On Icons by St. John of Kronstadt

Reverence in every way images of living men, in order that you may duly reverence the image of God. For the image of the Lord Jesus Christ is the human image. He who does not respect the human image will not respect the image of God!

Excerpts from the diary of St. John of Kronstadt on
Holy Icons, Images and Symbols.

The holy Angels and God's saints are our best, kindest, and truest brothers and friends, so often helping us in various circumstances in which no human beings can help us. As these brothers, who eternally live and load us with benefits, are invisible, whilst we, on account of our corporality, wish to have them before our eyes and as though always present with us, therefore we have images of them; and, looking upon these images, we represent to ourselves that they are with us, and we call upon them in our prayers, knowing that they have great boldness before God and help us in various circumstances. Thus the veneration of icons is most beneficial for us, corresponding with our nature and with common-sense, as well as with the Holy Scriptures themselves, for there were images of the Cherubim in Moses' tabernacle of the Old Testament. Icons serve as a constant reminder to us that the Lord is always with us ("I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world"[994]); that the Most Holy Mother of God is always near us as the "First-Origin of the spiritual renovation"[995] of the Church, as the Mother by grace of all true Christians. And therefore all true Christians have in their houses the image of the Mother of God, their Queen and Mother by grace, and abundantly, worthily, and rightly adorn it with silver, gold, and precious stones; for, after God, there is no one dearer and more reverenced by them than His Most Pure Mother. Both the Lord Himself and His Most Pure Mother continually prove to us by means of miracles, both inwardly and outwardly, that our true veneration of His saints, and of His Mother, and of His holy icons, is pleasing to Him and profitable to us in the highest degree.

If anyone would ask you why you pray to soulless icons, what profit you derive from them, say that we derive incomparably greater profit from our icons than we do from the kindest and most benevolent living persons; say that blessed power and help to our souls always comes to us from icons, saving us from sins, sorrows, and sicknesses; especially from the icons of the Saviour and of the Mother of God; that one single look with faith upon them, as upon the living and those who are near to us, saves us from cruel sorrows, passions, and spiritual darkness; that if touching the Saviour's garment, and the garments and li and kerchiefs of the Apostles could restore health to the sick, much more are the images of the Saviour and of the Mother of God powerful to heal believers of every affliction, in accordance with their faith in the Lord and in His Mother.

Imagery or symbols are a necessity of human nature in our present spiritually sensual condition; they explain by the vision many things belonging to the spiritual world which we could not know without images and symbols. It was for this reason that the Divine Teacher, the Personal Wisdom Who created all things, the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, often taught men by means of images or parables; it is for this reason also that in our Orthodox temples it is the custom to represent many things to the gaze of the Christian by imagery: for instance, to represent the Lord Himself, the Most Pure Mother of God, the Angels and saints, on icons, in order that we may conform our lives, all our thoughts, words, and deeds, to the image of the thoughts, words, and deeds of the Lord and His saints; hence also the frequent making of the sign of the cross, the use of incense, the burning of candles and lamps, the processions in and out of the altar; hence the genuflections, the bowing of the head and the falling down upon the race (for we have fallen deeply through sin). All these remind us of various spiritual things and conditions. Imagery greatly influences the human soul, its creative or active capacity. Thus it is said that if during the time preceding the birth of her child a mother often looks upon the face or portrait of her beloved husband, then the child is born very like his father, or if she often looks upon the portrait of a beautiful child she gives birth to a beautiful infant; thus, if a Christian often gazes with love and reverence upon the image of our Lord Jesus Christ, or of His Most Pure Mother and His saints, his soul will receive the spiritual features of the face lovingly looked upon (meekness, humility, mercy, and abstinence). O, if we oftener contemplated the images, and especially the life of the Lord and of His saints, how we should change, and rise from strength to strength! Thus, the fragrance of incense in church or in our houses reminds us by analogy of the fragrance of virtue, and by contrast of the evil odour of sins, and teaches those who are attentive to inward feelings to avoid the stench of the passions, of intemperance, fornication, malice, envy, pride, despair and other passions, and to adorn themselves with every Christian virtue; the incense reminds us of the Apostle's words: "For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ in them that are saved, and in them that perish: to the one we are the savour of death unto death, and to the other the savour of life unto life."[986] In a like manner the candles or lamps burning in church remind us of the spiritual light and fire; for instance, of the Lord's words: "I am come a Light into the world, that whosoever believeth on Me should not abide in darkness;"[987] or "I am come to send tire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled?"[988] or "Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately;"[989] or "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father Which is in heaven."[990] And the objects themselves by their very nature teach us concerning the spiritual objects and things corresponding to light and fire; for instance, that our hearts should always be burning with love for God and our neighbour, that we should not let the passions or the fire of Gehenna be kindled within us, and that by the example of a virtuous life we should light others, as a candle lights us in our worldly doings.

You gaze upon the icon of the Saviour and see that He looks at you from it with brightest eyes; this look is the image of how He actually looks upon you with His eyes, that are brighter than the sun, and sees all your thoughts, hears all your heartfelt distress and sighs. The image is an image, and represents in lines and signs that which cannot be delineated, cannot be given in signs, and can be comprehended by faith alone. Believe, then, that the Saviour always protects you and sees each one of you — with all your thoughts, sorrows and sighing, in all your circumstances, as upon the palm of the hand. "Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of My hands; thy walls are continually before Me,"[23] says the Lord God. How much consolation and life are contained in these gracious words of the Almighty and Provident God! Therefore pray before the icon of the Saviour as before Himself. The Lover of men is present in it by His grace, and with the eyes depicted in it really looks at you: "The eyes of the Lord are in every place,"[24] while with His ears as represented on the icon, He hears you. But remember that His eyes are the eyes of God, and His ears are the ears of the omnipresent God.

"The Lord keeps" not only "all the bones,"[196] but also the images of the saints, not allowing them to perish through corruption, through carelessness and neglect, but miraculously recovering them, as we know from descriptions of the appearances of thaumaturgical icons, especially of that of the most pure Mother of God — our Lady. So dear to God is the image of man, especially that of a holy man, as a vessel of grace. Through such images He works miracles and bestows invisible powers of healing and consolation.

When you see that anyone, through the efforts of the Devil, is wholly possessed with one single vain, earthly subject (idee fixe), deeply grieves about it, constantly speaks of it, and thereby vexes you, do not become irritated about it, but be firmly assured that it is a spiritual malady coming from the enemy; be gentle and kind to the sick man, and immediately turn with calm, serene faith to God in. prayer, and say the following to the holy Icon not made with human hands: "To Thy most pure Icon we bow down, O Good One, praying for forgiveness of our sins, Christ our God; for of Thine own will Thou didst condescend to ascend the Cross in flesh, and thereby to deliver Thy creatures from the yoke of the enemy. Therefore, we thankfully cry unto Thee: Thou, Our Saviour, hast filled all things with joy, Thou Who earnest to save the world."[314]

O, how carefully do the Devil and the world sow their tares in Christ's cornfield, which is the Church of God. Instead of the Word of God, the word of the world, the word of vanity, is sown. Instead of the temple of God, the world has invented its own temples — the temples of the world's vanities — theatres, circuses, assemblies. Instead of holy icons, which worldly people do not accept, in the world there are painted and photographic portraits, illustrations, and various other pictures. Instead of God and the Saints, the world honours unto adoration its own celebrities — writers, actors, singers, painters, who command general confidence and respect up to reverence. Poor Christians! they have completely fallen away from Christ! Instead of spiritual raiment, every attention is paid in the world to perishable clothing, to fashionable dresses, and various exquisite ornaments, both splendid and costly.

What vanities, what foolish fancies often occupy most of us, even in sight of the highest, the most important objects of faith, in sight of the greatest holiness. For instance, when a man stands before the icons of the Lord, of the Mother of God, of an Angel, of an Archangel, of one or a whole assembly of Saints, at home or in the temple, and, sometimes, instead of prayer, instead of laying aside, at this time, in this place, all worldly cares, he casts up his accounts and reckonings, goes over his expenses and receipts, rejoices at the gain, and grieves at the loss of profits, or the failure of some undertaking (without, of course, a single thought of spiritual profit or loss), or else he thinks evil of his neighbour, exaggerating his weakness, his passions, suspecting him, envying him, judging him, or if it is in church, he looks at the faces of those, standing near him, also how they are dressed, who is nice looking, and who not, or making plans what he shall do, in what pleasure or vanity he will spend the day, and so on. And this often happens at the time when the greatest, the most heavenly Sacrament of the Eucharist, that is, of the most-pure Body and Blood of our Lord, is being celebrated; when we ought to be wholly in God, wholly occupied in meditations on the mystery accomplished for our sakes, of the redemption from sin, from the eternal curse and death; and on the mystery of our being made godly in the Lord Jesus Christ. How low we have fallen, how earthly-minded we have become, and from what does it all proceed? From inattention, and the neglect of our salvation, from attachment to temporal things, from weakness of faith, or unbelief in eternity.

When you look upon the icon of the Mother of God, with Her Eternal Infant, marvel how most truly the Godhead was united with human nature, glorify the goodness and omnipotence of God, and, recognising your own dignity as man, live worthily of the high calling to which you are called in Christ — that is, the calling of a child of God and an heir to eternal bliss.

When I gaze in meditation and with faith upon the holy icons in church, and upon all its appurtenances, then I am lost in wonderful contemplation; the whole temple appears to me to be sacred history in action, a wonderful scripture of the works of God, accomplished in the human race. Here I see the history in action of our fall and of our restoration by God's wonderful ordering, and our elevation by the Lord's incarnation, our being made godly, and our exaltation into heaven; here I picture to myself the archangel Gabriel announcing the Birth of the Son of God of the Virgin; here I see the Birth itself of the Child God, the Virgin Mother, the manger at Bethlehem; here is the Circumcision; there is the Baptism; further is the meeting of the Child God in the temple by Simeon; there is the Transfiguration of our Lord, and the effusion of light on Mount Thabor; there the Entrance into Jerusalem of the righteous Saviour, meek King; the Lord's Supper, and the institution of the all-saving Sacrament of the Holy Communion; there are the all-saving sufferings of the Lord of glory; I see as though it were Golgotha itself, and the Lord crucified for the sins of the world; I see the descent into hell of the Conqueror of hell, and the deliverance of the captives of hell, His Resurrection, Ascension into heaven, all for the sake of mankind, and for my sake. In the church I am lost in Divine contemplation, and thank the Lord for having so greatly loved me, for having so greatly honoured and blessed me. But when I look within myself — in my own heart, my God, what do I see! I see an abyss of voluntary and involuntary sins, an abyss of infirmities, temptations, afflictions, oppressions, fears, snares of the enemy, impenetrable darkness, thousands of falls, thousands of destructions and deaths. Sometimes I see within myself the very hell itself.

We have icons in our houses, and venerate them, in order to show, amongst other things, that the eyes of God and of all the heavenly dwellers are constantly fixed upon us, and see not only all our acts, but also our words, thoughts and desires.

I gaze upon the icons in the temple — upon Thy holy icon, my Lord, upon that of Thy Most Pure Mother, those of the holy Angels and Archangels, and upon the faces of the saints, adorned, resplendent with gold and silver — and think to myself how Thou hast honoured and adorned our nature, Creator and Provider of all! Thy saints shine with Thy light, they are sanctified by Thy grace, having conquered sin and washed away the sinful impurities of body and spirit ; they are glorious with Thy glory, they are incorruptible through Thine incorruptibility. Glory to Thee for having so honoured, enlightened, and raised our nature! Here are Thine Apostles and Hierarchs, living images of Thee, the Highest, Who passed through the heavens, Envoy of the Father, Hierarch and Chief of Shepherds; Thy goodness, Thy wisdom, Thy might, spiritual beauty, power, and holiness shine in them. Here are Thy martyrs, who by Thy strength overcame terrible temptations and endured fearful tortures; they have washed the garments of their souls white in Thy blood. Here are Thy venerable ones, who by fasting, vigilance, and prayer obtained Thy wonderful gifts, the gifts of healing, of discernment; Thy might strengthened them to stand above sin and all the snares of the Devil; Thy likeness shines forth in them like the sun.

In the temple, in its arrangements and parts, in the icons, in the Divine service, with the reading of the Holy Scriptures, the singing, the rites, the entire Old Testament, New Testament, and Church history, the whole Divine ordering of the salvation of mankind is emblematically traced, as upon a chart, in figures and in general outlines. Grand is the spectacle of the Divine service of our Orthodox Church for those who understand it, who penetrate into its essence, its spirit, its signification, its sense!

It is natural for us to have images of Christ, of His Most Pure Mother, of the Angels and saints. Firstly, because it is a requirement of our nature: we always wish to have before us an image of the Beloved, an image of our Benefactor, in order that in gazing upon it we may oftener remember Him and His benefactions (worship Him), the same as we do with living persons, especially with those whom we love and respect. Secondly, we are created after the image and likeness of God, therefore it is natural for us to wish to have always before our eyes our own Prototype, our First Origin, the Lord God, in those images, in which He was pleased to manifest Himself to men, in order that we should oftener remember Him, His constant presence with us, His providence; in order to express our reverence, gratitude, and love to Him in visible signs or ceremonies; for we are corporal, and on account of our corporality we need material representations, material ceremonies. It was certainly because of this that the Lord Himself appeared to His saints — for instance, to Abraham, in the form of three strangers, under the tree upon the plains of Mamre; to Isaiah in the form of a great King, sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; to the prophet Daniel in the form of the Ancient of Days and in the form of the Son of Man, brought near before Him. Had not the visible image of the invisible God been necessary, He certainly would not have appeared in a visible manner; would not have appeared upon earth in our flesh; would not have taken the form of a servant. And David says: "Seek His face evermore."[991] For this reason also we make, keep in our houses, and venerate, pictures of the Most Pure Mother of God, of the Angels and saints, because they are living images and likenesses of God, and, looking upon them, we remember more vividly their great deeds, virtues, their benefactions to us, their ardent love to God, and we ourselves thus become inspired to imitate them in their constant vigilance over themselves, in cleansing ourselves from every impurity of body and spirit, and we glorify their exploits, thus making them our intercessors and protectors before God, for God deigns to accept the intercession of His friends and faithful servants on behalf of those for whom they intercede before Him. As we are not bodiless spirits, but beings, covered with flesh, having material contours and a material image, it is natural that we should seek images of invisible beings; and it was indeed in condescension to our infirmity that the Lord gave the Angels power to take our form upon themselves and appear to us (when He pleases) in our image, as, for instance, when the Archangel appeared to Joshua, the son of Nun, to David, to Manoah and Hannah, to Zacharias, to the Most Pure Virgin Mary, and to other saints of the Old and New Testaments. Do we not ourselves prove in our daily life the requirement of our nature, its longing to have representations of the persons whom we love, when we express the desire to have their portraits and have our own portraits done, hang them up on the walls, or place them in albums, in order to look at them often, and to enjoy contemplating the respected and beloved faces? And this natural, right, and pious veneration of the holy icons many Lutherans and Anglicans regard as something unnatural, repugnant to God, as idolatry and heresy; they have not icons either in their houses or even in their temples, and consider it a sin to have and worship them. Through this they lose much in faith and piety, for by breaking the visible connection with the saints they likewise destroy the invisible one, whilst in reality, as the Church is heavenly and earthly, it forms one body. They have broken in the same way their connection with the departed, because they do not pray for them and do not offer sacrifices for their souls, sacrifices which are well-pleasing to the merciful God; and thus prove their unbelief in the power of the prayers of the Church for the departed. What kind of a Church is this that has unwisely and audaciously broken her ties with the heavenly, triumphant Church? has interrupted communion by means of prayers with the departed, and broken off communion with the Church that professes the faith in Christ in its primitive purity? Is it a living and holy body of the Church? Can a single trunk of the body, without head, without hands and feet, without eyes and ears, be called a living, organised body? And yet such a community proclaims its faith as the purified, true faith, and eschews the rites of our holy, spotless religion. Is that religion purified that has rejected the Sacrament of Orders and the other sacraments, excepting Baptism and Holy Communion, which last, however, is not valid; has rejected the veneration of the saints, of their relics, icons, fasting, monasticism, and prayers for the departed? Is this the faith of the Gospel? Is it the Church of Christ and the Apostolic Church? No; it is a self-made Church, constituted by the will of men, under the influence of human passions and pleasing human passions; it is " the truth in unrighteousness "[992] ; it is the perverted Gospel of Christ; it is the perversion or turning away of Christ's people " unto another Gospel," of which the Apostle said: "But though we or an angel from heaven preach any other Gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed."[993] It is not a Church, but a soul-destroying dissection of the body of Christ. And thus the veneration of icons is natural, righteous, pleasing to God, and profitable.

The Church, through the temple and Divine service, acts upon the entire man, educates him wholly; acts upon his sight, hearing, smelling, feeling, taste, imagination, mind, and will, by the splendour of the icons and of the whole temple, by the ringing of bells, by the singing of the choir, by the fragrance of the incense, the kissing of the Gospel, of the cross and the holy icons, by the prosphoras, the singing, and sweet sound of the readings of the Scriptures.

The cross and the sign of the cross are the power of God; this is why the Lord is always present in them. Similarly the icons of the Lord, of the Mother of God, of the holy angels and saints, may also possess the power of God for believers, and may accomplish miracles upon them. Why? Because, by the grace of God, the Lord, the Holy Virgin, the angels or saints, are present in them — that is, they are always as near us, and even nearer, than these images. Truly so. Experience very often confirms this.

If you doubt whether any particular icon of the Mother of God before which you pray has been sanctified or not, know that Our Lady, the Prototype of this image, was already sanctified nineteen hundred years ago, even in the bosom of Her parents, Joakim and Anna, afterwards at Her birth, and in the temple of Jerusalem, and finally by the indescribable Incarnation of God the Word of Her; She is ever holy and eternally, immovably, unchangeably, most holy; She is in every place, and present in every icon of Hers; by the delineation of Her face and name alone, and of the face and name of the Saviour, the material object is already sanctified by the delineation of Her face and name. Gaze, then, upon every icon in simplicity of heart, for any doubt proceeds from the Devil in order to divert you from heartfelt prayer. Say to him: the whole earth is holy; the power of my Lord, and of His most pure Mother — the Queen of the whole world — is in every place; I gaze upon Her, the most pure One, with my spiritual eyes, and I do not worship a board: Her representation is only made to help my infirmity.

The wonder-working icons of the Mother of God, and of other saints, teach us to look upon every icon as upon the saint himself or herself to whom we pray as living persons conversing with us, for they are as near, and still nearer to us than the icons, if only we pray to them with faith and sincerity. It is the same with the life-giving cross. Where the cross is, or the sign of the cross, there is Christ Himself, His power and His salvation only make the sign of the cross or worship the cross with faith.

Sometimes people call prayer that which is not prayer at all; for instance: a man goes to church, stands there for a time, looks at the icons or at other people, their faces and dress, and says that he has prayed to God; or else he stands before an icon at home, bows his head, says some words he has learnt by heart, without understanding and without feeling, and says that he has prayed, although with his thoughts and heart he has not prayed at all, but was elsewhere with other people and things, and not with God.

Icons are a requirement of our nature. Can our nature do without an image? Can we recall to mind an absent person without representing or imagining him to ourselves] Has not God Himself given us the capacity of representation and imagination] Icons are the Church's answer to a crying necessity of our nature.

Icons in churches and houses are necessary, amongst other reasons, because they remind us of the immortality of the saints; "that they live unto Him,"[1047] as the Lord said that in God they see, hear, and help us.

The Almighty power of God, existing and acting throughout the world, is concentrated similarly as the beams of the sun are concentrated in a focus or glass — in the holy icons. The concentration of the power of God is particularly present in the reasonable image of the Divinity, man, especially in his heart, filled with faith, hope, and love, as in a focus; in the heart is reflected, by Its light, the Sun of righteousness, the Holy Trinity, our God, with the abundance of His gifts, warming and enlightening each one's soul according to the measure of each one's faith.

When we pray, then the ears of the Lord are inclined to our prayer. He is then, as in general He always is, as near to us as the icon, before which we stand, and even much nearer: He is close to our very heart. His presence near us is as manifest as the visible icon, and therefore the icon is only a visible representation of how near the Lord is to us, how He looks upon us and hears us. And God's saints, in the Holy Spirit, are also as near to us as the Holy Spirit is near to us, Who is everywhere present and filleth all things, "Whose temple we are,"[1106] and in the Holy Spirit they see and hear us in the same way as we see and hear people speaking to us. For the Holy Spirit is the medium, by which we see and hear even ordinary things.

You have seen that on the icons of the saints, the Lord Jesus Christ is represented above, with the imperial globe in one hand and with the other extended in blessing. This is taken from reality. From heaven the Lord ever watches over those who combat for His sake upon earth, He helps them actively, as the almighty King, in their struggle with the enemies of salvation, blesses His wrestlers with "peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,"[1107] and bestows the crown of life upon them after they have finished their earthly exploits. Thus, Christians, all of you strengthen yourselves in faith and hope, looking unto Jesus, "the author and finisher of our faith,"[1108] Who ever watches over you and sees all your acts from the heavenly heights, as He looked down upon the proto-martyr, Stephen, opening unto him heaven and His glory; as He looked upon Saul, afterwards Paul, and also revealed Himself to him in the heavens, enlightening him with His light, and calling him with His voice. [1109]

According to the measure of the "spirit and truth" with which you begin to pray before the holy icon, for instance, of the Saviour, in the same measure the Spirit of Him Who is represented upon the icon is attracted to the icon. So that if your faith, in the presence of the Person, represented upon the icon, attains such a height that you see that Person living before you, then by grace He is actually there. The wonder-working images which speak, from which flow tears, blood, and so forth, are examples of this, and this is why such images all look extraordinarily living and expressive. What can be impossible to God, Who is able to give life to stone and form man out of it? He can miraculously accomplish the same with a painted image. "All things are possible to him that believeth";[1113] and the Highest miraculously comes down from heaven to him that believeth. He is similarly united with, and works miracles by, the sign of the life-giving cross.

In looking upon the faces of others, I see my own face, for we are all as one, created by God, from one single man, from the same blood, and all equally after the image of God — and therefore we must look upon all purely, unsuspiciously, not inimically, not cunningly, not avariciously, but with pure godly love. Also, when looking upon icons, upon the faces of the Saints, the image of the Mother of God, and that of the God-Man Himself, the Lord Jesus Christ, I see myself in them, for they are also men, and through His incarnation and humanisation, Jesus Christ, our God, has wholly clothed Himself in me, having thus honoured mankind with an immeasurable honour, driving away the stench of sin from those who believe and are baptised in Him, and making them fragrant with the holiness of the Holy Spirit dwelling in them through faith, baptism, and the Communion of His Divine Body and Blood. Thus see yourself in others, that others may see themselves in you, love all as yourself; also see yourself and mankind in Christ, in His Most Pure Mother, and in the images of the Saints, and assimilate yourself to God and the saints by imitating their holiness — that they, too, may see themselves in you, in proportion as you become like unto God and them by virtue, and that they may recognise in you their member when you appear at the universal judgment, and may receive you into their midst as one of themselves.

The icons of the Saviour in every orthodox house show His omnipresence, His sovereignty in every place, whilst the images of the Saints — the presence with us or the nearness to us of the Saints, by the grace of God, as members of the one body of the Church, united under the one Head — Christ.

There are many people who pray in such a manner that they seem to worship God in vain. There are also some persons who pray, and they are so slothful and evil that when they feel an influx of impure and evil thoughts in their heart and head, they immediately leave off praying and flee from the church or from before the icon in their home.

If I pray to God with hearty, lively, and perfect faith, then I am not only near Him, as a son living in the same house is to his father, but I am also near to all the heavenly powers, to all the saints, reigning in heaven; and they are no farther away from me than the icons before which I pray. Therefore it is an excellent custom with us to have in our houses icons of the Lord, of His most pure Mother, of the archangels, guardian angels, and of the saints, and to pray before them: their nearness to our bodily sight betokens their still greater nearness to our spiritual sight, armed with undoubting faith. Nearness: "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth,"[1165] just as in the parental house brothers rejoice when one of them, who had offended against his father, repents of the offence he has caused his father by his behaviour.

By reverencing icons — firstly, I reverence in them God, Who has begotten before all worlds the Son, His living Image, Who gave material being to the infinite thought of God the Father, by creating the worlds and all creatures that were in the thought of God, and man, created after the image and likeness of God; secondly, I honour in them the image of God incarnate; thirdly, I honour in them myself, my own image of the immortal god-like man, called to be a partaker of the Divine nature, to union with the Lord, to be the temple of the Holy Spirit. Also, I am involuntarily incited to venerate icons because I see manifested in them the power of God, saving the faithful and punishing unbelievers, in the same way as I see and feel this same power in the sign of the Lord's cross, which is called life-giving by reason of its miraculous power. For all these reasons, icons replace for me the persons themselves whose names they bear. The images of the saints upon our icons represent to us the nearness in the spirit of God's saints, who all live in God and are always near to us in the Holy Spirit, through our hearty faith and prayer to them. For what can be far away for the Spirit of God, Who is everywhere present and filleth all things, "going through all understanding [gifted with understanding] pure and most subtil spirits?"[1179] "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth."[1180] This means that the disposition of our souls lies open, not only to God, but also to the angels. " Standing before Thee and before Thy terrible and holy angels, I bring before Thee my evil and wicked doings, and confess them and reveal them."[1181]

When praying, do everything with understanding. When you pour oil into the lamp burning before an icon, represent to yourself that the Life-giver every day, every hour, every minute supports your life by His Spirit, and, as daily by means of sleep in bodily respects, through prayer and the Word of God in spiritual respects, pours into you the sacred oil of life, by means of which your soul and body burn. When you place a candle before an icon, remember that your life is like a burning candle, that it will burn out and be extinguished, or that some other reasons, such as the passions, surfeiting, wine and other pleasures, make it burn faster than it should.

During prayer, before the icons or without them, it is necessary to always have full hope of receiving that which we ask for — for instance, deliverance from afflictions, spiritual sickness, and sins, because we have already a thousand times experienced that we do clearly obtain mercy from the Lord or Our Lady; and therefore, not to hope to obtain that which we ask in prayer, or to doubt in the fact of our prayers being heard, would be the greatest foolishness and blindness.

It is an excellent custom with Christians, and one pleasing to God, to have an icon of the Saviour and to pray to Him before it. This is a crying necessity of our soul. The Lord Himself, with the love which is proper to Him, desires to be formed in us, as the Apostle says: "My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you"[1230] ; or "that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith."[1231] But how can I form Christ in my heart if I do not first represent Him sensibly before my eyes? Thus we have images of the Saviour, of the Mother of God, and others. The love of Christians for them, desiring to always carry their images in their thoughts and hearts, as well as our nature, which is both carnal and spiritual, has called forth the necessity of representing Them on painted icons, placing them in the most honoured places of the house, as in our hearts or the chambers of our soul, and of reverencing them by bowing to them, first spiritually, and then bodily. And how in accordance with God's intention our veneration of icons is! Heaven itself replies to us from the icons, as the Lord in olden times replied from the mercy-seat in the Hebrew tabernacle; many of them shine by miracles.

Every place is the place of God's presence and sovereignty. Hence it is undoubtedly true that the Lord looks upon us with the eyes of the holy icons as with His own, and can speak to us by the mouths of the holy icons as by His own. Also, owing to the fact that the Lord is in every place, His cross, His name work miracles. His icons show themselves to be wonder-working, and are in every case places of His gracious presence.

When I read the Gospel, then it is not I that speak, but the Lord Himself; He Himself is in these words. For He is the Spirit, the Wisdom, or the infinite personal Thought; it is He Himself Who is in these wonderful thoughts and words of the Gospel. Only the word is ours, human; or, rather, even the word is also His; whilst the thought, its essence, truth, is the Lord Himself. I see the same, for instance, in the image of the Saviour or His cross. Again, He Himself is there — my omnipresent Lord is in them, in this image or in that cross, as in the word of the Gospel. His image on the icon or on the cross is only an outward appearance, whilst the essence is He Himself — manifesting Himself everywhere, in everything and through everything, and especially through the images and signs upon which His justly-worshipped Name is inscribed or His representation is drawn. So also He is in the priest's blessing by the sign of the cross, in which He Himself appears, and as though Himself blesses. Hence the importance of a priest's blessing. And even our customary making of the sign of the cross has also God's power, if only we make it with faith. Thus everywhere we may find and feel the Lord.

Is it only for the adornment of your dwelling, as a beautiful piece of furniture, as an ornament, that you hang up richly-painted icons in your house, without turning to them with the hearty faith, love, and reverence due to holy things? Ask your heart if it is so. Icons in houses or in the temple are not intended for show, but for prayer before them, for reverence, for instruction. The images of the saints ought to be our home and Church teachers. Read their lives, and engrave them upon your heart, and endeavour to bring your life into conformity with theirs.

It is well to place candles before the icons. But it is still better if you bring as a sacrifice to God the lire of your love for Him and your neighbour. It is well that the one should be accompanied by the other. But if you place candles before the icons and have no love for God and your neighbour in your heart, if you are avaricious, if you do not live in peace with others — then your sacrifice to God is in vain.

Kissing with the lips corresponds to kissing with the soul; and when we kiss holy things, we ought to kiss them with the soul and heart as well as the lips.

My carnal nature requires images. Therefore we rightly and justly make images and reverence them. What else is man himself but a living image of the living God? The Son of God Himself is a uniform impress of the Father, showing us the Father in Himself. If we ourselves are images of God, formed of a soul and body, then why should we not reverence God's saints in their images made with hands? The inscription of the name upon the image means much to the believer. This name is as though it replaces the soul of the person represented on the image. Call upon the name of the saint with your whole soul; he will hear you, and will manifest his miraculous power in the image. The name of the Saviour, called upon with faith, works wonders. It drives away the demons, quenches the fire of the passions, heals sicknesses. The names of the saints, called upon with faith, by the grace of God also work wonders. And what is there astonishing in this? They are all in the Spirit of God, and the life-giving Spirit of God is everywhere present and fills all things. The saints all work wonders by the Holy Spirit, because the one Spirit of God is the Spirit of wonders.

My soul can imagine millions of images, for instance, of the One same Mother of God, and my hand can delineate as many images of Her as I please, and they will all be worthy of reverence, as She Herself is. Thus the supernatural and life-giving Unity has devised, created through Its creative Word, and sanctified through the Holy Spirit, the innumerable multitudes of Its reasonable images — the heavenly powers. Thus, likewise, the Father has devised and the Son, Himself the living image of the Father, has created, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit, His own sentient and reasonable image — man, and from him alone, to our continual wonder, until now, creatively forms such images, which are all living, beautiful, godlike, lasting, and eternal. Likewise, whatever quantity of icons I may paint, all of them are true and worthy of reverence to me, and I will undoubtedly reverence them if only they correspond to God's real, holy images (icons). What prevents our having as many holy images, for instance, of the Saviour Christ as there are separate Christian persons? Every image of the Saviour is His image, most worthy of reverence, shining in the soul of every true Christian.

God rests in the saints and even in their very names, in their very images; it is only necessary to use their images with faith, and they will work miracles.

The wonder-working icons of the Mother of God, and of other saints, teach us to look upon every icon as upon the saint himself or herself to whom we pray as living persons conversing with us, for they are as near, and still nearer to us than the icons, if only we pray to them with faith and sincerity. It is the same with the life-giving cross. Where the cross is, or the sign of the cross, there is Christ Himself, His power and His salvation only make the sign of the cross or worship the cross with faith.

The wonder-working image of the Saviour is the Lord Himself depicted upon it. I weep bitterly, and as though involuntarily, by the grace abundantly poured upon me from it; I shed streams of tears, which cleanse my soul from sins, and bring peace and joy into my heart.

It is impossible to represent and to think of the cross without love. Where the cross is, there is love; in the church you see crosses everywhere and upon everything, in order that everything should remind you that you are in the temple of the God of love, in the temple of love itself, crucified for us.

When I read the Gospel, then it is not I that speak, but the Lord Himself; He Himself is in these words. For He is the Spirit, the Wisdom, or the infinite personal Thought; it is He Himself Who is in these wonderful thoughts and words of the Gospel. Only the word is ours, human; or, rather, even the word is also His; whilst the thought, its essence, truth, is the Lord Himself. I see the same, for instance, in the image of the Saviour or His cross. Again, He Himself is there — my omnipresent Lord is in them, in this image or in that cross, as in the word of the Gospel. His image on the icon or on the cross is only an outward appearance, whilst the essence is He Himself — manifesting Himself everywhere, in everything and through everything, and especially through the images and signs upon which His justly-worshipped Name is inscribed or His representation is drawn. So also He is in the priest's blessing by the sign of the cross, in which He Himself appears, and as though Himself blesses. Hence the importance of a priest's blessing. And even our customary making of the sign of the cross has also God's power, if only we make it with faith. Thus everywhere we may find and feel the Lord.

Do not grudge burning a wax taper before the icon of the Lord during prayer; remember that you burn it before the inaccessible Light and before Him Who enlightens you with His light. Your candle is as though a burnt offering to the Lord; let it be a gift to God from your whole heart; let it remind you that you yourself should also be a burning and shining light. "He was," it is said of John the Forerunner, "a burning and a shining light."[1418]

I bring to the Lord, to Our Lady, or to an Angel or Saint, material light, in order that the Lord may bestow the light of grace, spiritual light, upon me through their prayers, that He may lead me out from the darkness of sin into the light of the knowledge of God and virtue; I bring material fire that the fire of the grace of the Holy Spirit may be kindled in my heart, and that it may extinguish the fire of the passions in my miserable heart; I bring a light with the desire that I may become a light myself, burning and shining to all that are in the temple. These are the reasons why I place candles before the icons; such are my thoughts when I put candles in the candlesticks. I acknowledge that I place these candles before the icons with the hope of receiving spiritual blessings from those holy and all-holy persons who are represented upon them; I acknowledge this spiritual love of gain. But it is the law of reciprocity to expect a gift for a gift. "With what measure ye mete," it is said, " it shall be measured to you again."[1419] I am an infirm, carnal, sinful man — they are welcome to all I have; not being always able to bring to my Lord, to His most pure Mother, to an Angel of God, or to a Saint, a heart burning with faith and love, I bring, at least, as a carnal, material man, a material gift as a gift to heaven, a lighted candle. May the Lord look down from heaven upon this little gift of my zeal, and may He give me more in return. He alone is rich, and enriches all, whilst I am poor and needy; He is surrounded with inaccessible light, I am in darkness; I am of little faith, may He grant me the gift of faith; I am poor in love, may He enrich my heart with this priceless heavenly treasure; I am powerless for all good, may He give me the power. On my part there is the desire for heavenly blessings, and there is a material pledge of this; may the all-endowing Lord grant to me, by the prayers of His most pure Mother and those of the Angels and Saints," all things that I ask that are profitable unto salvation."

[23] Isaiah xlix. 16.
[24] Proverbs xv. 3.
[196] Psalm xxxiv. 20.
[314] The Vera Icon, which, according to Greek tradition, Jesus sent with an autograph letter, to Abgarus of Edessa.
[986] 2 Corinthians ii. 15, 16.
[987] St. John xii. 46.
[988] St. Luke xii. 49.
[989] St. Luke xii. 35, 36.
[990] St. Matthew v. 16.
[991] Psalm cv. 4.
[992] Romans i. 18.
[1047] St. Luke xx. 38.
[1106] Hebrews iii. 6; 1 Corinthians iii. 16; vi. 19.
[1107] Romans xiv. 17.
[1108] Hebrews xii. 2.
[1109] Acts vii. 55, 56; ix. 3, 4.
[1113] St. Mark ix. 23.
[1165] St. Luke xv. 7,10.
[1179] Wisdom vii. 23.
[1180] St. Luke xv. 7, 10.
[1181] Fourth Prayer of St. Simeon the Metaphraste before Holy Communion.
[1230] Galatians iv. 19.
[1418] St. John v. 35.
[1419] St. Matthew vii. 2

Excerpts compiled from: My Life in Christ or Moments of Spiritual Serenity and Contemplation, of Reverent Feeling, of Earnest Self-Amendment, and of Peace in God, St. John of Kronstadt.