The Meaning of Icon in Russian Orthodoxy

The Meaning of Icon in Russian Orthodoxy

One cannot imagine a Russian church or monastery without an icon. The veneration of religious icons entered Kievan Rus’ right after its conversion to Orthodox Christianity in 988, but the flourishing of Russian iconography came to full bloom in the 14th-15th century. Being the key component of the Russian cultural legacy, an icon has been carrying all the spiritual values, principles, and mindset of people through the centuries. Moreover, the significance of icon in Russian Orthodoxy lies in the ability to express the faith and spiritual world of an individual.

The meaning of icon in Russian Orthodoxy

A window to the Heavenly World

Unlike non-Orthodox churches, a religious icon in Russian Orthodoxy is considered a window to the Heavenly World. One should not look at an icon as a work of art bearing certain aesthetic features and merits but as a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. It is a special devout attitude to the icon, which sets Orthodox traditions apart from others.

The different principles of icon veneration between the Orthodox and Western worlds are also indicated by the different artistic styles of painting. Western style reflects the realistic image of a certain holy figure or biblical event, while Orthodox icons render the sacred world through the holy image but not the human-like face. You can behold the holiness only with your spiritual heart. The wooden panel of the icon can be physically broken, while the sacred image is incorruptible to every Orthodox believer. Thus, the icon in Russian Orthodoxy is not just part of the church decoration, but a holy window to the Heavenly Home. 

A sacred guard of the people

In Russia, no phenomenon in art has such an all-encompassing value as an icon, and no other kind of art has made such an outstanding contribution to the church, state, and daily life as the iconography. Russian people are used to considering an icon as a spiritual guard assisting to avoid threats and disasters. They turn to the icons on all occasions, from fires and drought to diseases and epidemics. It is believed that icons can protect people. Such a revered attitude proves the profound meaning of an icon in Russia.

Russian icons are much more than simply a form of religious art used by the Church. They represent true faith and holiness, encouraging people to show their deep devotion.