FAQ: Orthodox Icons
Do the Icons of Orthodoxy border on idolatry?
In Orthodox Christianity, icons are never worshipped, but they are honored or venerated.
The Second Commandment says, "You shall not make for yourself any carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth" (Exod. 20: 4, 5). The warning here is that we are not to image things which are limited to heaven and therefore unseen, and we never bow down to or worship created, earthly things such as the golden calf. Does this condemn all imagery in worship? The Bible speaks for itself, and the answer is no.
Just five chapters later, in Exodus 25, God gives His divine blueprint, if you will, for the tabernacle. Specifically in verses 19 and 20, he commands images of cherubim above the mercy seat. So true imagery is not condemned in Scripture, but false imagery. Also, God promises to meet and speak with us through this imagery! (Exod. 25:22).
In Exodus 26:1, Israel was commanded in no uncertain terms to sew "artistic designs of cherubim" in the tabernacle curtains. Are these images? Absolutely! In fact, they are Old Testaments icons. And they are images God commanded.
From the beginning the Church imaged heavenly things brought to earth: Christ Himself, the cross (Gal. 6:14), and the saints of God (Heb. 11 and 12). Worship is reserved for the Holy Trinity alone. But we honor the great men and women of the faith by remembering them in the Church via visual aids, called icons or windows to heaven.