The term “write” is used because an icon is considered to be an expression of visual theology. So, this being the context, it is correct to say that one is “writing” an icon. (This is much to the chagrin of my brother John – the journalist and writer.)
Further, through the medium of image and symbol not only does the icon express great truths of our faith but it also brings one into a living encounter with those truths. It can be said that it is just as much the icon that observes us as it is we who take in the icon.
Here, a key distinction in perception might be helpful. In standing before an icon a person is not viewing a static, passive object that one then assimilates by his or her own powers – similar to reading a textbook in order to solely draw out what one needs to know. In coming before an icon one is fundamentally entering into an encounter and a dialogue with a reality that is active and present and that has something to say and teach what we need to hear.
In iconography the active agent is not just the viewer – it is also the icon itself. The icon invites one into the openness of a dialogue between a person and the eternal.
Theology is the dialogue between the soul and God who has fully and definitively revealed Himself in Jesus Christ – the Logos, the Word “made flesh” – and who communicates Himself to us through our senses, our conscience and our reason. Jesus is the primary and fullest image (icon) of God the Father. “He (Christ) is the image of the unseen God, … for God was pleased to let fullness dwell in him.” (Col. 1:15, 19). The theology of iconography springs from the incarnation – the choice of God to become en-fleshed. All this being said; when one paints an icon, one is “writing” a theology of God and salvation – a theology that has its roots in nothing less than the incarnation itself.