Orthodox Beliefs and Worship, 2

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Icons

In the Ten Commandments the Lord expressly forbade the making of images. This was because He wanted to separate His people from the idol-worship of the nations around them. The God, Whom the Israelites worshipped, had not been seen and therefore could not be depicted. Now, however, with the incarnation of the Son of God, God has appeared and lived among us and therefore in the person of Jesus Christ He can be depicted. He is seen also in His saints, and therefore Orthodox Christians make depictions of the Saviour and of the saints, believing that not to do so would be to deny the reality of the incarnation. The style of the icons may seem austere and strange at first; they do not depict the natural beauty of the material world, but the spiritual beauty of the Heavenly Kingdom. They are therefore free from the subjective, sentimental and fleshly quality of Western religious art. They are prepared and painted with prayer, and are blessed by the priest. They are therefore treated with reverence by the faithful, who show their love for the Saviour and His saints by kissing their icons. In so doing the faithful are not showing their reverence for the materials from which the icon is made, but are honouring the sacred personage depicted upon it.

Lamps and Candles

Before the icons lamps burn. They are lighted with pure olive oil, which represents the mercy of God which is poured out upon all people. The faithful light candles before the icons as well. These candles represent our own small offering, and they are lit from the lamps, reminding us that whatever little thing we offer in worship of our true God, it is illuminated and made radiant through His mercy and in itself is nothing. The candles also represent our burning love for God and the spiritual joy and splendour with which the Church is filled.

Standing on Sundays

On Sundays, the day of the Resurrection, and during the period of Pentecost (the fifty-day period between Pascha [Easter] and Trinity Sunday) Orthodox Christians do not kneel down in church, but stand. This is because kneeling is a penitential position, and on these days when we commemorate the Resurrection of our Saviour our joy in His Victory over death and Hades overrides our penitential feelings, and we stand before Him as soldiers before their Triumphal King. We also stand when we partake of the Holy Mysteries of the Body and Blood of the Saviour in the Eucharist, proclaiming our participation in His Victory and our hope in Resurrection unto life eternal.

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