Icon is a holy image that is primarily in use in conjunction with Church services. It is a product of art but its principal role is to connect that which is otherworldly with our own world. Icons and fresco paintings are called by some windows used by inhabitants of the Kingdom of Heaven to watch on us, i.e. windows that help us to communicate and meet with them. Veneration of sanctified icons in churches or in Christian homes does not imply veneration of material symbols. Veneration is directed to the person whose image is presented on the icon, person whom our prayers are being directed to. Icons veritably make present, in a mysterious way, those persons whose images they carry.
Veneration of icons in the Orthodox Church is founded in the event of Incarnation of the Son of God – in His bodily birth to a life among men in certain historical circumstances, in His death and Resurrection, all of which made it possible for us to present His image on holy icons as well as images of the Most Holy Theotokos and all those that have by their lives grown into Christ and become partakers of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Without disregard to their historical reality icons primarily present a world and a man belonging to the time of the accomplishment of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. Images on the icons bear personal traits of character but, at the same time, they are deprived of all that is incidental or temporary and often accentuated in common art. A supernatural light that does not form shadows illuminates these images. An icon often connects different moments of a same event as well as images belonging to different historical periods and depicts them in their meta-historical and post-historical states, in eternity.
The Church consecrates icons so that their connection with Church services would become fully acceptable, but the very act of creation of an icon is already a liturgical act. This is why it is expected of an icon painter to be immersed in the life of the Church. He is expected to prepare for his deeds through prayer and to live a Christian life in general. He needs to be as pure as possible in order to be a worthy intermediary who makes it possible for the holy images to announce themselves to the communion of the faithful and to become one with it.
History of the Orthodox Church has recorded a great struggle aimed at safeguarding and upholding the notion of icon veneration, especially so during VIII and IX centuries and many a Christian had suffered martyrdom as a result. Final victory over iconoclasts (opponents of holy images) was won in 842, and the Church celebrates this event as the Sunday of Orthodoxy, i.e. Pure Sunday – first Sunday of the Great Lent.