Commemoration of the Holy Fathers of the 7th Ecumenical Synod (787AD)

My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


The Seventh Ecumenical Synod, convoked during the reign of the Empress Irene and her son, Constantine Porphyrogenitus, to refute the iconoclast heresy, which had received support beginning with the Edict issued in 726 by Emperor Leo the Isaurian. Many of the Holy Fathers who condemned Iconoclasm at this Holy Synod later died as Confessors and Martyrs for the holy Icons during the second assault of Iconoclasm in the 9th century, especially the reigns of Leo the Armenian and Theophilos and met the at Nicaea from September 24 to October 13, 787 A.D. Patriarch Tarasios (commemorated February 25th) presided. The Synod ended fifty years of iconoclast (iconbreakers) persecution and established the veneration of the Holy Icons as basic to the belief and spirituality of Christ's Church. As the Synaxarion says, "It was not simply the veneration of the holy images that the Holy Fathers defended in these terms but, in fact, the very reality of the Incarnation of the Son of God."

Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn. Tone Eight

Most glorified art Thou, O Christ our God, Who hast established our Fathers as luminous stars upon the earth, and through them didst guide us all to the True Faith, O Most Merciful One, glory be to Thee.

Kontakion. Tone Second

The Son Who shone forth from the Father, was born of woman in two natures. Having beheld Him, we do not deny the Image of His form. Devoutly depicting it we honor it in faith. Therefore the Church, maintaining the True Faith, venerate the Icon of Christ's Incarnation.



Icons used for prayer (εικών--image) that date from the first centuries of Christianity have not reached us, but we know of them both from Church Holy Tradition and from historical evidence. As we shall see in studying individual images, Church Holy Tradition traces the first icons back to the lifetime of the Savior Himself and the period immediately after Him...In the History of the Church by Eusebius, we find, for instance, the following phrase: "I have seen a great many portraits of the Savior, of Peter and of Paul, which have been preserved up to our times" (Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia (265-340 A.D., History of the Church, Book VII, ch. 18). Before this passage Eusebius describes in detail a statue of the Savior he had seen in the city of Paneas (Caesarea Philippi) in Palestine, erected by the woman with an issue of blood, who was healed by the Savior (St. Matthew 9:20-23; St. Mark 5:24-34; St. Luke 8:43-48).

Eusebius testimony is all the more valuable since he was personally very antagonistic to icons. Consequently his reference to the portraits he had seen is accompanied by the disapproving comment that it is a pagan custom.

The existence of iconoclastic currents in the first centuries of Christianity is well known and perfectly intelligible. Christian communities were surrounded on all sides by paganism with its idolatry. It was therefore natural that many Christians, both of Jewish and of pagan origin, conscious of the negative experience of paganism, should strive to protect Christianity from the infection of idolatry, which could insinuate itself through artistic creation; basing themselves on the Old Testament prohibition of images, they denied the possibility of their existence in Christianity as well.

However, despite the occurrence of these iconoclastic tendencies, there existed the fundamental line which was gradually and consecutively developed in the Church, though with no kind of external formulation. Expression of this fundamental line is given by the Church Holy Tradition telling us of the existence of an icon of the Savior during His lifetime and of icons of the Holy Virgin immediately after Him. This tradition testifies that right from the beginning there had been a clear understanding of the significance and possibilities of the image, and that the attitude of the Church towards it never changed, since it is derived from the actual teaching on the Divine Incarnation. This teaching shows that the image is necessarily inherent in the very essence of Christianity, from its inception, since Christianity is the revelation by God-Man not only of the Logos/Word of God, but also the Image of God.

"No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared Him" (St. John 1:18)--has revealed the image--the Icon of God. Through His Incarnation (taking flesh), God the Logos/Word "being the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His (the Father's) Person" (Hebrews 1:3), reveals to the world, in His Divinity, the image of the Father". When Philip asks: "Lord, shew us the Father", the Lord answers: "Have I been so long a time with you, and yet hast thou not known Me, Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (St. John 14: 8-9). As "in the bosom of the Father", so after Incarnation, the Son is consubstantial with the Father, being, according to His Divinity, His image, equal in honor. This truth revealed in Christianity lies at the foundation of its pictorial art. So the image not only does not contradict the essence of Christianity but, being its basic truth, is inalienably connected with it. This is the foundation of the tradition showing that the preaching of Christianity to the world was from the beginning carried out by the Church through word and image. Precisely on this basis the Holy Fathers of the 7th Ecumenical Synod were able to say: "The Tradition of making images...existed even at the time of the preaching of Christianity by the Holy Apostles...Iconography is by no means an invention of painters but is, on the contrary, an established law and tradition of the Catholic Church."

"...From the very first centuries, Christian art was deeply symbolical and this symbolism was not exclusively the feature of this period of Christian life. It is essentially inseparable from Church art, because the spiritual reality it represents cannot be transmitted otherwise than through symbols. Yet in the first centuries of Christianity this symbolism is most iconographic, i.e., connected with a subject. For instance, to indicate that the woman holding a baby is the Mother of God, next to her is depicted a prophet pointing to a star. To indicate that baptism is the entry to a new life, the baptized, even a fully grown man, is represented as a boy or a small child, the description of the icon of Christ's Baptism), and so on. Separate symbols were used not only from the Old and New Testaments (lamb, good shepherd, fish...) but also from pagan mythology, as for instance, Cupid, and Psyche, Orpheus, etc. In using these myths, Christianity re-establishes their true and profound meaning, filling them with a new content...

"...As we have said earlier, in the conscience of the Church the Divine dispensation is organically connected with the image. Therefore the doctrine relating to the image is not something separate, not an appendix, but follows naturally from the doctrine of salvation, of which it is an inalienable part. In all its fullness, it has been inherent in the Church from the very first, but, like other aspects of its teaching, it becomes affirmed gradually, in response to the needs of the moment, as for instance in the 82nd rule of the Trullian Council, or in reply to heresies and errors, as in the iconoclastic period. It was the same here as with the dogmatic truth of the two natures of Christ...

"...As the word of the Holy Scripture is an image, so the image is also a word. "What the word transmits through the ear, that painting silently shows through the image", says Saint Basil the Great, and "by these two means, mutually accompanying one another...we receive knowledge of one and the same thing." In other words, the icon contains and professes the same truth as the Gospels and therefore, like the Gospels, is based on exact concrete data, and in no way on invention, for otherwise it could not explain the Gospels nor correspond to them.

Thus the icon is placed on a level with the Holy Scriptures and with the Cross, as one of the forms of revelation and knowledge of God, in which Divine and human will and action become blended. Apart from its direct meaning, each alike is a reflection of the higher world; each alike is a symbol of the Spirit contained in them. Consequently, the meaning both of the word and of the image, their role and significance are the same. The image, like the Divine service, transmits the Sacred Tradition in the Church and expresses the Grace-given life of the Sacred Tradition in the Church. Through the Divine service and through the icon, revelation becomes for believers their property and precept for life. For this reason the Church art acquires from the very beginning a form in keeping with what it expresses...

"...Architecture, painting, music, poetry cease to be forms of art, each following its own way, independently of the others, in search of appropriate effects, and become parts of a single liturgic whole which by no means diminishes their significance, but implies in each case renunciation of an individual role, of self-assertion...

"...Since in its essence the icon, like the word, is a liturgic art, it never served religion but, like the word, has always been and is an integral part of religion, one of the instruments for the knowledge of God, one of the means of communion with Him. This explains the importance which the Church attributes to the image--an importance such that of all victories over a multitude of various heretics, it was only the victory over iconoclasm and the reestablishment of the veneration of Icons that was proclaimed as the Triumph of Orthodoxy, celebrated on the first Sunday of Holy and Great Lent..."

(Source: The Meaning of Icons by Leonid Ouspensky and Vladimir Lossky)



The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--St. John Chrysostom


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

+Father George