The use of sacred images in Christian worship. (The 5th and last of 5 posts on Iconoclasm)
Following Leo V, another Iconoclastic emperor, Michael II the Amorian (820-29), ascended the throne. He was at least more moderate, did not continue the persecutions against the Iconodules and actually recalled Patriarch Nikephoros and St. Theodore from exile though not allowing Theodore to reside in Constantinople. The final Iconoclastic Emperor Theophilos (829-842), influenced under the tutelage of John Grammatikos, fiercely persecuted the Orthodox, targeting especially the monasteries in an attempt to destroy once and for all the preservers of the true Faith. His death on January 20, 842, led to the ascent to the throne of his wife, the Empress Theodora, who also served as regent of their son Michael III (842-867).
Empress Theodora deposed the Iconoclastic patriarch John Grammatikos and reinstated Patriarch Methodios to his rightful see. Convening a council in 843, the Church and State permanently established the holy icons in the churches and on March 11, the first Sunday of Great Lent, the decree was solemnized in the Great Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.
“Of old, God the incorporeal and formless was never depicted. Now, however, when God is seen in flesh, and associated with human kind, I depict what I have seen of God. I do not venerate matter, I venerate the fashioner of matter, who became matter for my sake, and accepted to dwell in matter and through matter worked my salvation, I will not cease from reverencing matter, through which my salvation was worked.”
This 8th century statement from John Damascene, demonstrates how the holy images served to summarize the faith. We may use them because in doing so we defend the fact of Christ’s incarnation. Icons and other images do more than reaffirm the incarnation though, they say with wood, stone and color, what the Scriptures say with words. Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.
There is, in fact, only one Word, and though He could not be contained by the universe, He did nonetheless condescend to be contained within matter. Words alone might give rise to a dematerialization of that truth – reducing the incarnate God to an idea – a statement – words alone. That we eat His Body and drink His Blood serve as sacramental anchors for His continuing use of matter and His image states in another manner the same fullness. I will not cease from honoring the matter which works my salvation. That is the fullness of the faith, why would we want less?