HERMITAGE – March 17 is the first Sunday of Great Lent for Orthodox Christians, and is known as The Orthodoxy Sunday.

The theme of Orthodoxy Sunday is the “Triumph of Holy Icons.”

During the Eighth Century, the church was struggling whether to keep or eliminate holy icons, the “pictures” of Christ, Virgin Mary, and Saints. These Icons were kept and venerated both in churches and private homes.

The iconoclasts or “icon smashers,” suspicious of any religious art which represented saints or God, demanded the destruction of icons.

The opposite party, the venerators of icons, vigorously defended the place of holy icons in the life of the church.

What is the doctrinal significance of icons? Those who support icons held that they safeguard the full and proper doctrine of Christ.

In fact both, those against icons and those who were in favor of them agreed, that God cannot be represented in His eternal nature.

The icon supporters held that if the incarnation has made a representational of religious art possible, then God can be depicted because He became man; therefore He took on human flesh and dwelt among us.

In the Orthodox Church, the mystical body of Christ, icons are inseparable from belief.

They are viewed as extensions of the interior life of the Church, objects intended to teach, but also to draw believers through the material world into communion with the “ineffable beyond.”

Generally speaking, an icon is a representation of a person or event in salvation history important to the Orthodox Christian.

Orthodox churches are usually filled with icons of biblical personalities, events or saints.

Traditionally, each church contains an iconostasis, a richly colored screen separating the nave from the sanctuary.

It tells the story of faith in visual images, both from Old and New Testament times.

To people unfamiliar with Orthodox thought, icons simply may seem to be religious “pictures.”

Yet, as iconographers and Orthodox theologians are quick to point out, icons are much more than pictures. The primary function of the Icon is theological, not decorative.

To Orthodox Christians, icons are often called, “theology in colors.”

They are a form of liturgical art, and as that name implies, they are inseparable from liturgy and from personal prayer life.

Orthodox Christians do not worship the icons, for worship is due only to God. Icons are used to teach and remind us of God and His holy church.

Every sign, symbol, and church figure relates to salvation.

They are visual aids to those who cannot read. When Orthodox believers prostrate themselves before an icon and kiss it, they are not venerating and paying homage to the material substance before them, but rather to that which is depicted.

Orthodox Christians like to describe icons as “windows to heaven” that are as passages into the spiritual world.

Icons do not merely depict the spiritual; they share in the holiness of the subjects they portray.

The final victory for restoring holy icons in the church took place at the 7th Ecumenical Council, 787 A.D. and is remembered as the “Triumph of Orthodoxy.”

This historical event is commemorated annually on the first Sunday of Great Lent.

This year in the Shenango Valley, the service of the Restoration of the Holy Icons will be held at St George Serbian Orthodox Church, Keel Ridge Road, Hermitage, beginning at 5 p.m.

The speaker will be Very Rev. George Triff of Holy Cross Parish in Hermitage.