Garments of Skin

Detail from North Door of Iconostasis

Forgiveness Sunday in Icon and Prayer

Lenten Reflections (II)

A composition of Icons and portions of Saturday vespers and the Sunday hymns on the theme of Forgiveness Sunday: The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise

From Saturday Vespers:

The Creation of Adam (Monreale)

The Lord, my Creator, took me as dust from the earth, and with the breath of life He gave me a soul and made me a living creature.

He honoured me as ruler on earth over all things visible and as a companion of the Angels.

But Satan the deceiver, using the serpent as his instrument, enticed me by food, separated me from the glory of God and gave me over to the earth and to the lowest depths of death. But as Master and compassionate, call me back again.

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Adam and Eve Hide from God

Wretch that I am, I have cast off the robe woven by God, disobeying Your divine command, Lord, at the counsel of the enemy, and I am clothed now in fig leaves and in garments of skin.

I am condemned to eat the bread of toil in the sweat of my brow, and the earth has been cursed so that it bears thorns and thistles for me.

But, Lord, who in the last times were made flesh of a Virgin, call me back and bring me into Paradise again.

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From Sunday of Forgiveness service:

Expulsion and Lamenting

Adam sat opposite Paradise and, lamenting his nakedness, he wept:
‘Woe is me ! By evil deceit was I persuaded and robbed, and exiled far from glory. Woe is me ! Once naked in my simplicity, now I am in want. But, Paradise, no longer shall I enjoy your delight; no more shall I look upon the Lord my God and Maker, for I shall return to the earth whence I was taken.Merciful and compassionate Lord, I cry to you, ‘Have mercy on me who am fallen’.

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Adam and Eve Lamenting

Through eating Adam was cast out of Paradise. And so, as he sat in front of it, he wept, lamenting with a pitiful voice and saying, ‘Woe is me, what have I suffered, wretch that I am! I transgressed one commandment of the Master, and now I am deprived of every good thing. Most holy Paradise, planted because of me and shut because of Eve, pray to him who made you and fashioned me, that once more I be filled with your flowers.’

Then the Saviour said to him, ‘I do not want the creature which I fashioned to perish, but to be saved and come to knowledge of the truth, because the one who comes to me I will in no way cast out.’

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Fall and Exile

ʺWoe is me!ʺ cried Adam in lament, “that a serpent and a woman have deprived me of intimate communion with God; and eating from the tree has estranged me from the Paradise of delight. Woe is me, for I cannot bear the disgrace! Once the king of all God’s creatures on the earth, I am now viewed as a hostage because of one piece of illicit advice; and though once vested with the glory of immortality, I, as mortal, carry about the skin of deadness lamentably. Woe is me! Which lamentation shall I enlist to collaborate with me? But You, Friend of man, who fashioned me from the earth, and who donned compassion; recall me from servitude to the enemy and save me.”

Return to Paradise

The stadium of virtue is now open; those who wish to compete, enter therein, girded for the good contest of Lent, for those who compete according to the rules shall receive their laurels rightfully. Taking up the full armor of the Cross, let us do battle against the Enemy. As an impregnable wall, we have the Faith, prayer as our breastplate, and acts of mercy as our helmet. Instead of sword, there is fasting, which cuts every evil from the heart. He who does this shall attain a true crown from Christ, the King of all, on Judgment Day.

(Idiomela of the Praises)

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Paradise; Abraham's Bosom

O precious Paradise, unsurpassed beauty, tabernacle built by God, unending gladness and delight, glory of the just, joy of prophets, and dwelling place of saints, with the sound of your leaves implore to the Maker of all to open for me the gates which I closed by my transgression, and may count me worthy to partake of the Tree of Life, and of the joy in which I delighted when I dwelt in you before Adam was banished from Paradise through disobedience and cast out from delight, beguiled by the words of a woman.

(from Saturday Vespers)

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The Expulsion from Paradise (Genesis 3)

Saturday Stichera for Forgiveness Sunday (pdf)

Selected Hymns for Forgiveness Sunday

Sermon on Forgiveness Sunday

Embracing the Burning Coal

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Lev Gillet’s Reflections on the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple, the famous Byzantine ‘waltz’, Ormylia Women’s Monastery choir, Byzantine icons and hymns with lyrics

Symeon receiving Our Lord is of course an Icon in the true sense of the word of how we too receive Christ 

* The Russian icon above emphasizes the meeting aspect. Pay attention to the way Jesus and Simeon are so face to face.

Lyrics for the famous Orthodox ‘waltz’, the Megalynarion, the “Magnification”; also called Velichaniye in Church Slavonic), the special Byzantine hymn for Panagia and the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple by Ormylia convent.

What glorious Hope, what tenderness amidst weariness, old age, frailty and shadows, what consolation especially when ‘dealing’ with end of life care, as I currently am, what a wonderful ending to our life, should we accept Lord’s offered Love! Rejoicing with Symeon, let us sing a hymn of thanksgiving to God and say: “Let me depart in peace, for my eyes have seen Your compassion and Your holy Salvation.”

-That which is fulfilled in you is beyond the understanding both of Angels and of mortals, O pure Virgin Mother.

-Symeon the Elder embraces in his arms the Maker of the Law and Master of all.

-The Creator, wishing to save Adam, took up his dwelling in your virgin womb.

-The whole race of mortals calls you blessed, pure Virgin, and glorifies you with faith as Mother of God.

[Come and see Christ, the Master of all, whom Symeon carries today in the temple.]

-You look upon the earth and make it tremble how then can I, aged and weary, hold you in my arms?

-Mary, you are the mystic tongs who conceived in your womb Christ, the burning coal.

[Symeon had lived for many years when he saw Christ, and cried aloud to him, ‘Now I seek my release.’]

[O God, who are before all things, of your own will you became man, and are carried in the temple as a child of forty days.]

-Symeon the priest received the Master of all, come down from heaven.

– Make bright my soul and the Light of my senses, that I may see you in purity, and I will proclaim that you are God.

– Pure Virgin Mother, why do you bring into the temple a new-born babe and commit him to Symeon’s hands?

From you, the Creator, I now seek release, for I have seen you, O Christ, my salvation and my light.

‘In the shadow and letter of the Law, Let us the faithful discern a figure. ‘Every male child that opens the womb shall be holy to God.’ Therefore the firstborn Word, Son of a Father who has no beginning, the firstborn child of a Mother who had not known man, we magnify.’ [Irmos]

Him whom the Ministers at the Liturgy on High entreat with trembling, here below Symeon now takes in his arms.

For those of old there was a pair of doves and two young pigeons In their place the godly Elder and Anna the sober prophetess, ministering to the One born from a Virgin and only offspring of the Father as he enters the temple, magnify him. [Irmos]

Glory to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

In nature Unity, but in Persons Trinity, watch over your servants who put their faith in you.

‘You have granted me, O Christ, the joy of your salvation’, cried Symeon, ‘Take your servant, wearied by the shadow, as a new initiate and preacher of grace, as with praise he magnifies you.’ [Irmos]

Both now and ever and unto ages of ages, Amin.

Mother of God, hope of all Christians, protect, watch over, guard all those who put their hope in you.

Reverently holy Anna, sober and aged, openly confessed the Master, announcing him clearly in the temple. While as she proclaimed the Mother of God to all those present, she magnified her. [Irmos]

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In accordance with the law of Moses, forty days after the birth of a male child, its mother had to present it in the tabernacle and to offer as a sacrifice either a lamb or a pair of doves or pigeons for purification ‘from the issue of her blood’. The presentation of a first-born creatures, whether animal or human, were considered to belong to God. Mary and Joseph obeyed this precept of the law. They brought Jesus to the Temple where he was blessed by the aged Simeon, and recognized as Saviour by the prophetess Anna, It is this event which we celebrate at the feast of February 2nd.

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“Let us also go to meet Christ and let us receive him … Adorn thy bridal chamber … and welcome Christ the King; salute Mary, the heavenly gate.” These texts from the feast of the Presentation can also be applied to our souls. Each soul ought to be a Temple of God, to which Mary brings Jesus. And each one of us should, like Symeon, take the child in his arms and say to the Father: “My eyes have seen thy salvation.” The prayer of Symeon, “now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace” does not simply mean that someone who has seen Jesus and has held in his arms can now leave this life and die in peace: it also means for us, having seen and touched the Saviour, we are released from the hold that sin has on us, and, in peace, can leave the realm of evil. (The Year of Grace of the Lord by A Monk of the Eastern Church)

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For 43 DIFFERENT ICONS, FRESCOES AND PAINTINGS: THE MEETING OF OUR LORD, go to http://catalogueofstelisabethconvent.blogspot.com.by/2016/02/icons-frescoes-and-paintings-meeting-of.html

The Altar and The Portico (II)

Head 6. By Aidan Hart, 1979. Ceramic.

THE SACRED AND THE SECULAR

The Relationship of Orthodox Iconography and Gallery Art

Part II: Gallery Art (here for Part I)

The journey of an artist  

At this stage in our story, by way of illustration I would like to be a little biographical. I will speak a bit about my own journey first as an artist in the world and then as an iconographer.

Though born in England, I was raised in New Zealand. Although as a child I had a modicum of education in Christianity, I ultimately came to believe in God’s existence through trees. In my childhood home there were splendid samples of trees and bushes in which my friends and I used to play hide-and-go seek and build huts. The many hours spent in their branches nurtured a deep respect and love for trees. Quietly I came to believe that a higher Wisdom must have made such splendid things. In them, function and beauty married. Trees were my proto-evangelists, leading me to belief on God.

It is pertinent that the Psalm verse set for feast days of Evangelists  -“Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Psalm 19:4a) – is actually referring to the skies, to creation. The previous verses read:

The heavens are telling of the glory of God;

And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.

Day to day pours forth speech,

And night to night reveals knowledge.

There is no speech, nor are there words;

Their voice is not heard. (Psalm 19:1-3)

In other words, the beauty of creation is a form of proto-evangelism.

This early experience of being led a step closer to God through creation is the seed of my belief in the importance of threshold beauty. In fact, in gratitude to trees for being my proto-evangelist, thirty years later I planted 5,000 native trees in the hermitage where I then lived.

After graduating in literature and biology I began work as a sculptor, eventually going full-time. By then Christian within the Anglican/Episcopalian church, I was seeking ways to indicate in my sculptures the spiritual nature of the human person. Most of these works were not for church commissions but for gallery exhibitions.

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This period reinforced for me the role of threshold art, art that was not overtly religious or liturgical but which might draw some people a little closer to at least a primitive belief in the spiritual.

As a Christian I wanted this spirituality to embrace the material world, not to be a flight from it. I felt that this incarnational approach was all the more important in a secular age which worshipped matter and where one could not assume any prior knowledge of Christianity.

There was a parallel in the then communist and atheistic Russia. I had heard that many people there began their journey to Christian faith with Buddhism. They could not take the step straight from atheism into fully-fledged faith, but  they could took their first steps by following what is essentially an agnostic philosophical system, and one that did not require a communal and liturgical commitment as did Christianity. Having discovering some truth within Buddhism, but eventually finding it incomplete, many of these seekers then progressed onwards to Christ. I came to believe that the right sort of art, portico art, could do a similar thing, and so I wanted to make art that would affirm the numinous quality of life.

But before attempting this numinous quality I was convinced that as a sculptor one had to begin with technique and gain proficiency in depicting the material world, particularly the human body. Only then could one progress to suggest invisible realities. St Paul’s advice seemed pertinent: But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual (I Cor. 15:46).

Since God had created both the material and the spiritual realms I believed that one would echo the other.

After mastering the essentials of modelling the human body, including making anatomical studies.

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I then concentrated on how to indicate the spiritual nature of the human person. I tried varying degrees of abstraction.

Head 6. By Aidan Hart, 1979. Ceramic.

Man with a White Turban. By Aidan Hart, 1981. Ceramic, plaster and fabric.

Man in Green Shirt. By Aidan Hart, 1982. Ceramic, pigmented plaster, fabric.

To abstract means literally to “draw out”, and in its original meaning it denotes the discovery and manifestation of the essence of the subject, and not departure from reality as it tends to be understood today.

The art most influential for me at this stage was Egyptian and African work. Although perhaps too disembodied, too extreme in their abstraction, these sculptures helped me to reach some conclusions about how to indicate the spiritual. Most notably I learned the importance of a strong vertical axis or elongation; stillness rather than agitated movement; and emphasis on the eyes. Constantine Brancusi and Modigliani were also influences.

Portrait of Jeanne Hebuterne. By Modigliani, 1919.

Bird in Space. Constantin Brancusi, 1930.

Having thus studied the two poles of figurative naturalism and abstraction I then sought ways of uniting them, of incarnating the spiritual in flesh. In retrospect I see now that I was trying to hint at holiness – essentially, to sculpt icons.

Gradually I came to some conclusions how to do this stylistically,  but knew I still needed help in such a task. In due course a friend suggested that I should visit two Orthodox monks in New Zealand, one of whom was an icon painter. My friend said that icons did what I had been trying to do for some years. So I visited the monks, and found at their little monastery all that I had been seeking, both artistically, spiritually and historically.

Man in a White Turban, 2. By Aidan Hart, 1982. Ceramic, plaster, fabric.

In 1983 I was received into the Orthodox Church and soon afterwards returned to my birth place of England, where I began work as a full-time iconographer.

The last thirty-three years I have spent more or less full time as a liturgical artist, working first in relief wood carving, and then panel painting, fresco, stone carving, silverwork, and more recently, mosaic. But my earlier labours in pre-iconographic work as an exhibiting sculptor taught me the potential of gallery art to draw people a little closer to faith, to a sense of the numinous.

Crucifix,  at St John of Kronstadt Convent, Bath, UK. By Aidan Hart, 1985. Limewood/linden.

The Annunciation. By Aidan Hart, 2012

The Transfiguration. Our Lady of Lourdes Roman Catholic Church, Leeds, UK. By Aidan Hart, 2012. 20 feet high, fresco.

Our Lady of Lincoln. Lincoln Cathedral, UK. By Aidan Hart, 2014. Polychromed limestone carving

Episcopal staff, for the Patriarch of Russia. By Aidan Hart. Solid silver, 2016.

St Mary Magdalene and The Mother of God (unfinished). Detail from crucifixion for St George’s Orthodox Christian Church, Houston, Texas. By Aidan Hart, 2016. Mosaic.

How can gallery art operate as a portico to belief?

For me personally there are two types of artwork that do this: that which depicts suffering but with compassion, and that which suggests the world transfigured by light. The creators of such artworks are not necessarily people of faith, but they have grasped some truth in their search, and because this truth is an image of spiritual reality it elevates us.

Art of compassion

So first, compassionate art. Such works can help us see the divine image beneath suffering, and even behind ignorant acts. They show us that what makes us capable of suffering is also what makes us human. The Church Fathers tell us that although only holy people are in the likeness of God, all people are made in the image of God. It is precisely our God-given freedom that allows us to choose the wrong as well as the right. Compassionate artists do not idealise, but nor do they judge the wrong doer or feed on their suffering.

Dostoyevsky was the literary genius of such compassionate work, as was also the Greek writer of short stories, Alexandros Papadiamantis (1851-1911). In his short novel “The Murderess”, which is about a lady who kills the daughters of poor islanders so the parents don’t have to pay their dowries, without in any way condoning the murderous acts Papadiamantis somehow manages not to condemn or hate the woman herself.

In the artistic realm, compare a Rembrandt painting, a Van Gogh, or an Alberto Giacometti sculpture with the works of Francis Bacon.

Self Portrait. Rembrandt van Rijn,1659.

Rest from Work (after Millet). By Vincent Van Gogh,1890.

The Walking Man I. By  Alberto Giacometti, 1960.

Self Portrait. Francis Bacon, 1969.

The first two indicate the suffering of humankind with pathos and compassion. Bacon on the other hand – despite his undoubted brilliance as a colourist and the visceral power of his work – seems to feed on the suffering and torment of his subjects. One feels that he needs suffering to feed his inspiration. Indeed he said:

The feeling of desperation and unhappiness are more useful to an artist than the feeling of contentment, because desperation and unhappiness stretch your whole sensibility.[5](Francis Bacon)

It is true that great art needs a certain tension. Sentimentality and its consequent flaccidity is the bane of those trying to be positive in their art.  But even iconographers, who are trying to suggest an harmonious world, feel the tension between aspiration and reality, the struggle to express both brightness and sadness, joy and sorrow, strength and gentleness.  But to feed on negativity is different from depicting it with empathy  and identity.

Art of illumination

Another form of threshold art is the art of illumination. Ascetic writers both East and West describe three stages in the spiritual life: purification, illumination and union. In the degree to which the soul is purified it experiences the created world illuminated by God’s grace, animated by the divine logoi or words that direct and sustain each thing. We see not just the bush, but the bush burning. In due course this leads the person towards union with God Himself, with the Logos who spoke the logoi.

Icons indicate this luminous grace symbolically by such things as gold lines on trees, furniture and garments, and of course also haloes and golden backgrounds.

Threshold artists will indicate luminosity in less symbolic ways. And most critically, they personally will not necessarily relate this light to God. But through their fascination with the way light interacts and animates matter they, perhaps inadvertently, hint at a world aflame with grace.  The Impressionists are the obvious school that come to mind.

The Japanese Bridge at Giverny. Claude Monet, 1896.

The Impressionists have been criticized for being somewhat too sensual in their depiction of nature, even sentimental. Most Impressionists were not particularly religious people, but I suggest that their preoccupation with the interaction of light with matter meant that they inadvertently hinted at a transfigured world, a world not just reflecting light but radiating light. One feels just this when standing before a Monet haystack, as also a Van Gogh sunflower, landscape or farmers.

First Steps, after Millet. Vincent van Gogh, 1890. “I want to paint men and women with a touch of the eternal”.

The light seems to emanate from within these objects and not merely reflect off their surface.

Unlike the Impressionists, Van Gogh was quite deliberate about the spiritual aim of his painting. He wrote:

And in a painting I’d like to say something consoling, like a piece of music. I’d like to paint men or women with that je ne sais quoi of the eternal, of which the halo used to be the symbol, and which we try to achieve through the radiance itself, through the vibrancy of our colorations…[6]

And in the sculptural realm Constantin Brancusi too was conscious of his purpose. He wrote:

The artist should know how to dig out the being that is within matter and be the tool that brings out its cosmic essence into an actual visible essence. [7]

Brancusi’s Paris studio.

Might not such an art of illumination help keep alive in us nostalgia for the paradise that is our true home? What is the fall if we do not know the heights from which we have fallen? What is paradise lost if we have forgotten paradise? What is salvation if we do not know into what we are being saved? If hell is darkness, then it is a place where luminosity is absent, where all appears without light, where we experience the flame of the bush without its light.

From prophecy to evangelism

In conclusion, we ought to have no time for a religiosity that wants to keep us enclosed within church walls, makes us fearful of the outside. True faith finds and rejoices in the good wherever it is found. As Saint Paisius of the Holy Mountain taught me, a healthy soul is like a bee that seeks flowers and ignores rotting flesh. An unhealthy soul by contrast is like a fly that ignores vast fields of flowers and is attracted to a little rotting flesh.

One task of the Church is therefore to find the partial good in its surrounding culture and bring it to fruition. In this respect, living as we are in an increasingly non-Christian but educated epoch, our task is akin to that of the Apologists of the first centuries after Christ. They sought for truths in the Greek philosophy of the time, putting aside what was wrong, adopting what accorded with truth, and adapting what was partial. We need to embrace this creative and theological activity in our own times.

Some contemporary icon painters have done the same with modern art, most notably Gregory Krug.

Christ the Saviour, Fr Gregory Kroug.

Whether or not he consciously adopted aspects of modern art, the fact remains that his unique icons could only have been made in the 20th century. Dr. Isaac Fanous certainly adopted aspects of Cubism into his Neo-Coptic iconography in a deliberate synthesis of old and new.

The Transfiguration.  By Dr Stéphane Réne, of the Neo Coptic school founded by Dr. Isaac Fanous.

A prophetic assessment of a culture will not always of course be affirmative; it will also be critical. I suggest, for example, that an Orthodox Christian’s reading of art history will differ from the dominant narrative of secular scholarship. Scholarship reveals facts, but these facts need to be interpreted. Too often, for example, the history of art has been measured against the assumption that naturalism equals realism. So Byzantine art is considered without perspective, while Renaissance to be the champion of proper perspective.

In reality, Byzantine art uses five or six systems of perspective. These offer a far richer palette with which to express spiritual reality than the mathematical one-eyed system propagated by the Renaissance.

The Annunciation, showing different perspective systems.

They also accord more closely with our subjective experience of reality. For example, even though I do not see both sides of a building I know that they are there, and therefore the icon will often depict these sidewalls simultaneously through its multi-view perspective.  Unlike single view perspective, icons depict what we know and not just what we see. This is in fact the metaphysics behind much of early modernism, which reacted against the neo-Classicism then dominant in Europe.

The secular art historical narrative has also been too silent about the spiritual impetus behind much of the early modernist movement. Kandinsky for example was quite articulate about the spiritual aims of his art, most notably in his work “On The Spiritual in Art”, which was particularly influential in its English translation. Although perhaps more a Theosophist than an Orthodox, his Orthodoxy nevertheless informed a lot of his thinking, and sometimes, as in his “Sketch with Horseman”, icons provided inspiration for his compositions.

Sketch with Horseman. Vasily Kandinsky, 1911, showing the influence of icons, in this case, Elijah in the fiery chariot and St George slaying the dragon.

For Kandinsky painting was a spiritual exercise with spiritual aims. He wrote:

The artist must train not only his eye, but his soul.[8]

The world sounds. It is a cosmos of spiritually affective beings. Thus, dead matter is living spirit.[9]

We have already discussed the consciously religious basis of Brancusi’s work. (for more discussion see my article  “Constantin Brancusi” in http://aidanharticons.com/category/articles/).

The Scriptures and the history of the Church teach us that the best missionaries first discover what God has already revealed to the culture they are addressing, and only then begin to proclaim the Gospel. These evangelists are first listening prophets and seeing seers, and only then preaching missionaries. They perceive the words of God already accepted by the people and then try to take their listeners to the next stage.

The Apostle Paul. By Archimandrite Zenon, crypt church of Feodorovsky Cathedral, Petersburg.

Although St Paul was indignant about all the idols that he saw at the Areopagus, he began his address not by condemning his listeners for idolatry but by praising them for being so religious. He went on to base his message on their inscription to “An Unknown God”. He built his Gospel narrative on this germ of truth, even quoting their own philosophers and poets.

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[5] Quoted in Art, Robert Cumming (DK, London, 2005), page 433.

[6] Vincent van Gogh, Letter to Theo van Gogh, 3 September 1888, (Letter 673), in Vincent Van Gogh: The Letters.  http://vangoghletters.org/vg/letters/let673/letter.html.

[7] Brancusi, in F. Bach, M. Rowell and A. Temkin, Constantin Brancusi. MIT Press, 1995. Page 23.

[8] Quoted in  Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art (New York, 1994), eds. Kenneth C. Lindsey and Peter Vergo, page 197.

[9]  Kandinsky, in “The Blaue Reiter Almanac”, quoted in  Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art, page 250.

Source: Orthodox Arts Journal

 

 

The Gaze of a Surgeon

 

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Understanding Icons

The first thing we sense about an icon is its great seriousness. Compare an icon in your mind, a great Western religious painting, one that moves you to deeper faith or even to tears. You’ll notice that there is a difference in the *way* it moves you, however. A Western painting—which is undeniably going to be more accomplished in terms of realism, perspective, lighting, anatomy, and so forth—moves us in our imaginations and our emotions. We engage with it like we do a movie or a story.

An icon hits us in a different way, though. In comparison, it is very still. It is silent. We find ourselves coming to silence as we stand before it. An icon somehow takes command of the space around it. It re-sets where the baseline of our awareness is.

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Many years ago my husband bought our first icon, a copy of the famous 12th century Russian icon known as the Virgin of Vladimir. We hung it on a wall in the den and grouped other, smaller pictures and paintings around it. But it never looked quite right. We kept rearranging the pictures, and then started taking some of them down. It still didn’t work somehow. In the end, we wound up taking down every other painting, so that the Virgin reigned alone in that length of space. She blew all the other pictures off the wall. Such is the quality of her presence in this image, a quality we can’t describe apart from words like “majesty,” “mystery,” and “gravity.”

 

It is the gravity of an icon that is the other thing I want you to notice. The people in these images are very sober. Their silence is unsettling. We don’t know how to respond and feel awkward. I think this is something like what St. Peter felt when the Lord told him to let down his nets for a catch. When he hauled up teeming nets, St. Peter said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

The sober presence of the Lord in an icon makes us uncomfortable because it makes us realize how far short we fall from the ineffable beauty and power of God. Sometimes people accuse Christians of trying to make people feel bad or guilty, of being judgmental in their words. When that is the case it is unfortunate. But in this case, we feel the effect of judgment from the only true judge, the only possible judge, and he does it without a word. Yet it is a judgment wrapped in a promise of healing. It is not a rejection, but an invitation. It is an opportunity to receive the healing that only God can give, because he knows us better than we know ourselves.

The steady, unsettling gaze of the Lord in an icon is like the gaze of a surgeon as he looks at a patient’s wounded, broken body. The surgeon understands our woundedness better than we do ourselves, and he knows exactly what it will take to heal it. Our Lord sees brokenness and failures in us that we can’t, that we simply won’t, that we could not bear to see. And he invites us to open ourselves to his healing, a healing that will progress very gently, very gradually, as we are able to bear it.

This isn’t to say that the healing will always be comfortable. He may ask us to give things up that we think we can’t bear to live without. He may ask us to take things on that we think we can’t begin to carry. Only he knows what it will take to heal us. No wonder an icon looks so serious. Our condition is serious. Through the merciful condescension of our Lord, we don’t have to enter into healing with a surgeon we have never seen. He has revealed his face to us, and as we gradually learn to trust him, we can reveal our own broken selves in return.

 
By Frederica Mathewes-Green
This article was published as an inclusion in The Sacred Way by Tony Jones, Zondervan, 2004, and at  http://www.frederica.com
 
 
 
 
For the making of an icon, watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HTb7l3VF1HY
 
 
 
 

Face to Face

Nothing about the human body is as intimate as the face. We generally think of other aspects of our bodies when we say “intimate,” but it is our face that reveals the most about us. It is the face we seek to watch in order to see what others are thinking, or even who they are. The importance of the face is emphasized repeatedly in the Scriptures. In the Old Testament, it is the common expression for how we rightly meet one another – and rarely – God Himself – “face to face.”

In the New Testament, St. Paul uses the language of the face to describe our transformation into the image of Christ.

Χώρα-των-ζώντων

The holy icons are doubtless the most abundant expression of the “theology of the face,” and perhaps among the most profound contributions of Orthodoxy to the world and the proclamation of what it truly means to be human. Every saint, from the least to the greatest, shares the same attribute as Christ in their icons. We see all of them, face to face. In the icons, no person is ever depicted in profile – with two exceptions – Judas Iscariot and the demons. For it is in the vision of the face that we encounter someone as person. It is our sin that turns us away from the face of another – our effort to make ourselves somehow other than or less than personal. It is a manifestation of our turning away from God.

In human behavior, the emotion most associated with hiding the face is shame. The feeling of shame brings an immediate and deep instinct to hide or cover the face. Even infants, confronted by embarrassment or mild shame, will cover their faces with their hands or quickly tuck their face into the chest of the one holding them. It is part of the unbearable quality of shame.

Hiding is the instinctive response of Adam and Eve. “We were naked and we hid…” is their explanation. Readers have always assumed that it is the nakedness of their intimate parts that drive the first couple to hide. I think it more likely that it was their faces they most wanted to cover.

In an extended use of the story of Moses’ encounter with God after which he veiled his face, St. Paul presents the gospel of Christ as a transforming, face-to-face relationship with Christ.

Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech–unlike Moses,who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away. But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2Co 3:12-6 NKJ)

The veil of Moses is an image of the blindness of the heart and spiritual bondage. Turning to Christ removes this blindness and hardness of heart. With unveiled faces we behold the knowledge of the glory of God revealed in the face of Jesus Christ and are transformed into the very same image which is Christ.

In Russian, the word lik (лик) can mean face and person. Sergius Bulgakov plays with various forms of the word in his book Icons and the Name of God. It is an essential Orthodox insight. The Greek word for person (πρόσωπον) also carries this double meaning. The unveiled or unhidden face is a face without shame – or a face that no longer hides from its shame. This is perhaps the most fundamental aspect of our transformation in Christ. The self in whom shame has been healed is the self that is able to live as person.

We are restored to our essential and authentic humanity – our personhood. We behold Christ face to face, as a person would who looks into a mirror. And, as St. John says, “We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1Jo 3:2 NKJ).

The sacrament of penance boldly walks directly into the world of shame. Archimandrite Zacharias says:

… if we know to whom we present ourselves, we shall have the courage to take some shame upon ourselves. I remember that when I became a spiritual father at the monastery, Fr. Sophrony said to me, “Encourage the young people that come to you to confess just those things about which they are ashamed, because that shame will be converted into spiritual energy that can overcome the passions and sin.” In confession, the energy of shame becomes energy against the passions. As for a definition of shame, I would say it is the lack of courage to see ourselves as God sees us. (from The Enlargement of the Heart).

This is not an invitation to toxic shame – nor an invitation to take on yet more shame – it is a description of the healing from shame that is given in Christ. That healing is “the courage to see ourselves as God sees us.” It is the courage to answer like the prophet Samuel, “Here I am!” when God calls. God called to Adam who spoke from his shameful and faceless hiding.

Some of the mystical sermons of the fathers speak of Christ seeking Adam out a second time – but this time, in Hades, when Christ descended to the dead. There, Adam, hid no longer, turned to face the risen Lord. And so the traditional icon of the resurrection shows Christ taking Adam and Eve out of the smashed gates of Hades.

The gates of Hades are written in our faces – as are the gates of paradise. It is the mystery of our true self – the one that is being re-created in the image of Christ – precisely as we behold Him face to face and discover that no shame need remain. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. Sweet liberty!

Source: glory2godforallthings.com/

What is an Icon?

What is an icon?

Pantocrator, St. Catherine’s – Mt. Sinai, 6th century. The two different facial expressions on either side emphasize Christ’s two natures as fully God and fully human.

What is an icon? There are approximately five million Eastern Orthodox Christians in America (Nabil, 2000). A minority in a nation dominated by Protestants and Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox culture has maintained strong familial and cultural identities. Understanding something about them, being able to lay aside preconceptions and ethnocentricity to view life from the Orthodox Christian’s perspective will allow the onlooker an opportunity to increase in understanding not only of the Eastern Orthodox Christian but of human nature. It is this author’s intent to introduce the reader to an insider’s perspective of iconography in the life of an Orthodox Christian, in the hope that understanding will increase.

What Is An Icon?

A legend passed down for nearly 2000 years describes the first icon. At the time when Christ was traveling to Jerusalem where He would experience the trial and crucifixion, King Abgar of Edessa sent for Jesus. Christ could not go to the King, so instead He sent a linen cloth on which He had dried His face. The story continues that the cloth carried to the King had an impression of Christ’s face on it. The King’s illness was healed when the cloth was taken to him. This first icon, “not made by human hands”, began a tradition of portraying Christ and the saints in pictorial fashion. (Benz, 1963). The entire town of Edessa treasured this first icon, that is the linen cloth with Christ’s face imprinted on it. It was widely acknowledged throughout out the East and still written about in the eighth century (Ouspensky, 1978).

So what is an icon? Webster defines an icon as an image (Webster, 1966). In the Orthodox Church an icon is a sacred image, a window into heaven. An image of another reality, of a person, time and place that is more real than here and now. More than art, icons have an important spiritual role. Michel Quenot says it well in his book, The Icon: Window on the Kingdom, an icon is “theology in imagery, the icon expresses through color what the Gospel proclaims in words”.

For this reason the rules regarding the creation of an icon are rigorous. The iconographer must prepare himself for the task of painting an icon by following a strict discipline of fasting and prayer. He must quiet his spirit and submit himself to God. The icon he creates will not be signed. He will not expect accolades or applause when the icon is completed. The icon will be created to inspire and lead others into worship. Painting the icon is not a use of imagination. Instead, the icon will be painted using the prescribed regimen and style that has been passed down through the centuries. Everything from the facial expressions to the colors used is predetermined. The following is a prayer recited by an iconographer prior to starting to work:

“O Divine Master of all that exists, enlighten and direct the soul, the heart and the mind of your servant: guide my hands so that I might portray worthily and perfectly Your Image, that of Your Holy Mother and of all the Saints, for the glory, the joy, and the beautification of Your Holy Church.” ( Quenot, p.13)

The primary purpose of the icon is to aid in worship. Its design follows that purpose. Through lines and color the iconographer conveys the awesomeness of the invisible, divine reality (Evdokimov, 1990). The creation of an icon is defined by tradition. That is a 21 st century iconographer would not decide to change the shape of Christ’s face. It is understood that a person who saw them in the flesh painted the first icon of an individual. St. Luke is accredited with painting the first icons of Christ and Mary the Blessed Virgin. Each subsequent iconographer will use the original icon as a guide. There is room for a small amount of stylistic change but tradition limits the options for that change ( Forest, 1997).

Icons are not created to force an emotional response. When portraying historical scenes the faces don’t show emotions but instead portray virtues such as purity, patience in suffering, forgiveness, compassion and love. An example of this would be the portrayal of Christ on the cross. Neither is the icon a sentimental picture. Christ is always shown as God. Even the icons of Christ seated on His mother’s lap show Him with an adult face, revealing that even though Christ lived as a child among us He was also God ( Forest,1997).

*

 

Icons depict silence. There are no actions displayed, no open mouths. The icon invites the Christian to enter into contemplation,prayer, and silence (Ware,1979). Space is not defined as three-dimensional and time is insignificant. The story told by the icon precludes time and space. An example would be the icon of the Nativity, which shows the cave where Christ was born in the background with those who came to adore in small vignettes. Lighting proceeds from the character portrayed in the icon. There are never shadows in icons. This shows us that the saint portrayed is “glorified” having completed the race and entered into heaven (Quenot,1991).

Symbolism is used in icons and details are used minimally. For example, when showing John the Baptist baptizing in the river the grown man he baptizes is shown as an infant because the baptism is a rebirth. Colors are also symbolic. Blue reveals heaven and mystery. Green is youth, fertility and the earth’s vegetation. Red, the color of blood, suggests life, vitality and beauty. White is purity, the divine world and innocence. Gold indicates sanctity, splendor, and the glory of God and life in the heavenly kingdom. Purple reveals wealth, power and authority.

 

*

First and foremost, icons are a constant reminder of the incarnation of Christ, that is to say, they remind us that God “sent His only begotten Son”(Bible, John 3:16) to rescue us from our sin and death. We cannot see God the Father or God the Holy Spirit, but, because Christ chose to take on human flesh, we can see Him. His face can be portrayed on wood with paint. We can also paint His Mother and other saints who have finished the race and gone on to heaven. The Orthodox believe that surrounding themselves with icons help them to acknowledge the constant presence of Christ and the saints in their lives.

According to Father Nabil, priest of St. George Orthodox Church in Indianapolis, IN, the icon is a representation of the person portrayed upon it. The term used to describe this link is typology. Typology means that an event or item is somehow related to another event or person. An example of this would be the icon buttons on the computer tool bar. When a person uses the tool bar and clicks on the “print” button the user knows that the print button represents something else. That is, the print button will not cause itself to be duplicated on paper with ink but instead the user knows that the print button at that moment is a typology for the item on the screen. By interacting with the “print” icon the user expects the item the button represents to be printed. When an Orthodox Christian gives honor to an icon by kneeling or bowing before it or by kissing the icon the Christian is not paying respect to wood and paint. Instead he acknowledges that the icon represents much more and that the link between the icon and the person in the heaven is real. He believes that in some mystical fashion the veneration given to the icon will be received by the person it portrays.

As a recent convert to the Orthodox Christian faith this author has some experience on which to base an analysis of the use of icons. As a convert, ten years ago icons were one of the additions to worship unfamiliar to me. I came from a protestant background and the worship I had been involved in up until this point involved sitting in a pew and repeating prayers, creeds and hymns when appropriate. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the Orthodox utilize all of their senses and beings in their worship.

 

Incense floats through the air representing the prayers ascending into heaven. A bell is rung during the call to worship and at other key times in the worship. Altar boys, deacons and the priest serve in the altar area, chanting prayers and hymns, bowing, performing prostration, acknowledging the heavenly hosts of saints and angels whose worship we are entering into. Parishioners do not sit primly in the pews but may walk throughout the church lighting candles, venerating icons. The hands of parishioners are not quiet and closed but may be raised heavenward to show the lifting of the worshiper’s heart toward God or they may be making the sign of the cross, reminding the one who makes it that Christ loved us enough to die for us. Later communion will be available so that one can even utilize the sense of taste during worship. In those first weeks the activity of worship seemed almost distracting to me but as I have entered into the worship it has became natural.

 

The Orthodox believes worship is ongoing in the heavenly kingdom. They believe heaven is a place where worship doesn’t cease, that those who have gone before and have been faithful are worshiping the Holy Trinity continuously. When earthly Christians join together to worship we join the heavenly throng and begin participating in that worship. For that reason the walls and ceilings of the church are decorated with icons of Christ, Mary the Blessed Virgin, saints and angels.

 

When parishioners stand in the pew during worship they only need to look around to see the saints surrounding them. In this way the icon is a reminder of a larger reality. It reminds us that we have stepped out of one world and into another. It reminds us that though we struggle on a daily basis to remain faithful to our beliefs and our God there are many who have finished this life successfully and now dwell in a place were there is no more sorrow. We are encouraged to persevere, to set our eyes on the finish line, to continue to live a life that is pleasing to God.

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Living as we do in a society that demands that our lives be lived at a fast pace and with very little quiet time the icon beckons to us to slow down. The stillness of the icon draws us into the quiet so that we can lay aside the cares of this world and meditate on the splendor of the next. The benefit of the icons is not so much in analyzing the style of painting, the iconographers name or even in knowing the individual representations in the icon. The benefit is in meditation, in quietness and in guiding the heart to prayer.

There are other components of the Eastern Orthodox culture that contribute to the use of the icon. It has been this author’s personal observation that the Orthodox culture values family. Aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, grandparents, cousins and so on worship together, live together and often even work together. A large number of Orthodox are immigrants who have been able to assimilate into the American culture due to a strong work ethic and a respect for the freedoms afforded a democratic society. Many have lived under Communist governments, some have suffered under the authority of anarchists. Strong family ties, even family businesses have helped to sustain these immigrants. This respect for unity and extended family goes beyond the earthly family and makes the recognition of the saints more acceptable. For example, if Aunt Sally prayed for us while she was on earth and we know that she has eternal life now, why would we expect her to stop praying for us now?

Also, I have found that the Orthodox are a very expressive people. If I meet an Orthodox friend at the grocery store or at church I have learned to expect that friend to drop whatever he is doing and come toward me with both arms reaching out. First he will embrace me, then give me a kiss on each check. This is called the kiss of peace. Often a greeting such as “Christ is Risen!” or “Thanks be to God” will accompany the kiss. It should be noted that this kiss of peace is shared among men and women equally. The greeting can be between two men, two women or a man and a women. I have often wanted to follow a single person throughout a Sunday worship to tally the number of such greetings a person offers on such a day. If such a greeting is given to people who are simply acquaintances then the kissing of the icon is in keeping with the cultural practices.

In conclusion, viewing the use of icons from within the Orthodox culture has given the author the opportunity to develop an appreciation for icons. I have found that hanging an icon in my home reminds me that God is present in my home. When I pass the icon I remember that I am to be praying continuously. When life is just speeding by too quickly I know where to go to find some quiet and to pray for the peace that surpasses understanding. It is no longer surprising to me that the God who created humans would realize that sometimes in our crowded lives it is beneficial to have a “window on the kingdom” (Quenot, 1991).

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Eastern Orthodox Christians and Iconography

By Cindy Egly

 

 

Why Discipline Our Eyes?

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Walking on Water by David Popiashvili

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western Religious Art

 

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Nikola Sarić , Parables of Christ, The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Popiashvili, Angel and Shepherds on Christmas Day

An Orthodox Aesthetic Counterpoint to a Protestant blog post on Holy Images 

 

This blog post will attempt to highlight the differences between Byzantine Iconography vs. Western Religious Art. It is only fair to point out from the very start that Victoria’s selection of works of Art in the 2nd part of her article,  “Disciplining our eyes with holy images“, is truly inspired.

Enjoy!

“I desire peace—and not just any old peace, but the peace that Christ gives, and not just for myself, but for the world.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

I desire to be an agent of healing,

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Julia Stankova, “The Healing of the Demon-Possessed Man” (Mark 5:2-19), 2010. Tempera, gouache, watercolors, and lacquer technique on wood, 40 x 31 cm.

and reconciliation.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Wisnu Sasongko (Indonesian, 1975–), Zacchaeus, 2005. Acrylic on canvas, 28 × 52 in.

I desire to touch Christ’s wounds.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Right panel of an ivory diptych depicting the Incredulity of St. Thomas, made in Trier at the end of 10th century. Bode Museum, Berlin.

I desire to serve.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Sadao Watanabe (Japanese, 1913–1996), Jesus Washes Peter’s Feet, 1973. Stencil print, 26 × 22.75 in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I desire to feed people,

 

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art
Isaac Fanous (Egyptian, 1919–2007), Jesus Feeding the Multitude.And to help people see.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Anthony Falbo (American, 1953–), The Healing of the Blind Man.

I desire to practice resurrection.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

The Resurrection (detail), ca. 1170–80, Rhine-Meuse region. Champlevé enamel on gilded copper. Musée du Louvre, Paris.

I desire Holy Spirit fire.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Pentecost, from the Benedictional of Archbishop Robert, New Minster, Winchester, ca. 980. Bibliothèque Municipale de Rouen, MS Y.7(369), fol. 29v.

I desire to preach truth.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Azaria Mbatha (South African, 1941–), Sermon on the Mount. Linocut.

I desire to bless.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Alphonso Arul Doss (Indian, 1939–), The Blessing Christ. Oil on canvas, 34 × 24 in.

I desire to suffer with dignity.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Angelo da Fonseca (Indian, 1902–1967), Ecce Homo, 1955. Watercolor, 9 x 6 in.

I desire to stand up for justice.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Alexander Smirnov (Russian, 1947–), The Cleansing of the Temple. Oil on canvas.

I desire to protect.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Kim Young Gil (Korean, 1940–2008), The Woman Caught in Adultery.

I desire to forgive.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Jacques Richard Sassandra (French, 1932–), Father, Forgive Them. Color woodcut.

I desire to weep with those who weep.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Daniel Bonnell, “Jesus Wept.” Oil on canvas, 34 x 46 in. Tags: Lazarus

I desire transfiguration.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Attributed to Theophanes the Greek, The Transfiguration, 1408. Tempera on panel. State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia.

 

Let me repeat again here, at the end of this selection of works of Art, that Victoria Jones’ choices have warmed my heart and have been a delight to the eyes!

 

BUT

 

Victoria’s rationale for just  “gazing” at “holy (*)  images” in the first part of her essay feels too cerebral to me, limiting and stifling, so ‘Puritan’, so Protestant, if I may add.  Even if she did not mention this so explicitly–which she does–ie. that her attitude to “holy [sic] images” is derived from her “own Protestant theology [sic] of images”, still her Protestant  limitations, again if I may say so, are obvious to anyone with an Orthodox Christian sensibility.

Even the very title of her analysis is revealing: “Disciplining [sic] our eyes“. In my opinion, what we should all be targeting instead, is not to just the disciplining, but the healing, the sanctification of our eyes and all our senses. Indeed, Victoria herself feels the needs for “having right sight and desire restored” but her ‘solution to this problem’ is too cerebral and rationalistic in my opinion, not really a solution in the end, as it fails to embrace the whole of man, body and soul, heart and nous, and perpetuates the torment of a divided, conflicting, fragmented humanity.

 

Consider the following by Victoria:

“I use them [ie. holy images] as an aid to prayer, but I do not reverence them with actions like kissing or lifting—not necessarily because I’m opposed to such displays but more likely because I’m naturally reserved, and also I’m usually interacting with the images digitally. … Part of my private spiritual practice is to spend a little time each day gazing on a holy image. I’m particularly fond of ones of Christ. For me this gazing serves a centering function; it reorders my desires. Sitting still with an image of Christ reminds me of Whose image I bear, and I take that with me as I encounter other images throughout the day that try to tell me otherwise.” (Ibid)

 

No! This is so limiting! It is by far too cerebral, too rationalistic, too ‘mind-centred’, too ‘Western’ … Rather that entering into a Communion with Christ our Saviour Himself, we are limiting ourselves to ideas and concepts about Christ. Hugging and embracing and touching icons may indeed feel strange to those of a Protestant background, more so if “naturally reserved”, but matter is not evil! It was ancient Greek philosophy which believed that the body imprisons the soul, and thus it detested matter. But Christians respect the body and all its senses, since Christ made the flesh a source of sanctification, and matter (water, oil, etc.) a channel of divine grace.

 

In his writings, St. Gregory Palamas affirmed that man, united in body and soul, is sanctified by Jesus Christ, who took a human body at the Incarnation. “Thus the Word of God took up His dwelling in the Theotokos in an inexpressible manner and proceeded from her, bearing flesh. He appeared upon the earth and lived among men, deifying our nature.” … And he significantly adds, “When God is said to have made man according to His image, the word man means neither the soul by itself nor the body by itself, but the two together.” ((A Homily on the Dormition of the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary)

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Rublev, Saviour

Conversely, see how Victoria continues:

“Orthodox believers developed the practice of icon writing and veneration to address this question—creating physical images of Christ to mediate his presence and to serve as an anchor in daily life. The Incarnation, they say, renders icons absolutely essential to the task of knowing God.

My own Protestant theology of images owes much to the Orthodox view but deviates from it as well. Although I acknowledge the revelatory potential of images, I do not regard them, as the Orthodox do, as on a par with scripture. Another key distinction is that I admit into my devotional life a range of sacred images, not just those that fall within the rigorously guarded canon of Orthodox iconography.”

I define “holy image” as any image that draws the viewer closer to Christ. The religious background of the artist is, to me, irrelevant, and what functions as a holy image to one person might not for another. You sanctify the image by letting it lead you into communion with God. ” (Ibid)

But specifically, how does all this mental activity lead you into communion with God? Let us study a concrete example, the Resurrected Christ’s appearance to Mary Magdalene as described in the Gospel of John “Touch Me Not, by  another Protestant scholar/ artist. See how rationalistically he too approaches the whole matter:

“I believe all of these works taken on the whole can help you begin to ask yourself the question, like an artist…”I wonder what it was like to see Jesus in in his newly resurrected form?” “I wonder how Mary felt as she approached the grave?” I wonder what the meaning of this strange encounter?” When you begin to picture the scene in your mind and make it your own, this is when the resurrection becomes real to you. In this way, all of these representations can help you as long as you keep going into your own thoughts.

 

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

 

See? Mind and thought, logical thinking, conceptualisation and deduction, the Western curse on Christianity. But Incarnation ‘allows’  an entirely different approach to “images” and “icons” to that of Victoria Jones’ and other Protestant scholars’ ‘guided meditations’.

What we want to avoid is an overemphasis of mind and its rational faculties at the expense of nous and man’s heart. The West, with its rationalistic tendencies, has associated the image of God with man’s intellect. Barlaam’s mind was full of rational arguments, but his heart was cold.

Certainly, life with God is not just information, but also experience. Our living God cannot be conceived and described only by study, but must be spoken about from experience. “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32).

 

Orthodox Theology is not cerebral, but empirical, and it cannot be acquired through study alone. Books and meditation, reflection may certainly help, but the true knowledge of God is existential. God reveals Himself as Light to the purified, and “through the Holy Spirit they know God and are able to speak of Him”. Philosophers speak reflectively through reason and imagination, which is why it is not possible for them to be higher than the prophets, who see God and speak of Him through the Holy Spirit.

 

See how ‘wholistic’ the Orthodox approach is:

“The Church, through the temple and Divine service, acts upon the entire man, educates him wholly; acts upon his sight, hearing, smelling, feeling, taste, imagination, mind, and will, by the splendour of the icons and of the whole temple, by the ringing of bells, by the singing of the choir, by the fragrance of the incense, the kissing of the Gospel, of the cross and the holy icons, by the prosphoras, the singing, and sweet sound of the readings of the Scriptures.”

+ St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ 

 

Nikola Sarić, PARABLE OF THE PRODIGAL SON (LK 15:11–32)

 

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

 

 

 

(*) By the way, Victoria’s definition of what is a holy image is not correct in my opinion: “I define “holy image” as any image that draws the viewer closer to Christ. The religious background of the artist is, to me, irrelevant, and what functions as a holy image to one person might not for another. You sanctify the image by letting it lead you into communion with God.” [Bold type mine for emphasis] In my opinion, Victoria’s talking here about religious art in general, not sacred, and certainly not holy, at least for an Orthodox Christian’ understanding of these terms. Of course, anything can be perceived as holy and sacred in God’s Creation, but I do not think that this is how Victoria uses this word in her analysis above.

 

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Popiashvili, Zaccheus

 

For Victoria Jones’ full argument, go here

For an Orthodox Christian understanding as to what makes an image holy (even to, or better, especially to, a ‘convert’, a protestant brought to the Orthodox Church, as opposed to a ‘cradle Orthodox, born and immersed into Orthodoxy), go here

Nikola Sarić studied at the Faculty of Applied Arts of the University of Belgrade and at the Academy of Serbian Orthodox Church for Arts and Conservation in the department of church art, where he graduated in 2014. Nurtured in the practice of church art, his artistic expression is deriving from sacred Greco-Roman art and generally speaking the art of the classical antiquity and the medieval period. In his works, through the immediacy and simplicity of visual elements, he is conveying the intuition of a “transfigured world”. Using different techniques and materials, Nikola is trying to describe this unimaginable world. His interpretations reflect the personal spiritual experience as well as the tradition that breathes and evolves within the concepts of contemporaries.

For a representative sample of Nikola Sarić‘s artworks, go to Parables of Christ, to his website http://www.nikolasaric.de and his latest interview to the Orthodox Arts Journal

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David Popiashvili studied at the Tbilisi Art School and at the Tbilisi State Academy of Arts At faculty of the fine arts.

For a representative sample of David Popiashvili‘s religious paintings, go to London Art  AND  Stories about Jesus Christ, illustrated by David Popiashvili