Iconography: Part I – Orthodox

In 13 History on 2011/11/11 at 12:26 PM
Cristos Pantakrator (Almighty, All Omnipotent, All Powerful)

Orthodox Iconography

The religious tradition of the Christian church is expressed in words, actions, gestures, visual images and statues used in worship.  One form of images are icons, which through color and line are also expressive of belief.   While the artistic aspects of the icon arouse proper emotions in the believer, it is, above all, a way in which God is revealed through a peek into the spiritual world.

Icons are part of the tradition of the Church and, consequently, icon painters must first and foremost express the mind of the Church rather than their own aesthetic sentiments, which can then be expressed. Iconographers bring a vision to the icon they are producing.  As a rule most iconographers use an older model as a guide.

Not just anyone can be an iconographer.  Because the Orthodox believe that the Church Fathers teach that iconography is a mystery of the Orthodox Church, membership in the Orthodox Church and appropriate approval by the Church are requisite for anyone wishing to be an iconographer.  An Orthodox iconographer must approach his work with humility and a prayer that a reverent attitude is reflected in his iconography.

In his work ON THE HOLY SPIRIT (18:45) the Nicene Father, Basil of Caesarea, wrote:  “The honor paid to the image passes to the prototype,” meaning that the Eastern Orthodox teaches that in the veneration of icons the praise and veneration shown to the icon passes to the archetype. Thus to kiss an icon of Christ, in the Eastern Orthodox view, is to show love towards Christ Jesus himself, NOT to mere wood and paint making up the physical substance of the icon.  Christ, the Theotokos, mysteries of the Faith and the Saints are common themes in Orthodox iconography.

So, the purpose of icons is, first, to create reverence in worship and, second, to serve as an existential link between the worshipper and God. Icons have been called prayers, hymns and sermons in form and color. They are the visual Gospel.  St. Basil said: “What the word transmits through the ear, the painting silently shows through the image, and by these two means, mutually accompanying one another . . . we receive knowledge of one and the same thing.”

St. John of Damascus said: “If a pagan asks you to show him your faith, take him into church and place him before the icons.”   The icons in Orthodox churches present the mysteries of the Christian faith.  The icon is a link between the human and the divine. It provides a space for the mystical encounter between the person beholding it and God.

Icons provide courage and strength in a world marked with tragedy and suffering.  They provide joy since they remind us that we are deeply loved by God.  Icons also encourage, comfort, bring peace of mind and enable us to speak to the Saints when we need solace or feel helpless.  The holy icons speak to our minds and are a blessing to us.

Icons can be thought of as windows into heaven, but also as windows for heaven to view us.  Consequently, icons are a very important part of the life of an Orthodox believer.  Many Orthodox and Eastern Catholic religious homes have icons hanging on the wall or in the Icon corner.  The icon is not intended to hang on a wall merely as an aesthetic object or as decoration even though it might be exceedingly beautiful.  An icon in the home transforms a home into a “domestic church.”

NOTE: If you are interested in seeing a professional video on icons go to the top of the main page of this blog and open: RESOURCES/LINKS and you will find these as the first two entries, these excellent videos:  HODEGERIA (the process of creating an icon, Prosopon School of Iconology) and Vladimir Grygorenko – Orthodox Iconography.



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