What Is the Meaning of Icons in Russian Orthodoxy?

Russian Icon
2 min readDec 1, 2020

In ancient Rus, icon painting was one of a few available ways to express the inner spiritual state. Moreover, it was the only way to freely reveal thoughts and make them accessible to the public. The popularity of devotional religious icons in Russia peaked in the 10th century. Believers started to surround themselves with the images of saints, the Virgin, and, of course, Jesus Christ. It was when Russian icons, as we know them today, were born and became a strong sacred phenomenon in the Christian world.

The icon is “theology in colors”

For a believer of medieval Rus, there was not a question whether they liked the icon or not or how artistically it was made. It was the content of the icon that mattered. Many people could not read at the time, but the language of symbols was instilled in any believer since childhood. The symbolism of color, gestures, and depicted objects is the language of the religious icon. Therefore, it is sometimes difficult to assess its meaning without knowing the sense lying behind the sacred images.

In every Russian church, one can observe various religious icons hanging on the walls or being part of the Russian iconostasis. What is the purpose of such a rich icon sanctuary in the temple? It is not only about the special atmosphere of sermon and prayer but also about the theological teaching of the icons. These holy objects strive to enlighten people about biblical stories, the life and deeds of the saints, and true divine nature.

Path to sacred transformation

A Russian icon is a unique phenomenon in the world culture. The iconographer has a task defined by features of world understanding: to bring out the consciousness of a person in the spiritual world, to change the mind, and to help find the path of transformation. Orthodox believers consider an icon as a window into the sacred world where everyone feels full of love and faith.

The divine energy flowing through the religious icon is ended up in the heart of a viewer. Therefore, these holy objects possess an all-compassing value for everyone who wants to embrace the divine beginning and start the path of spiritual growth.

Over the centuries, the meaning of the icons in Russian Orthodoxy has turned out to be much deeper than expected. These sacred objects are indeed spiritual guards of the people and a source of the infinite wisdom of God.



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