In the East Orthodox tradition, three-dimensional representations are seldom used. The standard icon is a painting, highly stylized, and thought of as a window through which the worshipper is looking into Heaven. (Hence, the background of the picture is almost always gold leaf.) In an Eastern church, an iconostasis (icon screen) flanks the altar on each side, with images of angels and saints (including Old Testament persons) as a sign that the whole church in Heaven and earth is one body in Christ, and unites in one voice of praise and thanksgiving in the Holy Liturgy. At one point in the service, the minister takes a censer and goes to each icon in turn, bows and swings the censer at the icon. He then does the same thing to the congregation -- ideally, if time permits, to each worshipper separately, as a sign that every Christian is an icon, made in the image and likeness of God, an organ in the body of Christ, a window through whom the splendor of Heaven shines forth.
written by James Kiefer