Offered To A Plugged Nose…

… what is the purpose of incense before icons?

In the Bible incense is used for worship.  It represents the prayers of the people as those prayers ascend into heaven. Typically, It is reserved for God and when incense is offered to another it is always sinful.  1 Kings 3:3 “And Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of his father David, except that he sacrificed and burned incense at the high places.”

In my previous post on icons I said that I do not have a problem with images per se, only what sinful men do with those images.  Here is Fr. David F. Abramtsov on

We are in need of visible and tangible representations of those Holy Persons to whom we offer our prayers. Holy Icons remind us of these Holy Persons or events, just as ordinary pictures remind us of people we love. As a loving son find an outlet for his affection by imprinting fond kisses upon the faded photograph of his mother, so does the true child of God express his love for the Saviour and His friends, the Saints, by tender veneration of their representations. We honor Icons in much the same way that we respect the portraits of those whom we love or esteem. Just as no one would say that we are worshipping the statue or portrait of some national hero when we salute it or uncover our heads before it, so we cannot be accused of adoring the sacred portrait of a hero of the Church. When we venerate the Cross we are worshipping Him Who died thereon. When the book of the Gospels is kissed, it is the Word of God therein contained that is venerated. And when incense is burned or tapers lighted before Icons, it is a symbol of the light of the Holy Spirit and the virtues with which the Saints were endowed. It is not from the Icons themselves that we ask help, it is from God, through the intercessions of the Saints. (emphases mine)

He goes on to say that every Christian home should have icons therein and that it does not speak well of us that we have only secular pictures on our walls.  That could be a post for another day, but I don’t see the sacred secular divide the way he does.

Though the good father says that he is asking help from God, notice he states that incense is burned before the icon and tapers are lighted before them.   Prayers are offered to the Saint through the icon the Saint then responds by intercession on behalf of the one petitioning.

Scripturally, if you place something before someone else this thing is an offering to that person.  This is particularly true when talking about that which is commanded in worship.  Giving to another what rightly belongs to God alone is idolatry.  When talking about incense the Bible says:

Lev 4:7 ‘And the priest shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar of sweet incense before the LORD, which is in the tabernacle of meeting; and he shall pour the remaining blood of the bull at the base of the altar of the burnt offering, which is at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.

Num 10:1 THEN Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them.

Num 16:7 “Let each take his censer and put incense in it, and each of you bring his censer before the LORD, two hundred and fifty censers; both you and Aaron, each [with] his censer.”

Notice that even when it was strange fire, not commanded by God, it was still “before the LORD”.

If one burns incense or bows before a pagan god it is worship of that god (not that the icon is a god to the Orthodox):

2 Chron 25:14 Now it was so, after Amaziah came from the slaughter of the Edomites, that he brought the gods of the people of Seir, set them up to be his gods, and bowed down before them and burned incense to them.

In Acts 10:4 (also Zech 8) are prayers and our alms (gifts) are a memorial before the Lord. 

You see, worship is done before the Lord.  Praying before an icon, burning incense before an icon and kissing an icon is worship and as such it is a violation of the 2nd Commandment.

I think if we look at constructin of an Eastern Orthodox church we will see the icons separating the altar of worship (where God is ) from nave of the church where the people are.  That will have to wait until next time.

<i>This little light of mine...</i>

al sends


8 responses to “Offered To A Plugged Nose…

  1. I have a few devout Catholic acquaintances I sometimes converse with on a homeschool forum, and anytime the subject of icons and praying to the saints comes up, the discussion always goes like this:

    Protestants: Icons are idols and you Catholics worship them, and praying to the saints and Mary is blasphemy.

    Catholics: We don’t worship idols, we venerate icons. And praying to Mary/Saints is the same as you asking someone to pray for you at a prayer meeting. We believe they pray for us when we ask them to. And we pray to Mary because she has some pull with her son.

    Protestants: Except… the people at the prayer meeting aren’t dead.

    Catholics: The Saints aren’t dead! They are even more alive than we are!

    Protestants: Agreed. But they are not omnipresent.

    Catholics: How can you know they aren’t?

    Protestants: How can you know they are?

    And round and round it goes.

  2. The standard is NOT what people say they are or are not doing when they burn incense before an icon – whether or not they are praying to a particular saint. The standard is what God’s word says about doing these things. Use scripture.
    Great article Al.

  3. Al,

    I wish to participate in this conversation, but I am pressed for time so my replies might be spread apart. You argue that the physical act of offering incense before an icon (irrespective of intention) is an instance of idolatry by virtue of its form but never do you present a definition of worship as such. I find this problematic.

    Let us assume that your argument is valid and apply it to the act of bowing. The Scriptures often use bowing and worship interchangeably. (Gen. 24:52, Ex. 20:5, Ex. 23:24, Lev. 26:1, etc.) However, whether or not bowing is considered an instance of worship (or reverence proper to God) is clearly contextual, for persons were expected to bow in honor of kings and those of stature, but there were other instances where bowing would could only be understood as idolatrous act (Daniel 3):

    “And Abraham stood up, and bowed himself to the people of the land, even to the children of Heth.” (Gen. 23:7)

    “David also arose afterward, and went out of the cave, and cried after Saul, saying, My lord the king. And when Saul looked behind him, David stooped with his face to the earth, and bowed himself.” (1 Sam. 24:8)

    The same applies to the act of kissing, a Biblically-sanctioned form of greeting and salutation:

    “All the brethren greet you. Greet ye one another with an holy kiss.” (1 Cor. 16:20)

  4. Regarding icons: It seems the question is whether a candle lit physically before an icon of Christ is lit before the icon, or whether the icon is used as a means of making it possible to light a candle before Christ Himself. So far as I understand Orthodox and Catholics would say that they light a candle in front of an icon that they may light a candle before Christ. Without something that localizes Christ in some way, it is impossible to light a candle before Him in any way, we could light a candle, but it’s just a candle. It’s not a candle before Christ. The icon makes it possible to light a candle before Christ by lighting a candle physically in front of the icon.

  5. Regarding prayers to the saints: I think a lot of Catholic and Orthodox apologists are scared by the Protestant attacks away from the actual audacity of their position. In fact, the Orthodox and Catholic are proclaiming the priesthood of all believers, including those who have died. Can they save us? Of course. St. Paul, while still in the body, says he was able to save the Corinthians. Can saints save us? Of course, we, all Christians, are priests in Christ’s image, which means we offer our flesh and blood to the Father, and to our fellow men as food, that they may be united to the Father. Is Mary a co-mediatrix? Of course she is. So is every Christian. All Christians are priests. And every priest offers sacrifices on behalf of others. And we not offer sacrifices on behalf of others, we offer our flesh and blood as food. The priesthood of all believers. Orthodox and Catholics extend this doctrine (perhaps illegitimately) to those who have died.

    As to whether it is a legitimate extension: we have every reason to believe that glorified humanity is not limited like our humanity. We have every reason to believe that a man who is seated at the right hand of the Father, and no longer bound by this body of flesh, can hear prayers of many people simultaneously. In fact, it is anti-Christian to say otherwise. It is anti-Christian, arch heretical, because it denies that the One we pray to is a Man.

  6. Matt and Neo, thanks for stopping by. I will try and interact with you a bit on this, but I am heading out at 4:00 AM for Presbytery and I am not sure I will be able to do it justice. I have another post in infancy right now, and perhaps I can finish it up next week and pick this up.

    I am sorry.

    al sends

  7. Pingback: If It Quacks Like A Duck… « After The Handbasket

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