The Sacred Icons and the Holy Cross

Venerable Theophanes of Dochiariou of Mt Athos

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


O Christ our God, at all times and every hour, in heaven and on earth, You are worshiped and glorified; You are long-suffering, most merciful, most compassionate, You love the righteous and have mercy upon the sinners; You call everyone to salvation through the promise of future blessings; Receive, O Lord, our prayers at this hour and direct our life toward Your Commandments. Sanctify our souls; make our bodies chaste; Correct our thoughts; purify our intentions; and deliver us from every grief and pain that comes from evil. Encompass us by Your Holy Angels, so that guarded and guided by them we may attain to the unite of the faith and to the knowledge of Your inapproachable glory, for Your are Blessed unto the ages of ages. Amen.


By: Father Anthony Alevizopoulos PhD. of Theology, PhD. of Philosophy

God is the unique Being, the absolute existence; nothing can be compared with Him and the honor which is due Him, i.e. worship and adoration, is rendered unto none other; neither to some non-existent god nor to some idol.

But God's grace is transmitted in every way in accordance with His will; even through material objects or even through the shadow of holy men, as was the case with the shadow of the Holy Apostles, which is their imprint, a type of image (Acts 5:12-16, 19:11-12).

In the Old Testament some of the objects which transmitted the miraculous grace of God were the bronze snake of Moses, the Ark of the Covenant, the sheep-skin coat of the Prophet Elias, etc. Every desecration of the sacred objects was severely punished by God (see Num. 10:15-20; 1 Kings 5:2-4).

The teaching of the Orthodox Church concerning the holy icons has a Christological foundation. God is by essence unapproachable; He can neither be expressed by words nor depicted. The Son and Logos (Word) of God, however, became man and we behold His Glory (St. John 1:14). Thus we can depict the person of Christ which constitutes the visible sign of the invisible presence of God, an "image of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15). In the Orthodox Church that which is seen can be depicted; we express the same confession of faith either by written or oral word and even by depiction. The holy icon of Christ constitutes the confirmation of the Incarnation of the Son and Logos (Word) of God, which was a totally real, and not a docetic or imaginary one. 

Through the sacred icons we express our internal desire to grow in the love of Christ and the Saints, to attain to the "new creation in Christ" and to become "conformed to His Image" (Romans 8:29). Just as the word sanctifies our lips, in a like way the icon, which transmits the same meaning as does the word, sanctifies our eyes and our mind.

The icons of the Saints refer to "the new man" and are a declaration of our belief in our transformation in Christ and in the incorruption of man and the entire world. They do not refer to the "beauty" of this world, but rather symbolize the beauty and the glory of the "future age." This is why the holy icons lack dimension of "depth" and are two-dimensional. They proclaim a transfigured world which however we observe "as through a mirror" (I Corinthians 13:12). The holy icons give us the feeling that there exists a new world that is being transformed, and they constitute the assurance of our hope, expressed in the words of our Lord: "Behold, I make all things new" (Rev. 21:5).

The honor rendered to the holy icons is placed within the framework established by the Seventh Ecumenical Council. According to the Holy Fathers of this Council, the honor shown towards the holy icons refers back to the ancient Church and confirms the belief in the real Incarnation of God the Logos (Word). This Ecumenical Council ordains that along with the Holy Cross icons be made for the Churches, to be placed on the sacred vessels and the vestments of the priests, in the homes and in the roads; icons of Christ, the Theotokos and all the Saints. It further underlines:

"For the more frequently they (the sacred icons) are seen, all the more who see them are moved to remembrance and desire of those depicted; to them (the icons) they render greetings and a veneration of honor, but not true worship, which in accordance with our Faith, is due only unto the Divine Nature…For the honor rendered to the icon is transferred to the prototype, and he who venerates the icon venerates the person depicted thereon."

Orthodox Christians believe that the Holy Cross is their only pride (Galatians 6:14). It is the instrument through which sin, the source of death was set at naught (Romans 5:12. 8:3). The Cross is thus no longer a symbol of death and of shame (Deut. 21:23), but a source of eternal life. Through the Cross the curse is done away with, conciliation "in Christ" is brought about and the "new man" is created (Ephesians 2:15-16). These are expressed in many of the hymns of the Church:

"You spread out Your hands on the Cross, O Merciful One, and You gathered together the Nations that were far from You so that they might glorify Your great goodness".

"By spreading out Your Divine hands upon the Cross, O Jesus, You brought unto Yourself the work of Your hands, and You freed all from the hands of the Evil One and subjected them [unto You], for which cause let us faithful hymn Your Majesty, for indeed it is Glorified".

The Cross of Christ is thus characterized by the Lord Himself as glory, as the judgment of this world, as the casting out of the devil and as exaltation (St. John 12:24-33). Our Church characterizes the Holy Cross as "a weapon against the devil" because he trembles and shudders at the sight of the Cross, not being able to bear its power.

(to be continued)

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George