In Ukrainian-Canadian churches, there is a great treasury of icons. While valuable in a monetary sense, they have a much greater value to us in their spiritual worth. In Ukrainian churches, we line up to venerate our icons. If children are too small to reach them, their parents lift them up so that they might kiss the icon like one kisses a favourite relative. Icons in our homes are as common as family pictures.
Ukrainians instinctively know that, in our veneration, we are not worshipping the paper, canvass, or board that is covered with ink or paint. Icons form such a visible and prominent place in Ukrainian churches and in our homes because we embrace icons and their use in our daily connection with God. The Church celebrates the proper use of iconography. An icon is not merely a work of art, although they are frequently works of great artistic beauty. We use icons to link heaven and earth. Through our contemplation of the icon, it becomes like a window into the Kingdom of God. To merely view an icon as religious art deprives it of its theological purpose.
To say icons are just art is like saying the Scriptures are merely books. Like Holy Scripture, icons do not merely serve religion but, rather, are a fundamental part of our faith. In iconography, unlike other art forms, one must consider the aspect of transcendence. It is this transcendent quality of the icon that, when combined with meditation and prayer, moves the viewer from the earthly world to the realm of the Divine.
Rather than “religious art”, it is better to say that iconography is “theological art”. The icon originates from the very beginning of Christianity and is at the very roots of the traditions of the Church. Iconography grew with Christianity through the persecutions of the Church and the fathers of the Church defined the dogmatic content of icons at the 7th Ecumenical Council. Having said this, it is also important to note that not all religious pictures have the qualities that would define them being as iconography.
An icon of Christ acknowledges the certainty of the incarnation of the Son of God, the uniting of the earthly Person and the celestial God, and enables us to reflect on Him who is the model of our theology. It is fitting to adorn our churches with icons. The church mystically represents “Heaven on earth” and, therefore, it is appropriate that images of Christ, His Mother, the angels, and all the saints be abundantly present.
Without doubt, there are certain icons that one can always expect to find in Ukrainian churches. Others are commonly found but not necessarily always found. It is no exaggeration to say that one can have a feeling of “being at home “when one enters a church and sees these familiar images. This area discusses the significance of several of the most usually found icons in Ukrainian churches and, in some instances, the controversy associated with certain images.
The numerous types of possible icons preclude the possibility of a definitive list. The attempt here is to merely provide a sampling of some of the more familiar images in Ukrainian churches.