“The honor which is given to the icon passes over to the prototype”
These are the words spoken by St. John of Damascus as he defends the practice of the veneration of icons. For St. John veneration to an icon is not veneration to mere material (which would be idolatry) but the veneration is given to whomever is depicted in the icon. Thus to kiss an icon of Christ is to give honor to Christ Himself; that which we pay to the icon is given to whom is depicted.
The same can be said not only of the icons made out of paint and wood, but also for the living icons of flesh and blood: man. Man himself is made in the image (Greek: “eikon”) of God (Genesis 1:26-27) and the Prototype for man in Christ Himself, who is the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). Man finds his ultimate identity, purpose, and fulfillment in Christ and he is only fully man when his life manifests the Image (ie: Christ).
Man is thus a living, breathing, icon, and how we treat our fellow men (whether it is lovingly or poorly) extends to Christ Himself,
“‘I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’” (Matthew 25:35-45)
How we treat of fellow men is mysteriously rendered unto Christ Himself, just as the honor given to an icon is rendered to the prototype. Just as the proper veneration for an icon of paint and wood is a kiss so the proper veneration for living icons is love.