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Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

September 6, 2019

Using Icons to Approach Theological Concepts

Although icons are often associated with the Eastern Church, the rich history and spirituality of these sacred images can help students better understand abstract theological concepts.  It should not be forgotten that art helps develop cognitive and analytical skills in student development (Eisner, The Arts and the Creation of Mind, 2002). The following lesson topic will help students explore the beauty and theological significance of Icons, as well as offering resources for educators.


  • Break the students into groups of 3 or 4.  Search for an icon that would best match the concept, vocabulary, or Scripture story that is the focus of a topic you are covering in class.
  • Supply students with an icon (relating to your chosen topic), such as Rublev’s The Trinity when discussing the story of Abraham in Genesis 18:1-8 and the Holy Trinity
  • Have the students explore and describe the visual representation of the icon (explain the use of color, body posture, eye contact, size of characters or objects, the nature of time or progression in the icon, etc.).
  • With their groups, have the students compare and contrast the icon with the chosen topic searching how the icon depicts and provides additional meaning to the icon.
  • Call on representatives from each group to share a summary of the discussion. Note common and different points of discussion on the board.


Helpful resources on approaching Icons for classroom use and exploration:

  • Jim Forest. (2017). Praying with Icons. Orbis Books.
  • Alfredo Tradigo & Stephen Sartarelli. (2006). Icons and Saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Getty Publications.
  • Jeana Visel, OSB. (2016). Icons in the Western Church: Toward a More Sacramental Encounter. The Liturgical Press.

There is also a fascinating seven-part documentary about the purpose and spirituality that can offer more background of Icons entitled: The Icon by The Ostrog Monastery and the Academy of the Serbian Orthodox Church for Fine Arts and Conversation, 2011

Submitted by

Thomas Malewitz, M.T.S., Ph.D.

St. Xavier High School (Louisville, KY)

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