We keep pictures of the people we love, because we love to remind ourselves that this person is a part of our lives. Even if that person lives far away or has died, we still keep the pictures because of our love for this person. If we ever hold such a picture close to us or kiss it, we are not showing love to a piece of paper (or a screen as the case may be), but to the person we love.
So why do we paint and kiss icons of Christ, the Theotokos, and the saints?
While we do this for some of the same reasons that we keep pictures of our loved ones, we also do it for more important reasons. We believe that Jesus Christ is 100% God—the Son of God. He has always existed with God the Father and always worked with Him, creating the universe, the world, all living creatures, and humankind. In the Old Testament, every time God spoke to someone, it was the Son of God Who spoke. No one in the Old Testament ever saw God. Moses asked to see Him, but God said, “there shall no man see Me and live” (Exodus 33:20). The prophet Isaiah was once allowed to see Him and panicked, because he knew that he would die after seeing God. St. John writes in his Gospel, “No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (John 1:18).
So, what does this have to do with icons?
While we believe that Jesus Christ is God, we also believe that He is 100% human. He is not two people; He is the one Son of God. As man, our Lord Jesus Christ has shown us Who God is and has brought salvation to all mankind. In the Old Testament, God was invisible and unknowable, but since He has become man, God is visible and knowable. Our Lord Jesus Christ did not stop people from showing Him respect and love for the wonderful things He did. The sinful woman washed His feet with her tears, and Lazarus’ sister Mary anointed His head with fragrant oil. Because the invisible, unknowable God has made Himself visible and knowable, and because He does not prevent us from worshipping Him, we paint icons of Jesus Christ and venerate them. We also paint and venerate icons of His Mother, Mary, and the saints, because they followed Him so closely that His love shone through them as they healed the sick, raised the dead, and preached the Gospel.
Talk about your patron saints. How did their lives reflect the life of Christ? Is there a patron saint in the family about whom you know very little? Research the saint to see how he or she reflected Christ. In what ways would you like to be more like our Lord Jesus Christ?