Katya Jordan, Assistant Professor of Russian
Religious icons adorn grand cathedrals, provincial churches, private homes, and—in our day—even car dashboards. In the day-to-day life of a believer, an icon serves as a focal point for personal prayer, as a form of protection against spiritual and physical harm, and as a reminder of the transitory nature of earthly life.
In addition to their eye-catching attributes and the formal place they occupy in Eastern Orthodox Christian worship, icons also fulfill a didactic function. Often considered a gospel for the illiterate, visual images for a long time were the main source of spiritual teaching both at church and at home. From their earliest use in the fifth century CE in Byzantium (modern Istanbul), Christian icons have been perceived as a window into the heavenly realm. Icons direct a beholder’s attention away from his or her personal view of physical reality to a higher truth that exists outside of one’s psyche and that is accessible only through spiritual vision. Iconicity is the term used to refer to the ability of a visual image to inspire such vision, which leads to spiritual change.