St John of Damascus: on Holy Images 3

Why should we permit icons of the saints? One of the arguments is laid out for us to think about here: 

“We depict Christ as our King and Lord, and do not deprive Him of His army. The saints constitute the Lord’s army. Let the earthly king dismiss his army before he gives up his King and Lord. Let him put off the purple before he takes honour away from his most valiant men who have conquered their passions. For if the saints are heirs of God, and co-heirs of Christ, (Rom. 8.17) they will be also partakers of the divine glory of sovereignty. If the friends of God have had a part in the sufferings of Christ, how shall they not receive a share of His glory even on earth? “I call you not servants,” our Lord says, “you are my friends.” (Jn. 15.15) Should we then deprive them of the honour given to them by the Church? What audacity! What boldness of mind, to fight God and His commands! You, who refuse to worship images, would not worship the Son of [24] God, the Living Image of the invisible God, (Col. 1.15) and His unchanging form. I worship the image of Christ as the Incarnate God; that of Our Lady (thV qeotokou), the Mother of us all, as the Mother of God’s Son; that of the saints as the friends of God. They have withstood sin unto blood, and followed Christ in shedding their blood for Him, who shed His blood for them. I put on record the excellencies and the sufferings of those who have walked in His footsteps, that I may sanctify myself, and be fired with the zeal of imitation. St Basil says, “Honouring the image leads to the prototype.” If you raise churches to the saints of God, raise also their trophies. The temple of old was not built in the name of any man. The death of the just was a cause of tears, not of feasting. A man who touched a corpse was considered unclean, (Num. 19.11) even if the corpse was Moses himself. But now the memories of the saints are kept with rejoicings. The dead body of Jacob was wept over, whilst there is joy over the death of Stephen. Therefore, either give up the solemn commemorations of the saints, which are not according to the old law, or accept images which are [25] also against it, as you say. But it is impossible not to keep with rejoicing the memories of the saints. The Holy Apostles and Fathers are at one in enjoining them. From the time that God the Word became flesh He is as we are in everything except sin, and of our nature, without confusion. He has deified our flesh for ever, and we are in very deed sanctified through His Godhead and the union of His flesh with it. And from the time that God, the Son of God, impassible by reason of His Godhead, chose to suffer voluntarily He wiped out our debt, also paying for us a most full and noble ransom. We are truly free through the sacred blood of the Son pleading for us with the Father. And we are indeed delivered from corruption since He descended into hell to the souls detained there through centuries (I Pet. 3.19) and gave the captives their freedom, sight to the blind, (Mt. 12.29) and chaining the strong one.* He rose in the plenitude of His power, keeping the flesh of immortality which He had taken for us. And since we have been born again of water and the Spirit, we are truly sons and heirs of God. Hence St Paul calls the faithful [26] holy; (I Cor. 1.2) hence we do not grieve but rejoice over the death of the saints. We are then no longer under grace, (Rom. 6.14) being justified through faith, (Rom. 5.1) and knowing the one true God. The just man is not bound by the law. (I. Tim. 1.9) We are not held by the letter of the law, nor do we serve as children, (Gal. 4.1) but grown into the perfect estate of man we are fed on solid food, not on that which conduces to idolatry. The law is good as a light shining in a dark place until the day breaks. Your hearts have already been illuminated, the living water of God’s knowledge has run over the tempestuous seas of heathendom, and we may all know God. The old creation has passed away, and all things are renovated. The holy Apostle Paul said to St Peter, the chief of the Apostles:* “If you, being a Jew, live as a heathen and not a Jew, how will you persuade heathens to do as Jews do?” (Gal. 2.14) And to the Galatians: “I will bear witness to every circumcised man that it is salutary to fulfil the whole law.” (Gal. 5.3)

Of old they who did not know God, worshipped false gods.  But now, knowing God, or rather being known by Him, how can we [27] return to bare and naked rudiments? (Gal. 4.8-9) I have looked upon the human form of God, and my soul has been saved. I gaze upon the image of God, as Jacob did, (Gen. 32.30) though in a different way. Jacob sounded the note of the future, seeing with immaterial sight, whilst the image of Him who is visible to flesh is burnt into my soul. The shadow and winding sheet and relics of the apostles cured sickness, and put demons to flight. (Acts 5.15) How, then, shall not the shadow and the statues of the saints be glorified? Either do away with the worship of all matter, or be not an innovatorholy-light-revealing-interior-icons-church-21730972. Do not disturb the boundaries of centuries, put up by your fathers. (Prov. 22.28)”