In Which We Worship with the Saints

Protestants have a mile-wide iconoclastic streak (can a central tenet be properly called a ‘streak’?), but I wonder if this is biblical. Observe Solomon’s temple:

“Inside the inner sanctuary he made two cherubim of olive wood each ten cubits high…Then he set the cherubim inside the inner room; and they stretched out the wings of the cherubim so that the wing of the one touched one wall, and the wing of the other cherub touched the other wall…Then he carved all the walls of the temple all around, both the inner and outer sanctuaries, with carved figures of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers.” – I Kings 6:23,27, and 29

In Solomon’s temple, where Jehovah was worshiped, figures of those beings who stood before the face of Yahweh are placed in the Holy of Holies. And these aren’t just decorations to add ambiance: These babies are centrally placed and, well, huge.

As the priest (and the people in the outer sanctuary as well) worship before Jehovah, they are symbolically reminded (via the icons of cherubim) of the spiritual reality: They stand in the throne-room of the Lord of Hosts, with the Cherubim who stand before Him and minister continually.

If the saints who have gone before us now stand before the face of God (Hebrews 12), then would it not be appropriate to have their icons in the sanctuary with us as we worship Jehovah together?



6 comments on “In Which We Worship with the Saints

  1. James Jordan and Jeffrey Meyers have some interesting articles agreeing with this point.

  2. mattyonke says:

    Well, hear hear! You’ve nailed one of the central points especially of the Byzantine expression of religious art. One of the things I love most about Byzantine Churches is that not only are there icons on the iconostas in front of the sanctuary, but they are all around the walls of the Church as well, creating a very real allusion to the great cloud of witnesses the author of Hebrews mentions.

    Are you familiar with St. John of Damascus’ treatises of Holy Images? That’s an excellent place to start especially since St. John lived right in the middle of the early Church’s iconoclastic controversy.

    He explains how the incarnation gave us a new economy of images. God was not to be pictured in the Old Covenant because He could not be pictured. Any attempt to represent God would have been vain and misplaced because God (and existed) only in Spirit. But when God took on flesh, which can be pictured, a new understanding of images had to be pursued.

    That which could be represented in pictures was always allowed. Now that God could be represented without doing dishonor to His nature and mode of being, things were entirely different.

    Obviously, as your post shows, images per se were never the problem. The problem was imaging the unimagable.

    Besides which, to answer the common protestant objection, icons and statues are no more idols than those carvings of the cherubim were. They are aids, things which draw our minds to the object and place of worship, the court of God in heaven.

    One of my favorite icons is around the pantocrater icon at Annunciation Church near where I live. You have the icon of Christ in the center, and around it is pictured a procession of angels carrying the body of Our Lord, an image of the Eucharistic procession that takes place in Catholic and Orthodox liturgies.

    Anyway, I ramble, but I love me some icons something fierce.



  3. matts,

    thanks for the comments. and yonke, that is one of my very favorite things about byzantine churches: had a very pleasant 1/2 hour yesterday just cruising around looking at pictures of them: lovely. as was your wife’s icon of st. michael (is that right?) by the by. she has a good eye.



  4. petersen,

    to which articles do you refer? are they available on line?

    – ben

  5. I’m not sure, Dr. Leithart gave me them a couple of years ago. You could email him for more:

    Here’s the Meyers one:

    I’m not finding the ones from Biblical Horizons, here’s three articles on why veneration of images is still forbiden: (I don’t know that I agree with his reasons, but I don’t know that this is the time to show why.)

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