The Divine Liturgy makes the whole world function in a trinitarian way. It puts the whole of nature into trinitarian action. Once man had participated in the Liturgy, he has an inner vision of the world. He observes one constant, made up of the changeable elements of this world seen in a trinitarian light. One expression of this inner vision is Orthodox iconography, a script illegible to anyone who has not participated in the Liturgy.
A religious picture is an altogether different thing from a liturgical icon. The one is the creation of someone’s artistic talent, the other the flower and reflection of liturgical life. The one is of this world. It speaks of this world and leaves you in this world. The other brings you a simple, peaceful and life-giving message, coming down from above. It speaks to you of something which has gone beyond the categories of yesterday and today, here and there, mine and thine. It addresses itself to human nature universally, to man’s thirst for something beyond. Through the icon, an everlasting and unchanging reality speaks without words; a reality which, in the clarity of silence and in tranquillity, raises up from the deepest level that which unites everything in man.
If the icon spoke a different language, it would torment man. If it relied on historical accuracy, it would merely be saying to us: You did not have the luck to be there then and see these events as those who crucified the Lord saw them.
If the icon depicted Christ suffering in pain on the Cross like a condemned man and rejoicing in the Resurrection, it would has us prey to the vicissitudes that lead to death, in the thrall of our passions. It would not give us anything beyond what we already had ourselves.
If an icon depicted night and day in romantic shades, it would leave us in the prison of the created world which we have come to know so well since the fall. If it feared the night, if it could be obscured by natural darkness, then we should be in the position of the unbaptised; we should fear death, and death would cut short our hope in life. We should remain in the territory of death.
If the icon used perspective it would put us, in a harsh but polite manner, outside Paradise and outside immediate participation in this world, like the foolish virgins; instead of our being partakers in the Wedding, it would throw us out into the darkness and cold of objective vision, into deception.
In other words, if the icon remained on the level of a religious picture, when it spoke to us of the fact of salvation it would merely be offering us and artistic diversion to make us forget, if possible, the prison and the territory of death. It would be a mockery.
As it is, it is Deliverance. The icon is not a representation of events. It is not an idol that has been manufactured; it is Grace incarnate, a presence and an offering of life and holiness.
Archimandrite Vasileios, Hymn of Entry pp. 81, 88-89.
This understanding of icons and religious art is a testimony to the gulf between Orthodox and Western confessions in spiritual understanding and inner vision. If the Liturgies were one then this vision would be one; it is not. This confirms that the breach between Orthodoxy and others is not a merely matter of semantics, historical misunderstandings and politics but something far deeper and more profound. It is a different life and spirit. It is a different liturgy, it is a different baptism and a different church. It would require a complete change of man to his inner being for a union to take place; one requiring a rebirth in Christ. Can these confessions be united without the Spiritual rebirth of all those coming into the Church?