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[[Image:Icons restoration.jpg|right|frame|Restoration of the Icons]]
From the first centuries of Christianity, icons have been used for prayer. Orthodox Tradition tells us, for example, of the existence of an icon of the Christ during His his lifetime, the [[Icon-Not-Made-With-Hands]], and of the [[Icons icons of the Theotokos]] immediately after Him him written by the All-laudable [[Apostle Luke|Apostle and Evangelist Luke]].
=== Egyptian death masks===
Historically, the icon is thought to be a descendent descendant of the Egyptian death masks that were painted on mummies wrapped in strips of glue and powered gypsum soaked linen. This led to the traditional icon painting technique of gluing linen on a board, gessoing it, and painting on it. The Christian icon also inherited the cultic task of the ritual mask and exalted this task. The task that revealed the deified spirit of the deceased resting in eternity. The spiritual essence of the old Cult was transfigured into a new cultural image manifesting itself more perfectly than the old.
Unlike the mask, the Christian icon is not part of a mummy or sarcophagus, it does not need to connect to a saint’s saint's body. No matter where on earth the saint’s saint's remains are, and no matter the physical condition, his resurrected and deified body lives in eternity, and the icon that shows him forth does not merely depict the holy witness but is the very witness. It is not the icon, as art, that tells us anything, it is the saint, through the icon that is teaching. This window, to the resurrected, breaks when the icon itself is separated by the observer, from the saint it depicts. At that moment the icon just becomes another thing of this world. The vital connection between haven and earth disintegrates.
=="Written" or "painted"?==
The most literal translation of the word {{Lang-el|εικονογραφία}} (''eikonographia'') is "image writing," leading many English-speaking Orthodox Christians to insist that icons are not "painted" but rather "written." From there, further explanations are given that icons are to be understood in a manner similar to [[Holy Scripture]]—that is, they are not simply artistic compositions but rather are witnesses to the truth the way Scripture is. Far from being imaginitive imaginative creations of the iconographer, they are more like scribal copies of the Bible.
While the explanation of the purpose and nature of icons is certainly true and consistent with the Church's [[Holy Tradition]], there is a linguistic problem with the insistence on the word ''written'' rather than ''painted''. In Greek, a painted portrait of anyone is also a '{{Lang-el|γραφή}}' (''graphi''), and the art of painting itself is called ζωγραφική (''zographiki'') while any drawing or painting can be referred to as {{Lang-el|ζωγραφιά}} (''zographia''). Ancient Greek literally uses the same root word to refer to the making of portraits and the making of icons, but distinguishes whether it is "painting from life" '{{lang-el|ζωγραφιά}}' or "painting icons" '{{lang-el|εικονογραφία}}'. Thus, from a linguistic point of view, either all paintings—whether icons or simple portraits—are "written" or (more likely) "painted" is a perfectly usable English translation, simply making a distinction between the painting appropriate for icons and that appropriate for other kinds of painting, just as Greek does.
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