Tradition, in the Orthodox Church, in many senses has equal authority to the scripture. This understanding is important in an overview of the use of Icon. Icon painters were required to adhere to tradition, both of icon painting itself as well as of the church in general.3 This is consistent with the idea that Scripture itself was written according to Tradition.
1 Leonid Ouspensky. Theology of the Icon: Volumes 1 & 2. (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1992), p. 136.
2 Leonid Ouspensky & Vladimir Lossky. The Meaning of Icons. (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s
Seminary Press, 1983), p. 11.
3 Ouspensky, p. 296
There are many references in Scripture to things that were passed on verbally but not written down. (II Thess 2:15 – things passed on by mouth and letter, I Cor 11:2 – urged to maintain traditions passed on to them).4 This understanding of the idea of tradition permeates the content and technique of the making of icons as well as the ways they are to be treated. In the Orthodox Church, remaining the same is valued over change. While there has been change during the 2000 years of the church, it has come over long periods of time and has been validated widely by consensus of church leadership and adherence to the content of previously established tradition.
Origins of the Use of Icons
Most scholars admit that the concept of the icon pre-dates Christianity and probably originated with an ancient Egyptian funeral portrait.5 This is an example of the relatively common occurrence of the church borrowing from culture. “To develop its language, the Church used, as we have seen, form, symbols and even myths of antiquity, i.e., pagan forms of expression. But it did not use these forms without purifying them and adapting them to its own goals. Christianity absorbs everything that can serve as a form of expression from the world around it.”6