In the year of our Lord 726 AD, the Emperor of Byzantium, Leon III Isauros, influenced by the heretical teachings of the Nestorians and Paulicians, who opposed the use of holy icons, forbidden the veneration of the holy icons. But this imperial decision was not accepted by the majority of the Orthodox people of the Byzantine Empire. The reaction of the Orthodox faithful reached its peak, when the Emperor ordered to remove the miraculous holy icon of Christ the Savior, which was above the palace’s main entrance. This action was considered as an act of high treason. Thus, from that moment the iconoclast period began and lasted more than 120 years.
The heresy of iconoclast doesn’t refer only to the prohibition of the veneration of the holy icons, but it was a wide religious and ecclesiastical reformation. The iconoclasts refused not only the veneration of the holy icons, but also that of the holy relics of the holy Saints, their intervention and those of the holy Mother of God, the Ever Virgin Mary and Theotokos.
The Orthodox people rebelled and, having as their leader someone called Kosmas, gathered an army and sailed against the capital city of Constantinople. Unfortunately, Leon III, as a skilled general and Emperor, managed to overtake the rebellions, captured and beheaded Kosmas. From that day Emperor Leon III enforced the general prohibition of the veneration and use of holy icons. He raised a cruel persecution against anyone who was a friend of the holy icons. The Orthodox Empire entered into a period of struggle which lasted more than 120 years. The people were divided into iconoclasts (those who destroy the icons) and those who were friends of the icons.
Numerous martyrs and confessors gave their lives defending the true teachings of the Orthodox Church concerning the holy icons, the holy relics and the interventions of the holy Saints. Many scholars, Bishops and Monks, wrote books clarifying the true meaning of the veneration of the holy icons. They distinguished between the worship which is offered only to God and the honoring veneration which is offered to the holy Saints, who are in reality the true friends of Christ. Among those who defended the holy icons are St John of Damas, St Basil the Great, and St Theodore Abbot of the Monastery of Studite.
In their writings, the holy Fathers stressed that the veneration of the holy icons is not an act of idol worshipping, but that of respect and honor, an expression of true love, for true worship is offered only to the Holy Trinity. The veneration which we express is not addressed to matter, but it proceeds to the prototype. With the Incarnation of the Word and Son of God, man has the right to depict whatever he has seen. Only God the Father cannot be depicted in work of art, for no one has seen the Father. It is considered as a blaspheme, when one depicts the Father as an old man! For God the Father is timeless (Achronos).
Now, let us clarify what is the difference between an idol and that of an icon. An idol is something which man believes that is god and that it could hear and answer our prayers. An icon is only a symbol, which reminds us either of what Holy Scripture have spoken of, or reminds us of the work of Salvation, which was achieved by Christ, or the life of the Ever-virgin Mary, the holy Apostles and the holy Saints. The holy icons are not worshipped by the Orthodox Church, but through them we offer our respect to those fellow Orthodox Christians who lived according to God’s Commandments and achieved their sanctification and salvation within the Canonical Body of Christ, which is the Orthodox Church. Anyone who accuses our Holy Orthodox Church of worshiping idols are liars, false teachers and enemies of the Truth of God.
The triumph of Orthodoxy came in the year of the Lord 843 AD, when Empress Theodora with the Local Holy Synod of Constantinople restored the veneration of the holy icons. Thus, from that day onwards our Holy Orthodox Church celebrates this victory of truth on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, during the 1st Sunday of Great Lent.
On that specific Sunday of Orthodoxy, the Holy Orthodox Church of Christ celebrates the victory of the True Christian Faith not only against the iconoclasts, who turned against the use of holy icons and the relics of the Saints, but it is a triumph of the True Christian Faith against all heresies which appeared throughout the ages.
Today, we commemorate the 348 holy Fathers who participated in the 7th Holy Ecumenical Synod. We are grateful to them, for they defended the Truth and offered us the original Apostolic Interpretation and Teachings of Holy Scripture.