last important thing to remember is that Orthodox church icons are not idols. They are a means of communicating with God and serve as “windows into heaven.” Besides, they tell us Bible stories by using visual images so that everyone could understand their meaning. They did it thousands of years ago, and they continue doing it now.