Abū Qurrah’s Theology of the Christian Practice of Venerating the Holy Icons

Theodore Abu Qurrah

Theodore Abū Qurrah lived in a world different than his not so-distant ancestors. The hegemony of the Christians in the Near East gave way to a new hegemony that proved challenging culturally and theologically to the “natives.” In a century Syriac and Greek in the Near East yielded their dominance to Arabic1, the language of the Muslims who carried with them a new scripture, the Qur’ān, claimed by Muslims to be God’s word delivered to their Prophet Muhammad at the hands of the Angel Gabriel. Christians had established certain practices, which they probably took for granted, by the time the new “liberating” army of the new “Christian heresy”2 arrived at the door steps of the three ancient Patriarchates of Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria. However, this was neither a “liberating” army nor a new “Christian heresy” but an expanding army with a new and challenging religious message: God is but one and has revealed his last and “undistorted and uncorrupted” scripture at the hands of Muhammad, the last and final prophet in a series of revered prophets including Jesus, the Son of Mary, whom Christians proclaim to be the Son of God.

Christian practices encompassed a whole list of traditions which were adopted from Judaism and native cultures and religions in which Christians found themselves. No doubt these traditions were adapted to the needs of the Christian faithful to portray certain theological truth and beliefs. One, however, cannot deny Christian innovation in creating new and necessary Christian customs. The heirs of Judaism were able to justify the establishment of a new spiritual movement which called for the veneration of the cross and icons of Christ, Mary, and the saints despite the fact that, on the surface, this practice seemed to defy God’s stern and unwavering commandment,

“I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery. You shall not have other gods besides me. You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them. For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishments for their fathers’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation but bestowing mercy, down to the thousandth generation, on the children of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Deut. 5, 6-10)