On The Holy Images — In former times God, who is without form or body, could never be depicted. But now when God is seen int he flesh conversing with men, I make an image of the God whom I see. I do not worship matter. I worship the Creator of matter who became matter for my sake, who willed to take His abode in matter; who worked out my salvation through matter.
Never will I cease honoring the matter which wrought my salvation. I honor it, but not as God. How could God be born out of things which have no existence in themselves? God’s body is God becuase it is joined to His person by a union which shall never pass away. The divine nature remains the same; the flesh created in time is quickened by a reason endowed soul. Because of this, I salute all remaining matter wiht reverence, because God has filled it with His grace and power.
Through it my salvation has come to me. Was not the thrice-happy and thrice blessed wood of the Cross matter? What of the life bearing rock, the holy and life-giving tomb, the fountain of our resurrection, was it not matter? Is not the ink in the most holy Gospel-book matter? From it we receive the bread of life.
Are not gold and silver matter? From them we make crosses, patens, chalices.
And over and above all these things is not the Body and Blood of our Lord matter?
Either do away with the honor and veneration these things deserve, or accept the tradition of the Church and the veneration of images.
St. John wrote this during the height of Byzantine iconoclasm — the destruction of icons or images — which occurred during the 8th century. This was soon after Muslims captured what we call the Mideast, where John lived, from the Byzantine Empire. John got along well with the Muslims albeit not so much with Church leaders in Constantinople, or the Byzantine emperor who forged documents with the intent to get him killed. You can read about it here.
Courtesy of Holy Myrrh-Bearers Church of Swarthmore.