March 23, 2016

Should Icons Be Blessed or Anointed?

An icon prepared to be blessed.

It is a fairly common practice today for clergy to bless and anoint holy icons. However, this practice is contrary to the tradition of the Church and should cease.

During the Seventh Ecumenical Synod, it was an argument of the Iconoclasts that icons are not sacred because there is no prayer read over them to consecrate them and sanctify them. The Orthodox unanimously argued that icons had no need to be consecrated, because they were sanctified by the fact that they are named. Therefore, if an image bears the name of Christ, the Theotokos or any Saint, it alone is sufficient to make it worthy of honor and veneration.

This firmly remained the Orthodox tradition until 1649, when Metropolitan Peter Moghila of Kiev published his Trebnik or Euchologion. This was the first time an Orthodox source included a short prayer service for the blessing of icons. This influenced the first blessing prayer to be included in the Greek Euchologion in 1730. Why was this done? As Dositheos of Jerusalem (1669-1706) informs us, it was a direct influence of the Papacy on the Orthodox Church that contributed to this innovation.

However, the Kollyvades Fathers did not leave this innovation without a response, and its widespread practice among the Orthodox was strongly condemned by Nikodemos the Hagiorite and Athanasios Parios, among others. Both reiterated the tradition of the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Synod, and saw this innovation as a trace of iconoclasm once again within the Church.

+ + +

From the Minutes of the Seventh Ecumenical Synod:

The Iconoclasts: …nor is there any prayer of consecration for it [an icon] to transpose it from the state of being common to the state of being sacred. Instead, it remains common and worthless, as the painter made it.

The Orthodox: Many of the sacred things which we have at our disposal do not need a prayer of sanctification, since their name itself says that they are all-sacred and full of grace. Consequently, we honor and embrace them as venerable things. Thus, even without a prayer of sanctification, we revere the form of the life-giving Cross. The very form of it is sufficient for us to receive sanctification. By the veneration which we offer to it, by the making of its sign on our forehead, and also by the making of its sign in the air with the finger, like a seal, we express the hope that it dispels demons. In the same way, when we signify an icon with a name, we transfer the honor to the prototype; by embracing it and offering to it the veneration of honor, we share in the sanctification. Also we kiss and embrace the different holy utensils which we have, and we express the hope of receiving a blessing from them. Therefore, either they [the iconoclasts] must say idly that the Cross and the holy utensils are common and worthless — since it is a carpenter, or a painter, or a weaver who has made them, and because there is no prayer of consecration for them — or they will have to accept also the venerable icons as sacred, holy, and worthy of honor.

For, just as when one paints a man, one does not render him without a soul, but he remains one who has a soul and the icon is called his because of his resemblance, so it is when we make an icon of the Lord. We confess the Lord’s flesh to be deified, and we know the icons to be nothing else but icons, signifying the imitation of the prototype. It is from this that the icon has taken also the name of the prototype, which is the only thing that it has in common with the prototype. That is why it is venerable and holy.

From Mansi XIII, 269E-272A, 344B, Sahas., p. 99, 159.

+ + +

From The Life of Stephen the New, ch. 55:

Then Saint [Stephen] answered him [Constantine V]: “O Emperor, it is not the matter that is in icons that Christians have ever been ordered to worship, but they prostrate themselves in front of the name of the person who is seen on the icon…”

Then the Saint replied: “And who then in his right mind worships what is created when he prostrates himself in front of objects that are in the churches, whether they be of wood, stone, gold, or silver, and that have been changed into holy objects by the name written on them?”

+ + +

From the Discourses against the Iconoclasts by St. Nikephoros of Constantinople:

In truth, just as churches receive the name of their holy patron saints, so also images of those saints have their names written on them, for it is what is written on them [the name] that makes them holy.

+ + +

From the Ekthesis of St. Athanasios Parios:

An external prayer and a foreign blessing are not necessary for the icons to become holy, sacred, and worthy of veneration since it is by their own form and meaning that they are sanctified.

+ + +

From The Rudder, Footnote 9 of the Prologue to the Seventh Ecumenical Synod, pp. 930-33, by St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite:

It is not necessary to anoint the holy icons with myron (or chrism oil) nor to have them sanctified by the bishop with special prayers [for three reasons]:

1) Because we do not adore the holy icons because they are anointed or have had prayers said over them, but irrespectively, as soon as we lay eyes on a holy icon, without pausing to examine into the possibility of its having been anointed or having had a special pray said over it, we at once proceed to pay adoration to it both on account of the name of the Saint and on account of the likeness it bears to the original. That is why in Act 6 of the present Synod, the Synod of the iconomachs in the reign of Copronymos disparaged the holy icons by asserting that the name of the pictures neither has any sacred prayer sanctifying it, in order that from what is common it might be transferred to what is holy, but that, on the contrary, it (sc. the picture) remains common and dishonorable (ie. not entitled to honor), just as the painter made it. To these allegations, the holy Seventh Synod replied through Deacon Epiphanios, by asserting that it did not say that any special prayer is said over the icons, but said that like many other sacred objects they were incapable of receiving (benefit from) any special prayer, but, on the contrary from their very name they are replete with grace and sanctity, in the same way that the shape of the vivifying Cross is, which is entitled to veneration and adoration among us in spite of the fact that it is made without having any special prayer said over it; and we believe that with its shape alone we acquire sanctity, and with the adoration which we pay to it, and the marking of it upon our forehead: and the seal of it which is made in the air with the finger (note that in days of yore the sign of the Cross was not made with three fingers, as it is today, but with one finger alone, which fact is stated by St. Chrysostom in one of his discourses: and see concerning this the footnote to c. XCI of Basil) in the hope of chasing away the demons. Likewise, in the same way that we have many sacred vessels, and kiss and embrace them fondly, and hope to receive sanctity from them, in spite of the fact that they have not had any special prayers said over them, so and in like manner by fondly kissing and embracing and paying honorary adoration to a holy icon that has not had special prayers said over it we partake of sanctity, and are analogically lifted up and carried back to the honor of the original through the name of the icon. But if the iconomachs cannot assert that the sacred vessels are dishonorable and common because of their not having had any special prayers said over them for the purpose of sanctifying them, but are just as the weaver, the painter and the goldsmith finished them, yet they regard them as holy and precious; in the same way they ought to regard the venerable icons as holy and precious and sacred even though they have not had any special prayers said over them to sanctify them.

2) The holy icons do not need any special prayer or any application of myron (or chrism) because, according to Dositheos (p. 658 of the Dodekavivlos), it is only the Papists (or Roman Catholics) that perpetrate the iniquity of qualifying pictures with certain prayers and devotions. For they boast that the Pope manufactures pictures from pure wax, holy oil, and water of sanctification that he reads marvelous prayers over them, and that because of these special features these pictures perform miracles (just as they lyingly state that Leo III sent such a picture to King Charles of France, and he reverenced it; and that Pope Urban sent another picture to John Paleologos, and this one was honored with a litany in the Church). Do you see that the prayer which is read over holy pictures is a Papal affair, and not Orthodox; and that it is a modern affair, and not an ancient one? For this reason, no such prayer can be found anywhere in the ancient manuscript Euchologia. In fact, we have noticed that this prayer is not even found in Euchologia printed only a hundred years ago!

3) It becomes evident that holy icons do not need any special prayer or application of myron (i.e. holy oil), because the picture painted on the walls of churches, and their naves and in their aisles, and in general in streets and on doors, and on the sacred vessels are never anointed with myron and never any special prayer said over them, and yet, in spite of this, adoration is paid to them relatively and honorarily by all on account of the likeness they bear to the originals. That is why the erudite Bishop of Campania, Sir Theophilos the Saint did not conceal this truth, but stated in the book which he has just recently produced that the holy icons do not need any anointing with myron nor the saying of any special prayer by a bishop.