Posts Tagged ‘Icons’

Spiritual Icons

In 14 Book Corner on 2011/12/16 at 9:46 AM

The early Christians understood and demonstrated what Pope Benedict speaks of…. The Holy Spirit and the Church.

“God did not create the person so that he might be dissolved but so that he might open himself in his entire height and in his innermost depth-therefore, where the Holy Spirit embraces him and is the unity of divided persons.

“The Church is the icon of the Father, the image of God, and at the same time the image of man, so the Church is the image of the Holy Spirit. From here we can understand what the Church actually is in the deepest part of her nature: namely, the overcoming of the boundary between I and Thou, the union of men among themselves through the radical transcendence of self into eternal love. Church is mankind being brought into a way of life of the Trinitarian God.  For this reason she is not something that belongs to a group or a circle of friends.  For this reason she cannot become a national Church or be identifies with a race or a class.  She must, if this is true, be catholic in order ‘to gather into one the children of God, who are scattered abroad.  (John 11:52)

The Church does not being, therefore, as a club; rather, she begins catholic….The universal Church is not a federation of local churches but rather their mother.”

Pope Benedict XVI, IMAGES OF HOPE.  Ignatius pp.68-69.


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.


Iconography: Part II – Byzantine

In 13 History on 2011/11/11 at 12:18 PM


Byzantine Iconography

Colors play a very important role in Byzantine iconography.  The choice of color has a certain symbolism.  Gold is reserved for Christ and symbolizes divinity.  In addition blue, red and green are also reserved for Christ and Virgin Mary.  Christ’s inner garment is red and symbolizes His true divinity; His outer garments are blue and symbolize the true humanity He took on.  The stars on the Virgin’s veil represent her purity and goodness.  The colors of white, gray, blue, green, and light shades of red are used for other holy persons.

On the icons, the eyes are large and wide because they have seen great things beyond the material world.  The forehead is often large and high, expressing spiritual wisdom.  The ears are large to listen the words of God.  The nose is drawn long and thin.  The gentle lips indicate that the saint obeyed God, and also that he needed only a small amount of food to survive.  In Orthodox iconography, the halo symbolizes the holiness of the person.

In the creation of an icon, quality wood is chosen, sanded and coated with a linen fabric.  It is then dipped in lukewarm rabbit skin glue to prevent the painted surface from cracking.  After applying five layers of chalk mixed with rabbit glue, the board is sanded and is ready to be painted.

Then, follows the transfer of the sketch of the saint or scene.  Several coats of shellac are then applied, followed by a special glue used for oil gilding.  After many hours, the gold leaf is applied.  This is a delicate procedure that demands great experience.  Egg tempera is the basic medium in icon painting.  Egg yolk diluted with water  and mixed with natural pigments create the paint used in successive layers of color so as to create translucent subtle gradations from dark to light.

Byzantine iconography is the oldest and only Christian art form which has continued unchanged for the past 2000 years.  The term icon itself simply means image.  The Eastern Orthodox believe that the first icons of Christ and the Virgin Mary were painted by St. Luke the Evangelist.   St. Luke is the Patron Saint of iconographers.

Iconography is considered to have begun the day our Lord Jesus Christ pressed a cloth to His face and imprinted His divine-human image thereon.  According to Tradition, Luke the Evangelist painted the image of the Mother of God; and, also according to tradition, there still exist today many Icons which were painted by him.  An artist, he painted not only the first Icons of the Mother of God, but also those of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, as well as possibly, others.

Iconography did not develop further during the time of the Roman persecutions, but Christians did attempt to express in symbols what they wished to convey.  Christ was portrayed as the Good Shepherd and in the guise of various personalities from pagan mythology.  Then, when Constantine became emperor, Christians were free to express themselves.  As Christianity quickly transformed the Roman Empire and replaced paganism, iconography flourished with full force. Directives concerning Iconography were recorded in the first ecumenical councils.

All genuine icons are replete with symbolism which conveys information about the person or event depicted.  Icons are formulaic in character because they must follow a prescribed methodology indicating how a particular person should be depicted, including hair style, body position, clothing and background details.

Christ founded His Church in order to inspire, to transfigure the world and to cleanse it from sin . . . in other words to redeem it.  While Christianity was founded on earth and operates there, it reaches to Heaven.  Christianity is that bridge and ladder whereby men ascend from the earthly Church to the Heavenly Church.

A simple representation which recalls the earthly characteristics of some human face is not considered an icon.  The value of an Icon lies, rather, in the fact that, when we approach it, we want to pray before it with reverence. If the image elicits this feeling, it is an icon. An icon must indeed depict that which we see with our eyes, preserving the characteristics of the body’s form, for in this world the soul acts through the body.  At the same time, the Icon must point towards the inner, spiritual essence.

In depicting saints, the task of the Iconographer is precisely to render, as far as possible, those spiritual qualities whereby the person depicted acquired the Kingdom of Heaven, won an imperishable crown and obtained the salvation of his soul.  As a daily guide, the icons, in calling to mind the saints and their struggles, depict the inner spiritual struggle of the saint;  portraying how that saint attained the heavenly goal.

Icons should depict that transcendent sanctity which permeated the saints.  All saints should be depicted so as to convey their individual characteristics as much as possible.  Just as soldiers should be portrayed as arrayed for battle, so holy hierarchs should be portrayed in their episcopal vestments.

Icons of Jesus Christ must depict the union of all that is human and all that is divine.  The Savior must be revealed so that we sense He is a man, a real man, yet at the same time something more exalted than a man.  This means that we do not simply approach Him as we approach an ordinary human.  Rather, we should feel that He is One who is close to us, our Savior both merciful and just, who desires us to follow Him and who wishes to lead us to the Kingdom of Heaven.

In the Painter’s Manual, preserved in Mount Athos in Greece, the Icon master advises the one who aspires to become an icon painter to pray before the icon of Christ and that of the Mother of God because the art of painting comes from God.


Iconography: Part III – Russian

In 13 History on 2011/11/11 at 12:16 PM

Theotokos (using nielo technique: gold & silver casing)

Russian Iconography
The Venerable Alypius of the Kiev Caves painted a number of icons of the Mother of God, some of which still survive.  These wondrous icons followed the Byzantine tradition in Iconography which inspires sorrow for sin and evokes a desire to pray before such Icons.

The holy hierarch Peter, who later became Metropolitan of Kiev and All Russia, painted icons, some of which were until recently found in the Cathedral of the Dormition in Moscow.  The holy hierarch, Alexis, established a school of iconography in Novgorod; many of those icons have been preserved.

Unfortunately, the Orthodox movement of iconography started to collapse when Russia began to be infiltrated by Western influence.  Not all that was Western was good for Russia; the West also wrought horrible moral damage at that time, for the Russians began to accept, along with useful knowledge, much of what was alien to the Orthodox way of life, to the Orthodox faith.  The educated portion of society soon separated itself from the life of the ordinary people and from the Orthodox Church, which all was regulated by ecclesiastical norms.

Images of the Western type began to appear which, although artistically beautiful, were completely lacking in sanctity and devoid of spirituality.  Those were not Icons.  They were distortions of icons, exhibiting a lack of comprehension of what an icon actually is supposed to be.

If you are not familiar with icons, visit the church of the Holy Trinity  on East Boulevard or St. Nektarios  on Kuykendall Road.  In both churches see icons in an actual church setting.  It will be a most rewarding experience.