Why don’t Ukrainian Greek-Catholics venerate statues?

Statues have never been a part of Byzantine Christian liturgical worship. Not because statues were completely unknown in the Byzantine or Kyivan world, but because the icon came to be the most perfect artistic way of depicting Christ and the saints. And this is no accident.

Christ's blessing in iconography.

Blue and Red: colors symbolizing Humanity and Divinity.

In fact, the Byzantine tradition developed a whole theology out of icons. Sometimes every color, every angle, every shape, every line, every expression on their faces – just about anything and everything – in an icon can have deep theological meaning. On the contrary, statues in the Latin West have always been considered as ‘reminders’ of the holy person, without much theological meaning in and of themselves.

Because icons have an entire theology behind them, the way we paint (or ‘write’) an icon depends heavily on orthodox theology. Icons are written according to specific rules, or ‘canons,’ to make sure that the same orthodox Christian truths are communicated to new generations. Icons are theology in color, and so they must follow a certain standard.

Lastly, icons are considered ‘windows into heaven.’ As such, they have sacramental meaning to the worshipping assembly. They are not just objects of devotion, that arouse good feelings and pious sentiments within us. They remind us of where we are all going, of our heavenly destination, and of our vocation to be saints of God.

Icons often seem unrealistic to us, as opposed to the three-dimensional statues of the Latin Church. But we should not assume that this is only because the Byzantine tradition is all about murky mysticism. Byzantine Christianity is most concerned about realism… but true, spiritual realism. In other words, icons are meant to depict Christ or the saint according to the heavenly reality in which he or she is already living.