Iconography was developed in the 4th Century A.D. in the great city of Byzantium, the Eastern part of the Roman Empire. This was possible thanks to the Christian Emperor Constantine (274-337) who recognized Christianity as a legitimate religion throughout the Roman Empire through the Edict of Milan (313 A.D.) The Church was then free to create new ways to communicate the word of the Gospels to its great numbers of new converts most of whom couldn't read. As a result, the Christian message was no longer confined to the understanding of a few, as was the case with the Christian art of the catacombs. It took about two hundred years, during the time of Justinian (483-565), for the Church to develop the symbolic language of the image to it's definitive form. The result was the creation of a symbolic language that expressed the Christian faith by way of images--a visual theology.
Icons have been an integral part of the liturgy of the Eastern Churches; they enhance its meaning and are used as instruments of prayer, veneration and contemplation which is also part of the Eastern mystical tradition.
Links to Orthodox Icon websites: http://www.orthodoximages.com
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