The Altar and The Portico (I)

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Aidan Hart: Embracing a Eucharistic Lifestyle

Liturgical “vs.” Secular Beauty in Life And Art

 

Excerpts (I) from a masterpiece of a talk, given by the renowned iconographer Aidan Hart at Sacred And Secular In Life And Art seminar in Oxford University,  a workshop dedicated to the memory of Philip Sherrard. (Oxford, 14-17 July, 2016).

Analysis of Works of Liturgical and Secular Art — Beauty seen in the light of Orthodoxy’s ‘aesthetics’. Liturgical art exists to help us live our whole lives liturgically. Vignettes from house architecture and decoration, furniture design, hospitality, music etc. to express love for God’s creation in daily life and to live life gently upon His earth, aiming towards a Eucharistic vision of Life: wholeness, harmony, unity.  Culture as the Liturgy of Preparation “Beauty is truth, truth beauty—that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” (Ode on a Grecian Urn, By John Keats). Indeed, Beauty will save the world (Dostoyevski). Needless to point out, both this Eucharistic vision of Life and the importance of Beauty/Truth in Art and Life have been central concerns of this little city hermit’s blog and his journey on the Way.

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… In my reflections I would like to regard the term secular not in its pejorative sense, as the bad world outside the Church, but rather in its earlier sense as the larger world in whose midst the Church is planted to transfigure that world.

In considering our subject of sacred and secular we may have the image of a splendid garden city expanding into a wild jungle, rather than a fortress sealed off against siege from the world. This city does indeed have walls to keep bad things out, but it also has gates, and from its heart flows a River that brings life wherever it flows, as the prophet Ezekiel tells us in his vision (Ezekiel 47).

 

Eden within the forest

St Cadmon’s hymn of creation. Aidan Hart, calligraphy Clive Tolley.. Vellum.aidan1.jpg

God creating Adam. Palermo, Sicily. 12th C. Mosaic.aidan2.jpg

God creating Adam. Palermo, Sicily. 12th C. Mosaic.

The sacred as source

The Tent of Meeting.aidan3.jpg

The Tent of Meeting.

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware has said that one is Priest (Christ);

some are priests (the clergy); all are priests (the priesthood of the laity).

Philip and Denise Sherrard’s Chapel of the Life Giving Spring, Evia, Greece. Aidan Hart. Fresco.aidan10.jpgaidan9.jpgLion, below fresco of St Mary of Egypt. Chapel of the Life Giving Spring, Evia, Greece. Aidan Hart. Frescoaidan8.jpg

Hare, below icon of St Melangell of Wales. Chapel of the Life Giving Spring, Evia, Greece. Aidan Hart. Fresco.

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Chapel of the Life Giving Spring, Evia, Greece. Aidan Hart. Frescoaidan5.jpg

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…And so it is that I believe liturgical art exists to help us live our whole lives liturgically. A church temple, as St Maximus the Confessor affirmed, is an image of the whole world. This splendid earth was created by God to be our temple within which to worship Him.

 

 

… I experienced this “coming together” of heaven and earth personally when I was frescoing Denise Sherrard’s chapel at her home in Evia, the chapel of the Life Giving Spring that she and Philip had built. We wanted to reflect Philip’s affirmation that the material world is an integral part of the spiritual life,[2] so I painted a tree between each standing saint. Some of the saints are also accompanied by a creature associated with their lives: St Melangell with a hare; St Mary of Egypt with the lion which dug her grave; bees with St John the Baptist who ate honey while in the wilderness, and so on.

 

I modelled the frescoed trees on the trees that grew outside the chapel. As I worked many hours each day in the chapel the awareness grew that the world is indeed created to be a temple, designed to inspire us to praise and love its Creator. The vision of paradisiacal trees that began inside that small chapel’s walls continued when I continued my life outside. The sacred transformed the secular, paradise extended into the ‘jungle’.

 

… Importantly, this sense of continuum was supported by Denise’s attempt to express love for God’s creation in her daily life and to live life gently upon His earth. The food we ate was prepared with love, much of it grown in Denise’s own garden. Even the wine was homemade.  The chapel itself had been made of local stone.

Immersion in the paradise of church worship affects the way we design our day-to-day lives outside the services. The architecture of our houses, our furniture design, our hospitality, our music – all aspects of life – can take their inspiration from the Liturgy. The Liturgy is like our tuning fork, helping to keep our daily lives in harmony with heaven’s.

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Heaven’s music

… Having this inner music we will create a culture that will not only function well but will delight the eye and bring forth the logos or character of each raw material.

…In fact, in these and in the carved wooden columns outside one can see the inspiration for the sculptures fashioned by the father of modern abstract sculpture, Constantine Brancusi.

…This relates to what St Maximus the Confessor wrote some fourteen centuries earlier:

Do not stop short of the outward appearance which visible things present to the senses but seek with your intellect to contemplate their inner essences (logoi), seeing them as images of spiritual realities…

… Once when his friend Petre Pandrea was praising his sculpture, Brancusi replied that all he had done was to set up a branch office of Tismana Orthodox Monastery in Paris.  He saw his sculptures as an extension of the worship and ascetical life of that monastery. The sacred informed the secular.

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Rumanian grave posts, 10th c.

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‘Endless Columns’, in Brancusi’s studio, Paris.

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Tismana Orthodox Monastery, Rumania.

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Culture as the Liturgy of Preparation

As we shall explore a little later, this transformative process also works the other way: the art of life lived outside the temple walls should act as a portico, preparing us for entrance to the inner sanctum.

Our daily life can be an extended beginning to the first part of the Holy Liturgy, the Service of Preparation.

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The New Jerusalem, on vellum, by Aidan Hart

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… Every aspect of our daily living can be seen as this same transformative process, culminating in the Holy Liturgy’s deification of the bread and wine. This is suggested by the etymology of the word culture, which stems from the Latin word colere, which means to inhabit, care for, till, worship. Culture then becomes cult, an act of worship. Culture is both tilling and working and worship.

Any failings in our modern culture are ultimately due to our failure to continue work into worship, to carry the cultivation of the land into the cult of the liturgy.

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Sant’Apollinare in Classe apse (c. 534 AD). The Transfiguration; Paradise; the Second Coming; The New Jerusalem; Our Priestly roleaidan20.jpg

Sant’Apollinare in Classe

Creation transfigured. Sant’Apollinare in Classeaidan19.jpgaidan18.jpg

Portico and Nave

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In most of our churches today we have a rather rude transition from exterior to interior. But in most early churches it was not so. Most had a portico, a place colonnaded around, roofless yet walled.

 

… Walking along the busy street you would spy this little paradise courtyard and be drawn towards its coolness and stillness. Once within this portico, through the open doors of the church you would eventually see hints of some glittering mosaics or wall paintings, and pins of light from oil lamps. So you would be drawn further in.

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Portico with fountain, St Clement’s, Rome — Portico garden, St Cecilia’s, Rome.

 

…Once inside this exonarthex you would perhaps see images of the six days of creation, or the prophets, or, as in Iviron monastery,  the Psalms of Lauds illustrated, where all creation is praising God.

Aidan Hart Liturgical Art "vs." Secular Art Beauty as Truth and Truth Beauty

Exo-narthex, Iviron, Athos, with depictions of Psalms 158-150, all creation praising God

You might also see images of the day of judgement, reminding you that repentance and purification is needed to stand the glory of God’s light which can be experienced further inside.

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Narthex, with glimpse through to nave St Nicholas Anapafsas, Meteora.

After looking around these scenes you would see yet another door, and enter the narthex, where you would see perhaps frescoes of standing ascetics.

Eventually you would be drawn even further, into the nave. In this broad yet intimate place you find yourself surrounded by angels, saints, scenes in the life of Christ.

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…. But this journey began with the portico. Portico or threshold beauty draws us like the fragrance of a rose towards the rose. This threshold art and culture participates both in the hubbub of daily life and in the liturgical life of the Church. Culture should cultivate the soul in preparation for the seed of God’s word. …

Excerpts from Orthodox Arts Journal

On Earth As It Is In Heaven ❧

To forget this Beauty is to lose sight of the Heavenly Kingdom. Above all we must learn to desire Beauty. It was not for theology or propriety that the Byzantines so adorned their temples. It was for Beauty. In Beauty lies Truth, and by it we show our Love for God.

Hagia Sophia Interior (Ayasofya) - Istanbul

‘GOD DWELLS THERE AMONG MEN’

In 988, emissaries of Prince Vladimir of Kiev visited Hagia Sophia. They famously remarked, “only this we know, that god dwells there among men.” This statement highlights the attitude towards holy temples that was universal among ancient religions – that a god actually lived in the temple. Christianity has moved away from this belief, but Orthodoxy retains it as a liturgical concept. In an Orthodox church, Christ and the saints are present among the faithful. Prayers are directed towards their icons, not towards the sky. …

 

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… This is a great difference from Western architecture. A Gothic church is a monument offered up to God. It is an attempt by man to order and beautify all that exists in creation. It points upward to God the Father who is outside of it, and prayers are directed likewise. in contrast, an Orthodox church is introverted. The interior represents Heaven, and to enter it is to step into the New Jerusalem. God dwells there among men, and they have no need of the sun, neither of the moon, for the Glory of God illumines it (cf. Revelation 21 : 23).

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Light pours into a Gothic church through great decorated windows. Broken into dazzling colors, it overwhelms the materiality of the walls. The stonework itself magnifies the effect, as it is thin and delicate, and carven with most delicate tracery. The weight of the stone is denied. The worshipper is at once conscious of the awesome radiance and power of the light without and the tenuous structure of the material within. The light beautifies the structure by dematerializing it, even until the stone itself looks like rays of light.

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The walls of an Orthodox church are immensely thick and strong. The windows are small and up high, set deeply into the openings. The light is seen reflected off the thickness of the wall, rather than directly from the windows. In some Byzantine churches the window is translucent alabaster or marble, so that the light seems to glow from within the wall itself. Gold mosaics or bright frescoes play the light from many surfaces. Polished lamps and inlaid furniture reflect highlights from every direction. Deep aisles or side chapels behind arches appear as mysterious shadows in the distance, which make the church look brighter by the rich contrast. This is mass transfigured by light. It is the same light as in the icons, holy and all- pervading, the Uncreated Light which emanates from god to his creation. The stone and plaster glow from within. They do not seem transitory, but more real. Walls and piers seem as silent and as still as ancient mountains. They are bathed with the Light of Christ, and are sustained and strengthened by it as we are.

… A church building is the structure and organization of all the icons within it. As a unified edifice, these make up a single integrated icon which encompasses all the history and theology of the Church. The organization of the icons broadly follows three architectural axes.

The first axis is west to east. This is the liturgical axis. The narthex repre- sents the fallen world, and is used for preparation and exorcisms, for judg- ment is at the gates of heaven. The nave represents the redeemed world, or the Church, where the faithful gather among the saints for the worship of god. The sanctuary represents highest heaven; the altar is the throne of god and his tomb. (1)

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The second axis is vertical and can be understood as hierarchical. The Pantocrator is at the top of the dome with hands outspread, embracing the universe he created. Below are angels in their appropriate ranks, followed

 by the evangelists, representing the beginning of the church, and then the saints in their tiers below. To the medieval mind, hierarchy meant freedom; it was the mark of identity and security. This axis and hierarchy exist also in the iconostasis as a miniature version of the same concept. The vertical axis has another interpretation which is the approach of god and man. The dome, most brightly lit and filled with angels, is heaven. It touches the nave at the pendentives, where the evangelists are painted, because they record the meeting of god and man. alternately, some churches have four great feasts which are theophanies at the pendentives, for the same reason. The Theotokos of the sign in the apse represents the Church reaching back up to god. Christ appears in the sign before her, emphasizing that by the Incarnation He is already with Her.

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The third axis is circular and horizontal, the interplay of icons cycling around the nave and relating to one another across it. This axis often por- trays the flow of time, although it can express many other relationships as well. The great feasts may be ordered chronologically around the nave, or specific feasts may be combined or face one another to highlight theological connections. In a large church there may be hundreds of biblical and historical scenes, and their placement with respect to one another and to the principal feasts can suggest almost limitless depths of interpretation.

Historically, church builders have struggled with the interplay of these three axes. …

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THE TEMPLE AS COSMOLOGY

… Of all forms, the cube and the dome are the most sacred and universal in architecture. The cube or square represents the earth, while the dome symbolizes the sky. It was ever the desire of the Romans to combine these forms and represent the universe. They achieved this at Hagia Sophia. The square nave has the most water-like pavement in the world. Sheets of wavy blue-gray marble flow from the altar like the river of the water of life from the Throne of God. Rows of columns rise from the banks like trees. Amazingly, the builders abandoned the thousand-year-old tradition of the Classical orders, and crafted a new type of capital which looks like the fronds of palms blowing in the wind. The arches above the capitals are decorated similarly. The whole nave is like a walled garden of unimaginable scale, the very image of Paradise.

 

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ISLAM VS. CHRISTIANITY — MOSQUE VS. ORTHODOX TEMPLE

 

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In Islam they build mosques that have the quality of jewel boxes. They are ornamented with a tremendous richness and regal splendor, but are completely devoid of anything iconographic, anything representational. They seem like abstract spaces, as does the Muslim worship within these spaces — the bowing down toward a mihrab, which is, in and of itself, nothing, but only an abstract architectural gesture that indicates the direction of Mecca. And of course, the Islamic faith emphasizes that man is very low and that God is very high, and that, really, the two do not meet; they surely do not meet in the sense that they meet in Christianity. So regardless of how beautiful a mosque may be, mosque architecture has never sought to convey an impression that God is within the mosque. It only conveys the impression that man has attempted to dignify himself by beautifying the mosque to an extent that man might be found worthy to kneel before God (because, of course, one only kneels in a mosque). So, if it is true that the emissaries of St. Vladimir attended services in an Orthodox Church, a Catholic Church, and in a mosque, I think it’s very appropriate that they would have observed that only in the Orthodox Church does it seem that God dwells with men. The very specific and deliberate attempt of Orthodox liturgical art is to convey that impression, and this is, of course, the fundamental gospel of Christianity.

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… A good modern building flooded with white light can be beautiful and people will often call such a building uplifting or inspiring. But we need to remember that the purpose of liturgical architecture, of an Orthodox church, is not to uplift and inspire but to make us mindful of the presence of God and the saints. Traditional architecture does this iconographically by revealing the beauty of the uncreated light shining through the saints, through the icons, and by suggesting the veil of mystery and the cloud of witnesses around the altar. For this iconographic technology to be effective requires a certain dim and mysterious light so that the reflections of light off of the gilded icons can be seen as brilliant and even supernatural in the setting of a dark church. A church that is flooded with natural light robs the icons of their ability to shine more brightly than the sun.

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(1) For the full article “ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN ❧ Form and Meaning in Orthodox Architecture by ANDREW GOULD, go to http://nwbstudios.com/articles/On-Earth-As-Heaven.pdf

(2) For excerpts of the article “Mass Transfigured by Light”: The Iconic Vision of an Orthodox Church and ANDREW GOULD’s interview, featured in the current issue of Road to Emmaus Journal, go to http://www.orthodoxartsjournal.org/andrew-gould-featured-in-road-to-emmaus-journal/

Solomon, I have outdone thee!

An excellent documentary and a unique website featuring the grandest Byzantine church of them all, “Hagia Sophia”, Church of the Holy Wisdom in Istanbul, Turkey  

 

 

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Iconographer and Russian historian launches unique website featuring “Hagia Sophia,” Church of the Holy Wisdom

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Mosaïque de l'impératrice Zoé, Sainte-Sophie (Istanbul, Turquie)    Mosaïques de l'entrée sud-ouest de Sainte-Sophie (Istanbul, Turquie)

Deisis

An interesting new site illustrating the history of Constantinople’s Church of the Holy Wisdom  popularly known as “Hagia Sophia”  recently appeared on the internet.

A “must visit” for Orthodox Christians, especially those interested in Church history, iconography, mosaics, and ecclesiastical architecture, the site gives special attention to the magnificent “Deesis” mosaic in the church’s south gallery.  Depicting Christ flanked by the Theotokos and Saint John the Forerunner, the exquisite mosaic was uncovered in the 1930s.  It is one of the world’s most beloved images of Our Lord.

Built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the early sixth century, Hagia Sophia replaced two earlier churches, the first built in 380 AD.

* In the time of Justinian, it had a thousand clergy and in Neara, Herakleion, there is a catalogue listing in the 7th century 600 people, consisting of “80 priests, 150 deacons, 40 deaconesses, 70 sub-deacons, 160 lectors, 25 cantors, and 75 door-keepers”.

http://pemptousia.com/2016/01/haghia-sophia-such-ecstasy-can-never-be-forgotten/

It is an engineering marvel, inasmuch as its massive freestanding central dome  the world’s largest of its kind  has withstood everything from earthquakes to invasions for 1500 years.  After the fall of Constantinople in 1453 AD, it became a mosque.  Its current status  that of a state museum  dates back to the early 1900s.

The site is the work of Bob Atchison, an iconographer and Russian historian from Seattle, WA who now lives in Austin, TX.  His interest in Hagia Sophia, and especially it’s Deesis mosaic, dates back to his childhood.

The site, which includes invaluable historical information, illustrations, maps and plans, and original photographs not readily found elsewhere, is of special interest to Orthodox Christians in general, and specifically to those desiring deeper insights into Orthodox Church history, iconography, liturgy, and ecclesiastical architecture.

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When Justinian had finished the construction he supposedly proclaimed, “Solomon, I have outdone thee!”

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The site may be accessed here : http://www.pallasweb.com/deesis

 

Source: http://oca.org/news/oca-news/iconographer-and-russian-historian-launches-unique-website-featuring-hagia