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Icon in Greek simply denotes a picture but has now come to be closely associated with religious art used by the Orthodox and the Catholic Churches. Icons are used by Orthodox Churches to assist in prayer and worship of God. Icon (image) is the same word used in the Bible in Genesis 1:27, Colossians 1:15.
Iconolatry is the veneration of images (mainly in two-dimensional form) and often referred to in relation to the Iconoclastic period where there was a "cleansing" and destruction by the Byzantine Empire (with varying degrees of cooperation and opposition from the Church) of all religious art. One reason given for this were that the Christians would venerate images of Saints, the Son of God and even pictures of God and scrape parts of the icons into Holy Communion; see iconoclasm for a more complete discussion
The Orthodox Church (while finally reinstating the Icons) held at least two Church councils to decide on the proper use of icons.
The Council of Hieria in 753 expressly forbade the making of icons, and ordered all pictures of Jesus and the saints to be removed from the churches, saying that they ought instead to be decorated with pictures of birds, flowers, and fruit. This council was held near Constantinople, and all attending bishops were from the Constantinople Patriarchate. The other patriarchs refused to send any delegates.
The Second Council of Nicaea held in 787 reversed the decisions of that council. This Council of Church leaders (bishops) was a vital step towards a correct understanding of the use of religious art in the Church. An early Church council defined veneration of icons based on the sacred mystery of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. The Person of Jesus reveals not only the Word of God (Jn. 1: 1 - 1 4), but the image of God (Jn. 1 4:9). Pre-Christian scriptures defined idolatry as worshipping of false gods; Church leaders defended images of Christ Who is True God. They clarified the relationship between an image and the one depicted by the image. The principle of veneration is that to honor an image is to honor not the image but the one who is imaged. The difference between veneration and worship was also clarified: one venerates/honors a saint; worship is due to God alone. After the period of Iconoclasm was over, devotion of icons spread to Serbia, Bulgaria, and to distant Russia.
Depictions of Icons bearing the image of God the Father were forbidden in the Orthodox Church, unless depicted in the contexts of the Revelation or Apocalypse of Saint John, where God the Father is described as an older version of Jesus. In general however, the best depiction of God is perfectly portrayed in the Icon type of Rublev's Holy Trinity. No-one has ever seen God the Father and so He should never be depicted in Icons. Only Jesus incarnate who was seen by human eyes is allowed to be painted.
- The Biblical Idea of Idolatry by Jose Faur, outlining the concept of idolatry/iconolatry as it exists in the Bible, in contrast to the Biblically-prescribed monolatrygl:Iconolatría