(i·co·nol·o·gy- n. The branch of art history that deals with the description, analysis, and interpretation of icons or iconic representations.)
The icons of the Church express the reality of salvation. As educational tools they serve the faithful in the direction of the work of salvation, through the interpretation which they provide regarding the content of the faith and the life of the Church. By seeing the icons, the believers are able to keep continually in mind the prototypes who are depicted. Within the perspective of the memory of the Church, iconography express the union of the heavenly with the earthly Church. The iconographic depiction of Christ and of the saints is anthropologically based and has as its cause the intense love of the faithful towards the depicted persons. The love inspires the believers to increase their zeal for the faith, and to imitate the acts of the depicted prototypes.
Icons also serve as a means of sanctification within the Church, since the presence of the grace of the Holy Spirit is not restricted merely to the depicted prototypes, but extends also to their iconographic representations. The faithful partake of this grace when they view and venerate the icons. The faithful partake of this grace when they view and venerate icons. In the icons, the faithful encounter the expression of the completion of the human person, which is composed of the unconfused union of human nature with the grace of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the miracles which occur by means of icons confirm not only the relationship of the icons with their prototypes as well as the personal relationship of the faithful with those who are depicted, but also reveal the grace of God which is found in the icons and which acts through them.
If we were to summarize the most important points of the dogmatic teaching about the Church about the icon and its anthropological significance, we would conclude that the theology of the “artificial” icons is not in any way autonomous or independent – it is not separated, that is, from the rest of the theological teaching of the Church. Rather, it is based on the triadological significance of the icon and on its relationship with its prototype within the Holy Trinity. Thus, it would be possible to say that the “artificial” icon within the Orthodox Church is an image of man renewed “according to the image”, just as, by analogy, man renewed “according to the image” is an image of the natural icon of God the Father – the Divine Word. It is exactly this successive connection of the “artificial” icon with its prototype within the Trinity, but also provides the theological basis for the expression of this relationship of the renewal within the Church. Finally, we might say that the theological basis of the dogmatic teaching about the “artificial” icon is not only anthropological and christological, but also triadological. And it was exactly this truth which the Iconoclasts could not understand.