L’autorevole sito orthodoxinfo.com ha pubblicato, di recente, una serie di domande che frequentemente vengono rivolte da chi si accosta alle icone e a questa particolare forma di arte sacra, che riconduce alle sorgenti della cristianità. Riproponiamo tre di questi argomenti – Che cos’è un’icona? I cristiani pregano le icone? Le icone compiono miracoli? – agli amici del nostro spazio web. Domande e risposte sono in lingua inglese.
Why in the Holy Scriptures we find only Icons of Cherubim, and not of Saints?
The Temple was an image of Heaven, as St. Paul makes clear: “[the priests who serve in the Temple in Jerusalem] serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount” (Hebrews 8:5; cf. Exodus 25:40). Before Christ came in the flesh and triumphed over death by His Resurrection, the Saints of the Old Testament were not in the presence of God in Heaven, but were in Sheol (often translated as “the grave”, and translated as “hades” in Greek). Before Christ’s Resurrection, Sheol was the destiny of both the just and the unjust (Genesis 37:35; Isaiah 38:10), though their lot there was by no means the same. As we see in Christ’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31; cf. Enoch 22:8-15 [although the book of Enoch is not included in the Canon of Holy Scripture, it is a venerable part of Holy Tradition and is quoted in the Epistle of St. Jude, as well as in many of the writings of the holy fathers]) there was a gulf that separated the just from the unjust, and while the righteous were in a state of blessedness, the wicked were (and are) in a state of torment—the righteous awaited their deliverance through Christ’s Resurrection, while the wicked fearfully awaited their judgment. Thus under the old covenant, prayers were said only for the departed, because they were not yet in heaven to intercede on our behalves. For as St. Paul said to the Hebrews when speaking of the Old Testament Saints, “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us” (Hebrews 11:39-40).
In Hebrews 12, St. Paul goes on to contrast the nature of the Old Covenant (12:18ff) with that of the New (12:22ff)—and among the distinctions he makes, he says that in the New Covenant we “are come unto… the spirits of just men made perfect (12:22-23). As both the Scriptures and the rest of Holy Tradition tell us, while Christ’s body lay in the tomb, His Spirit descended into Sheol and proclaimed liberty to the captives (Ephesians 4:8-10; 1st Peter 3:19, 4:6; cf. Matthew 27:52-53). And these Saints that have triumphed over this world, now reign with Christ in Glory (2nd Timothy 2:12), and continually offer up prayers for us before the Lord (Revelation 5:8; the Martyrdom of St. Ignatius, Ch. 7 [St. Ignatius was one of the disciples of the Apostle John, and was made Bishop of Antioch by him]). Thus, while in the Old Covenant, the Temple imaged heaven with only the attending Cherubim, in the New Covenant, our Temples image heaven with the great cloud of witnesses that now reside in glory there.
Granted that there are Icons of sorts in Scripture, but where were the Israelites told that they should venerate them?
The Scriptures do command the Israelites to bow before the Ark, which had two prominent images of cherubim on it. In Psalms 99:5, it commands: “bow before the footstool of His feet….” We should note first of all that the word for “bow” here, is the same word used in Exodus 20:5, when we are told to not bow to idols. And what is the “footstool of His feet”? In 1st Chronicles 28:2, David uses this phrase in reference to the Ark of the Covenant. In Psalm 99 [98 in the Septuagint], it begins by speaking of the Lord who “dwells between the Cherubim” (99:1), and it ends with a call to “bow to His holy hill”—which makes it even clearer that in context, this is speaking of the Ark of the Covenant. This phrase occurs again in Psalm 132:7, where it is preceded by the statement “We will go into His tabernacles…” and is followed by the statement “Arise, O Lord, into Thy rest; Thou and the Ark of Thy strength.” Interestingly, this phrase is applied to the Cross in the services of the Church, and the connection is not accidental—because on the Ark, between the Cherubim was the Mercy Seat, upon which the sacrificial blood was sprinkled for the sins of the people (Exodus 25:22, Leviticus 16:15).