Eastern Orthodox Christians have a very long history of using religious images in their worship. Some of these images are from the early days of Christianity and depict pictures of Christ and the saints. Others are cult images that have been used to mislead people.
Early depictions of Christ, Mary and saints
An early depiction of Christ, Mary and saints is a type of artwork that predates the time of Christ’s birth. This type of art shows the relationship between Mary and Jesus, who are referred to as the Blessed Mother, and the various Christian communities that produced art based on their beliefs.
The early representations of the Blessed Mother show a nurturing nature, and can be used to portray obedience to God. They can also reveal the character traits of the artists.
Early depictions of the Blessed Mother are often accompanied by John the Baptist. These two figures are seen as a powerful advocate for salvation. Their actions are documented in many of the Gospels. Traditionally, Mary and John appear flanking Christ at the Crucifixion. In these scenes, Mary and Jesus press their cheeks together in a mother-son embrace.
A fully bearded Christ with long hair became common in Eastern Christianity in the 6th century. Its advantage is that he is easily recognisable.
Other common characteristics include a serene look, and the presence of a head covering. While the majority of depictions of the Blessed Mother show her with Jesus, it is not uncommon to see the Virgin Mary without him.
Depictions of Christ in medieval art generally have a cruciform halo. This is a symbol of Christ’s power. Some images are adorned with letters “IC” and “XC” on either side of the halo, which is an abbreviation for Jesus.
The use of images in the worship experience is a perennial subject of debate in the Orthodox world. While many of the more secular Eastern Orthodox Churches such as the Russian Orthodox Church and the Antiochian Orthodox Church make heavy use of the medium, the more traditional and established churches like the Episcopal Church are a little more circumspect about their image making. However, the use of images in the service of worship is far from rare in the Old World. Whether it be by virtue of culture or edict, images have been used for centuries.
For example, the use of images in the service of prayer was a widespread practice during the Diocletian era. In fact, the early Church is famous for its use of image making. During the Middle Ages, the aforementioned emperor of Constantinople would display a Hodegetria icon of the Virgin Mary for good luck and good health. And it’s not just the Virgin. Images of the apostles are displayed in church halls across the globe.
While the use of images in the service of worship certainly does not make up for lost time, the latest trend is to replace them with less visually intrusive options. This trend has been especially prevalent in China, which has long been known for its devotion to sex and sexuality.