The word “icon” simply means “image” in Greek (eikṓn). Given the Greek foundations of the Eastern Church, the term “icon” has come to refer to the sacred images that are venerated by Orthodox believers.
Icons act as a conduit between the worshiper and the holy personage depicted. Icons are revered because their inherent sanctity sets them apart from other material objects. There is no distinction between the spiritual and the aesthetic nature of an icon, as it imparts God’s presence through the senses: the experience of glory and beauty.
Icons are bridges to God´s Kingdom and Beauty. An icon is a testimony to hope, a witness in the world to the future fulfillment and end in the glory of God. Icons are a theology of glory and glorification, of divine kindness, love and beauty. Icons are a historical liturgy, a symbolical worship of God and a concrete witness to future salvation. Icons are a sign of the future as far as they transmit and make this future accessible to the present world. Icons have always been understood as a visible gospel, as a testimony to the great things given man by God the incarnate Logos”. As a Theology in imagery, the icon expresses through color what the Gospel proclaims in words.
In the Orthodox Christian tradition, icons are said to be written, not painted. The Orthodox considers making icons more a form of prayer than art, and they believe the iconographer’s hand is guided by God. An icon painter, or iconographer, is a theologian as much as he is an artist. Often painting an icon is a lifestyle of prayer, meditation, and fasting.
The icon is created to inspire and lead others into worship. Painting the icon is not a use of imagination. Instead, the icon is painted using the prescribed regimen and style that has been passed down through the centuries. Everything from the facial expressions to the colors used is predetermined. Through lines and color the iconographer conveys the awesomeness of the invisible, divine reality (Evdokimov, 1990).
The icon invites the Christian to enter into contemplation, prayer, and silence (Ware,1979). Space is not defined as three-dimensional and time is insignificant. The story told by the icon precludes time and space. Lighting proceeds from the character portrayed in the icon. There are never shadows in icons. This shows us that the saint portrayed is “glorified” having completed the race and entered into heaven. Symbolism is used in icons and details are used minimally. Virtually everything in the image symbolizes something. Angels — and often John the Baptist — have wings because they are messengers. Figures have consistent facial appearance, they hold personal identifying attributes, and they are placed in a few conventional poses. Colors are also symbolic.
Green is youth, fertility and the earth’s vegetation.
Red, the color of blood, suggests life, vitality and beauty.
White is purity, the divine world and innocence. It is revealed Light of God, representing the resurrection and transfiguration of Christ.
Gold indicates sanctity, splendor, and the glory of God and life in the heavenly kingdom.
Purple reveals wealth, power and authority.
Red is divine life, while blue is the color of human life. For example, an icon in which Jesus wears a red garment beneath a blue outer garment represents God become Man.
Letters are symbolic, too. Most icons incorporate some calligraphic text naming the person or event depicted. Even this is often presented in a stylized manner, and in Greek.