The term icon comes from the Greek word eikona, which simply means image.
The Orthodox believe that the first icons of Christ and the Virgin Mary were painted by Luke the Evangelist.
Orthodox icons are not simply beautiful works of art which have certain aesthetic and didactic functions. They are primarily the means through which we experience the reality of the Heavenly Kingdom on Earth.
The holy icons enshrine the immeasurable depth of the mystery of Christ’s incarnation in defense of which thousands of martyrs sacrificed their lives.
Holy icons serve a number of purposes:
1. They enhance the beauty of a church.
2. They instruct us in matters pertaining to the Christian faith.
3. They remind us of this faith.
4. They lift us up to the prototypes which they symbolize, to a higher level of thought and feeling.
5. They arouse us to imitate the virtues of the holy personages depicted on them.
6. They help to transform us, to sanctify us.
7. They serve as a means of worship and veneration.