… incense is worship.
One of the arguments I hear from my Eastern Orthodox friends (and because they are my friends, I write this) is that to venerate an icon or pray to a dead saint is not worship or not the same worship we give to God alone. For example:
From “The Orthodox Companion”
by Rev. David F. Abramtsov
We do not worship or pray to Icons; we do not believe that there is in them any divinity or virtue to be worshipped; or that anything ought to be asked of them, or that trust should be reposed in them, as was done of old by the Gentiles who placed their hope in idols. The honor which we show Holy Icons is referred to that which they represent. Thus when we kiss them, uncover our heads before them, prostrate ourselves before them, we worship Christ and venerate the Saints whose likeness they bear. The outward reverence we show to an Icon of Christ or to a Crucifix, for example, is the mark of the inward love and gratitude we wish to bestow upon Our Lord Himself.
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.
(Note: This is pure sophistry: “It is not from the Icons themselves that we ask help, it is from God, through the intercessions of the Saints.” How can it be said that you are asking God alone for help? What are you asking the saints to do if not help you in your petitions?)
As I noted earlier, I have been reading the Ante Nicene Fathers a bit and have found nothing to indicate that icons were venerated or Saints invoked for intercession. In fact I have found just the opposite. Those who used images in worship were considered idolaters and were heretics, according to Irenaeus who lumped them together with the Gnostics.
I am finding the same thing regarding incense. To the early church fathers incense was a tool of worship and nothing less. In fact, this was a bone of contention between the early Christians and the pagan government of Rome. The charge against the Church was that Christians did not burn incense before any God, including their own God “the Maker of the Universe”, and were therefore atheists. Justin Martyr writes in his First Apology:
What sober-minded man, then, will not acknowledge that we are not atheists, worshipping as we do the Maker of this universe, and declaring, as we have been taught, that He has no need of streams of blood and libations and incense; whom we praise to the utmost of our power by the exercise of prayer and thanksgiving for all things wherewith we are supplied, as we have been taught that the only honour that is worthy of Him is not to consume by fire what He has brought into being for our sustenance, but to use it for ourselves and those who need, and with gratitude to Him to offer thanks by invocations and hymns for our creation, and for all the means of health, and for the various qualities of the different kinds of things, and for the changes of the seasons; and to present before Him petitions for our existing again in incorruption through faith in Him. Our teacher of these things is Jesus Christ… (emphasis added)
Irenaeus decried the use of incense as well, stating that the prayers of the saints are incense. I have not found one 2nd Century Father of the Church speak favorably of the use of incense in any aspect of worship either of Christ or in the so called veneration of the Saints. None.
Not that this carries as much weight with everyone, but of the over 140 times the Bible references incense it is always being used in worship. Note that the Orthodox writer, quoted at the beginning of this post, used the phrase “when incense is burned or tapers lighted before Icons.” To do something “before” another is to perform in that one’s presence. John did so in Revelation:
Now I, John, saw and heard these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed me these things. Then he said to me, “See that you do not do that. For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.”
To burn incense is worship, to do so before an icon is worship of the icon or at least what or whom that icon represents. They are your fellow servants. Do now bow down to them. Worship God.
Up next… Tertullian and the Third Century Fathers