St. Paul says that Christ is the icon of the invisible God (Col. 2:7). An image, says St. Thomas connotes three simultaneous qualities: likeness to prototype, derivation from it, and similarity of species with it. Likeness alone is not enough. A photograph is a likeness; it is not an image in the sense used here. A son is the image of his father (but not vice versa). Christ is the image of the Father, because he manifests Him to mankind. The underlying idea of the icon and indeed of the logos, is the manifestation of the hidden. In itself "image does not demand equality with the archetype; but, in fact, we know that Christ, the image, is identical with the Father in every particular, differing from Him only by the fact of being begotten." (St. John of Damascus).

The icon is helpful for the prayer but not as a means to put the imagination into motion. Metropolitan Seraphim explains the role of the icon in prayer in this way: "If you stand before the Redeemer's icon or that of the Mother of God, stand as if you were before the Lord Jesus Christ himself or before the most blessed Virgin Mary. Keep your intelligence without any representation, for there is a great difference between standing before the Lord in his very presence, and representing Him to the imagination. In the latter case, attention is not given to prayer directly, but is held by traditional impressions which only skim the surface of our consciousness."

The icon is not a picture. The icon is not a painted representation meant to teach. The icon is a grace and a life. It is a life that penetrates and purifies and elevates. From the icon emanates a virtue that inspires the faithful with hope and gives them consolation. St. John of Damascus calls it a "channel of divine grace."

The icon, is not only an aesthetical entity. It is the result of the faith and of the prayer of the Church. It is the life of the Church lived in Christ. A saving truth is not communicated by the word alone but by the fact of awakening vital forces of life, through the presentation of beauty. Because God loved us, He turned to us a visible face, a human face: He turned to us the face of absolute beauty which is not different from the fullness of God and the fullness of being. The icon carries with it the love of this beauty, and the beauty of this love.

(From: Archbishop Joseph Raya's Byzantine Daily Worship, pp. 15-16.)