An icon (from Greek "eikon" - image) is an image, picture, or representation; it is a sign or likeness that stands for an object by signifying or representing it. Orthodox tradition teachs that icons have their origin in the first portraits painted of the Mother of God the Virgin Mary and child. Tradition states that this was first done by Saint Luke. The tradtion of painting icons started in Russia following the conversion of the Kievan Rus' to Orthodox Christianity in 988AD.
Russians sometimes speak of an icon as having been "written," because in the Russian language (unlike English) the word pisat' means both to paint and to write. Icons are considered to be the Gospel in paint, and therefore careful attention is paid to ensure that the Gospel is faithfully and accurately conveyed.
The Church permits to paint God as the incarnation of Him as the second Hypostasis of the Holy Trinity. The Logos in the mystery act of the Incarnation unites with Human flash, and everyone can see Him. So we are able to picture the Creator. The icon means the real Incarnation of God. To see Jesus Christ means to see God, because Jesus told Apostle Philip: "Who's seen Me, the one saw My Father".
In Orthodox Christianity and other icon-painting Christian traditions, the icon is generally a flat panel painting depicting a holy being or object such as Jesus, Mary, saints, angels, or the cross. Icons may also be cast in metal, carved in stone, embroidered on cloth, done in mosaic work, printed on paper or metal, etc. In according with Orthodox Christian tradition people usually say their prayers in front of icons. Each Russian Orthodox family has a so called "icon corner" (in Greek -Ikonostasi) a small worship space prepared in the homes. The home is considered to be a microcosm of the Church.
An Icon Corner is normally oriented to face east. It is often located in a corner to eliminate worldly distractions and allow prayer to be more concentrated. Here is where the icons that the family owns should be located, normally including at least icons of Christ, the Theotokos, and the Patron Saint(s) of the family.
Theotokos (in Russain transit Bogoroditsa is a title of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Its literal English translations include "God-bearer" and "the one who gives birth to God"; less literal translations include "Mother of God". Since mainstream Christianity understands Jesus Christ as both fully God and fully human, they call Mary "Theotokos" to affirm the fullness of God's incarnation.
In Russian Orthodox Church there is a tradition of believe in the intercession of saints. Every person who was baptised was named in honor of a specific saint, it is considered that this saint is a patron for the whole life. People in their prays appeal to their patron saint, ask protection and help, a patron saint is a kind of middleman between a person and God. In Russian Orthodox tradition each Christian has icon of his/her patron saint in the home, often in vallet (a tiny paper image) and in the car. It became a common tradition that a new car is sanctified by a priest and some small icons (usually icons of Jesus, Theotocos, Guardian Angel, often St. Nicholas as a patron of all travellers and icon of a patron saint). There are patron saints of occupations and activities, patron saints of ailments, illness and dangers, patron saints of places.
Most Russian icons are painted using egg tempera on board, often incorporating either gold or silver gilding into the surface composition. Rarely, they may utilize canvas stretched over board. Russian Icons may also incorporate elaborate tin, bronze or silver exterior facades that are usually highly embellished and often multi-dimensional. These facades are called "Rizas". Preservation technics was to varnish over the image.
Pursuant to Russian law, it is presently illegal to export any Russian icon that is over one hundred years in age. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, many Russian icons have been repatriated via direct purchase by Russian museums, private Russian collectors, or as was the case of Pope John Paul II giving an 18th century copy of the famous Our Lady of Kazan icon to the Russian Orthodox Church, returned to Russia in good faith.
Some of the most famous Russian iconographers and icons include Andrei Rublev and his painting of the Holy Trinity also Dionisius and the icon Theotokos of Vladimir.
The icon is similar to the image in it, so it has the name of God. With this the icon is blessed by the charisma of the Holy Spirit. The Charisma influences us even when we pray before the icon.
The image of saints is similar, but not the same, as it was in their real life. The icon-painting image, owing to its symbols, shows us the world, the form, the image, the substance in the transformed, in the glorified condition, that will be after the Resurrection. And the aim of the icon is transforming every sense as well as the mind and other properties of Human nature. So the icon is the way, a prayer and an answer to the prayer of a Christian. The icon is the theology in visual images; it's the obligatory element of the public worship. It's one of the forms of the cognition of God and it compares with the Saint Cross and with the Holy Scripture. So the authors of the rules of the icon painting are the holy fathers of the Church.
Icon painters use special symbols to write an icon. They show a special space of an icon with many levels, it discloses around the person, who's praying before the icon, shows the subjects with many sides.
The icon has events, that happened in different times, in it. And one event discloses another.
The margins of an icon are the signs of our life on the Earth, and the icon image means the sign of our life in Heaven.
The background of the icon means the Divine Light. The Divine Favor pictures with a nimbus (it's a gold radiance around the head of a saint). Gold means, that the nimbus is namely the Divine Favor. Icon painting is also different from the realistic painting in the technique of picturing.
Colors are also symbols. Red color is a symbol of blood and of the sacrifice, of martyrs. Blue one is a color of Heavens, Divine color, color of the truth. Green color is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, of the eternal life. White color means pureness. Black one is the color of something another, inconceivable, of the hell. The action is pictured as if it happens without any rules of our existence.
For those people, who were born and grown up in Orthodox families, the language of the icon is accessible, because they can understand the language of the Holy Scripture, of the Sacraments, of the public worship. But it's very hard to understand it for modern people, who don't live a Church life. It's possible to understand the real meaning of an orthodox icon only with joining the Church life, the God's grace. So refusing the principles of the Church life leads to the closing of "the window to the spiritual world", to refusing icons.