Icons represent perhaps the oldest, existing form of liturgical and theological art in Christianity. According to tradition, the first examples of icons were made in the very earliest days of the Church. Saint Luke is even considered by some to have been the first iconographer.
The purpose of icons is to express the historical knowledge of the church and the theological and doctrinal experience of the truth that God is with us.
In the Divine Liturgy we experience the Holy Spirit coming down onto the gifts of bread and wine, transforming them into the body and blood of Christ. When we celebrate the Holy Eucharist, we experience the Presence of Christ in the very concrete and immediate here and now in our ordinary human lives.
Similarly, icons make Christ, the Blessed Virgin, and the Saints and Angels present to us where we are and as we are. Icons enable us to enter into a relationship with them in the “here and now” of our lives.
So, even though icons may be exquisitely beautiful, they are not primarily precious because of their decorative potential. Neither are they photographic images of historical events or persons.
Rather, their value is in their confession of faith, in their proclamation of the Gospel through images that present accurate historical detail along with true theological and doctrinal teaching in visual form.
It’s hard or perhaps impossible to find words that would do justice to the exquisite experience of living and praying with icons.