Monday, January 02, 2017

Not idolatry

One reoccurring criticism I get from Protestants concerning the Orthodox church concerns the veneration of icons (do a google search for "orthodox icons" if you don't know what an icon is).  We are constantly accused of worshiping pieces of wood and paint. I recently listened to a podcast of a prominent "discernment blogger"  who repeatedly referred to people like the Orthodox and Roman Catholics as "idolaters".

Let me assure my friends and family that nothing could be further from the truth.  The Orthodox Church considers the worship of anything or anyone other than God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit as blasphemy.  The Church sees a vast difference between worship and veneration.  And by "veneration" it is simply meant that the believer pays special and deep respect to the person represented by the icon. 

If you are still inclined to believe that bower to and kissing icons is a form of worship, allow me to ask a few questions:

First, does the heart of the believer figure into the action at all?  In other words, when the believer says, "I am not worshiping the icon, I would only worship God.  I am simply paying my respects to the person represented by this picture" are they to be accused of lying? 

Second,  I study an eastern martial art.  At the beginning and end of class our instructor bows to us and we to him.  Are we worshiping each other?

Third,  when two Japanese businessmen meet and bow to each other are they worshiping one another?

These are just a couple of questions worth asking yourself before accusing someone of idolatry.  Idolatry, biblically, isn't simply a matter of a particular action, but the intentions behind that action.  It is simply unfair and, to be honest, rude to accuse someone of worshiping when they insist that, in their heart and mind, they are doing no such thing simply because you are confused about their actions. 

Also keep in mind that Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism started in an eastern cultural setting.  The idea that bowing equals worship is very American and demonstrates a common problem in our culture that can equally be blamed on xenophobia as it can on an ethnocentrism.  If you truly want to know what Orthodox believers are doing try talking to one.  Better yet, talk to an Orthodox Priest.  Not only won't he bite, he will be more than happy to sit down with you and answer your concerns and questions. 

[Note to my Orthodox brothers and sisters: I have simplified the explanation of icons and their use in this post on purpose.  I hope to go into more detail about them some time later on.  For now this post is intended primarily to answer concerns put forward by my Protestant friends.]

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