Journey to Orthodoxy:
Icons and Worship in the Orthodox Church

by Thomas Katsampes

December 9, 2007

This is a description of icons and worship in the Orthodox Church. I admit it is a bit flattering but permit me the indulgence so that I can share this with you.
As a recent convert to the Orthodox Christian faith this author has some experience on which to base an analysis of the use of icons. As a convert ten years ago icons were one of the additions to worship unfamiliar to me. I came from a protestant background and the worship I had been involved in up until this point involved sitting in a pew and repeating prayers, creeds and hymns when appropriate. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the Orthodox utilize all of their senses and beings in their worship. Incense floats through the air representing the prayers ascending into heaven. A bell is rung during the call to worship and at other key times in the worship. Altar boys, deacons and the priest serve in the altar area, chanting prayers and hymns, bowing, performing prostration, acknowledging the heavenly hosts of saints and angels whose worship we are entering into. Parishioners do not sit primly in the pews but may walk throughout the church lighting candles, venerating icons. The hands of parishioners are not quiet and closed but may be raised heavenward to show the lifting of the worshiper's heart toward God or they may be making the sign of the cross, reminding the one who makes it that Christ loved us enough to die for us. Later communion will be available so that one can even utilize the sense of taste during worship. In those first weeks the activity of worship seemed almost distracting to me but as I have entered into the worship it has became natural. The Orthodox believes worship is ongoing in the heavenly kingdom. They believe heaven is a place where worship doesn’t cease, that those who have gone before and have been faithful are worshiping the Holy Trinity continuously. When earthly Christians join together to worship we join the heavenly throng and begin participating in that worship. For that reason the walls and ceilings of the church are decorated with icons of Christ, Mary the Blessed Virgin, saints and angels. When parishioners stand in the pew during worship they only need to look around to see the saints surrounding them. In this way the icon is a reminder of a larger reality. It reminds us that we have stepped out of one world and into another. It reminds us that though we struggle on a daily basis to remain faithful to our beliefs and our God there are many who have finished this life successfully and now dwell in a place were there is no more sorrow. We are encouraged to persevere, to set our eyes on the finish line, to continue to live a life that is pleasing to God.
Note: "chanting prayers and hymns, bowing, performing prostration, acknowledging the heavenly hosts of saints and angels whose worship we are entering into." I think this is a mis-statement. We don't worship saints and angels. We worship God. We venerate saints and angels.
Journey to Orthodoxy
God Became Man and other thoughts
Thoughts on Mary
Visiting the Church
Returning to the Church
The Communion Question
Losing the Sense of the Sacred
Conversation with Fr. Tom
Icons and Worship
Differing Viewpoints
Can we truly know?
Faith and Works
Child Baptism
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