When the icon is properly venerated, it becomes a door to the holy. In this sense, it is holy itself. “Holiness, as the Orthodox understand it, is not a static and incommunicable state. Quite the contrary, uncreated energy suffuses and penetrates every created “environment”, transforming visible reality, for the sake of believers, when that reality does not voluntarily oppose the will of God.”49
This seems similar to the experience of marriage. When a spouse is absent, one may find memory and even some degree of presence in objects that bring reminders of that person (for example, smell on a pillow). It is not the object that is being enjoyed but the spouse through the object. Veneration is similar to this. It becomes a problem when the object is substituted for the original. In the marriage example, the pillow is actually substituted for the person. This appears to be a common trap that has accompanied the veneration of icons.
The veneration of an icon is focused on the person of the icon as holy.50 This makes the icon itself holy, not because of the inherent holiness of the icon or the person but because of the kenosis of God represented in the person and the icon. Again, this reflects a sacred view of matter as created and infused by the incarnational presence of God. In Orthodoxy, there is no artificial distinction between the sacred and the secular. All reality, including the physical, has the potential to be sacred.
49 Giakalis, 1994, p. 121.
50 Giakalis, 1994, p. 120.
Iconoclastic Controversies and The Defense of Icons
Through the history of the Church, there have been various seasons of resistance to the use of icon. This resistance included most everything from caution on the behalf of church leaders to full fledged persecution of those who were even in the possession of icons. We will consider some of the controversy from the first millennium. Barasch suggests that some of the roots of opposition to images can be found in Tertullian.51 Tertullian opposed art and images. He considered them dangerous and sinful. While this was most likely linked with social and pagan customs, Tertullian taught that the artist was a rebel from God. Florovsky admits that “The origin, the meaning, and the nature of the Iconoclastic conflict are rather uncertain and obscure”.52 However, he traces one root of the iconoclastic controversy to Origen.