What I understand about icons in the Russian Orthodox Church is that they have a dual purpose. The first is to give an other worldly feeling when one enters the church. A sense of timelessness. That this is the place where all the martyrs and the saints have gathered together in spirit to worship God. That this place is holy and the images of those who have reached holiness are not just there in paint but there in flesh urging church members to reach for that holiness as well not just in church but also in their daily lives carrying these icons in their minds away from the church as reminders for what they themselves are trying to achieve. Whether it's giving Christ to the world as Mary did, one of the more beautiful icons the speakers showed to us in class, or blessing others with Christ's presence in us, like the other icon we were shown with the backwards book and Christ raising his fingers to bless the viewers they are given an example of godliness.
The second purpose which was explained and likely the most important is the fact that icons were developed in a time which many people could not read. The bible as we know it now thanks to the printing press is available to everyone, just like education, and most everyone even if they are not a believer has a bible and knows how to read it. But education was not available to everyone in the earlier centuries of AD. Icons were a way to tell stories and explain things about doctrine to these church goers. This way their God would not be a stranger to them and once again give the sense of togetherness with the faith.
The thing our speakers talked on that I really found interesting was the crying icons that are found in many churches and not just in the United States. Not only do they cry tears but things like myrrh. Some relics do the same thing. Some of them producing 2 gallons of myrrh a day.
And something else they talked on that I found really interesting is that one of the ways they decide on saints is whether or not the body of that saint stays incorporate for a number of months. Meaning that the body does not rot. So, apparently there is a lot of interesting things going on in the Russian Orthodox Church which may explain the reason why they feel the need to produce such beautiful art in the form of icons.