Cleveland Prayer Group Website

Idol Worship
By Fr. KK John

Learner’s English dictionary defines ‘idol’ as ‘image in wood, stone, etc of a god, such an image used as an object of worship.’ Another word, ‘Icon’ means ‘little image.’ Difference is only its size. 

Early church fathers stoutly opposed making or venerating portraits of Christ and saints. Gothic and Byzantine art thrust into church and icons became a cult by 6th century. It became serious controversy during 8th and 9th centuries. Opponents of icons argued that use of icons violated the second commandment. The image, no matter wood, stone or painting, is made of vile matter that is not fitting to God. As for the icon of Jesus Christ they argued that it represented His human nature only. Separating either His human nature or divine nature is heresy. Proponents of icons insisted its symbolic meaning and that the incarnation necessitated icons. 

The iconoclastic controversy was set at rest in the second council of Nicea in 787. Oriental Orthodox churches, as we are, were not party to the dispute. They were not in unison with Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox churches after second synod of Ephesus in 449. Since we do not acknowledge second synod of Nicea in 787 its decisions are not binding on us. Portuguese missionaries introduced image (idol) worship in India. St. Gregorius of Jerusalem, well known as idol-breaker, relentlessly crusaded against idols that the foreigners introduced in the church but could not completely eradicate it.

Idol worship in biblical terms is most abominable act. An engraved image is not the only idol. Ones’ relationship or aspiration also may become idol depending on preference. Precisely, Some are obsessed with notion that wealth is the single most importance in life, yet others prefer certain matters of personal choice to God. In such case that particular interest takes the form of idol. 

God will not share His majesty, glory or immutable qualities with any creation. That is what He meant by, “I am jealous God,” Ex 20:5. It is ludicrous to limit Almighty God who cannot be contained in the whole of universe into mere images. To represent Him in images is to reduce Him to the level of creation and nature. By no standard it would be perfect. Who has seen the face of God? Moses spoke to God face to face, Ex 33:1. But he could see only back, not God’s face for, “no man can see my face and live,” Ex 33:20-23, Deut 31:17. God condemned and prohibited idolatry, Is 40:18-20, 44:9-20, Je 10:1-9. When God showed Moses prototype of tabernacle on the mountain and He went into the tiniest details as to what should be where and of how to build but deliberately left out question of image in or near altar. God consciously omitted it, not by oversight!

Law and prophets decried idolatry. Jesus Christ upheld and fulfilled the law, Mat 5:17. He did not advise disciples to make or adore His image nor the disciples did so. St. Paul vehemently rejected idolatry. “Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God,” 1 Cor 6:9-10, Col 3:5. A Christian should not keep company, not even eat, with idolater, 1 Cor 5:11. “Beloved flee from idolatry,” 1 Cor 10:14. “Keep yourself from idols,” 1 Jn 5:21. Thus, how a matter such as idol (icon) veneration so fiercely denounced both by Jesus Christ and apostles can form part of His mystical body-Church? No doubt, there is error in our discernment of the whole process of redemption. Some surmise that icons/idols help to induce attentiveness. Such predicament shows primitive and undeveloped spirituality.

My problem is, on what basis could we genuinely impute divinity to one piece of art drawn out of sheer imagination although it resembles human face and call it Jesus or one else! Not a single person, who saw Jesus or apostles alive, drew their pictures. Photography was unknown on those days. Portrait, whether or not human face should be treated only as portrait. Ascribing divinity to such human creation by placing it in hallowed place such as Madbaho is indignation and grave error. Jesus said, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship God in spirit and truth,” Jn 4:24. Christ’s command is unquestionable. Contrary dogma is heresy and to be repudiated.

God bless you.

Fr. KK John, 10/23/99.

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