Iconography and Hand painted icons

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The Beauty… Fr.Alexander Schmemann

Mother of God Life-giving Spring,Ζωοδόχος ΠηγήBeauty is never “necessary,” “functional” or “useful.”  And when, expecting someone who we love, we put a beautiful tablecloth on the table and decorate it with candles and flowers, we do all this not out of necessity, but out of love.  And the Church is love, expectation and joy.  It is heaven on earth, according to our Orthodox tradition; it is the joy of recovered childhood, that free, unconditioned and disinterested joy which alone is capable of transforming the world.  In our adult, serious piety we ask for definitions and justifications, and they are rooted in fear – fear of corruption, deviation, “pagan influences,” whatnot.  But “he that feareth is not made perfect in love” (1 Jn. 4:18).  As long as Christians will love the Kingdom of God, and not only discuss it, they will “represent” it and signify it, in art and beauty.  And the celebrant of the sacrament of joy will appear in a beautiful chasuble, because he is vested in the glory of the Kingdom, because even in the form of man God appears in glory.  In the Eucharist we are standing in the presence of Christ, and like Moses before God, we are to be covered with his glory.

~ Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, pp. 29-30


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Η ομορφιά …. πατήρ Αλέξανδρος Σμέμαν

Παναγία Ζωοδόχος Πηγή_Mother of God Life-giving Spring_2876867Η ομορφιά δεν είναι ποτέ «απαραίτητη», «λειτουργική» ή «χρήσιμη». Και όταν, περιμένοντας κάποιον που αγαπάμε, βάζουμε ένα όμορφο τραπεζομάντιλο στο τραπέζι και το διακοσμούμε με κεριά και λουλούδια, δεν το κάνουμε από ανάγκη, αλλά από αγάπη. Και η Εκκλησία είναι αγάπη, προσδοκία και χαράΕίναι ο ουρανός επί γηςσύμφωνα με την ορθόδοξη Παράδοσή μας. Είναι η χαρά της ανακτημένης παιδικότητας, εκείνη η ελεύθερη, η άνευ όρων και ανιδιοτελής χαρά, που από μόνη της είναι ικανή να μεταμορφώσει τον κόσμο. Στην ώριμη, σοβαρή μας ευσέβεια, ζητάμε ορισμούς και δικαιώσεις που ριζώνουν στον φόβο. Φόβος για διαφθορά, απόκλιση, «ειδωλολατρικές επιρροές», και τα τοιαύτα. Αλλά «ο φοβούμενος ου τετελείωται εν τη αγάπη» (Α΄ Ιωάν. 4,18). Όσο οι χριστιανοί θα αγαπούν τη Βασιλεία του Θεού, και δεν θα τη συζητούν μόνο, θα την «εκπροσωπούν» και θα την κάνουν γνωστή με την τέχνη και την ομορφιά. Και ο ιερουργός του μυστηρίου της χαράς θα εμφανιστεί με ένα όμορφο φελόνιο, ενδύεται τη δόξα της Βασιλείας, επειδή ακόμη και με τη μορφή του ανθρώπου ο Θεός εμφανίζεται εν δόξη. Στο μυστήριο της Ευχαριστίας είναι παρών ο Χριστός και όπως συνέβη με τον Μωυσή μπροστά στον Θεό, μας επικαλύπτει η δόξα Του. […]

πατήρ Αλέξανδρος Σμέμαν
(Alexander Schmemann, Για να Ζήσει ο Κόσμος, Εκδόσεις «Δόμος», Αθήνα)

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On Prayer , Elder Sophrony Sakharov of Essex

Σωφρόνιος του Έσσεξ_Elder Sophrony of Essex_მამა სოფრონი_ Старец Софроний (Сахаров) Эссекс_23333772Of all approaches to God prayer is the best and in the last analysis the only means. In the act of prayer the human mind finds its noblest expression.

The mental state of the scientist engaged in research, of the artist creating a work of art, of the thinker wrapped up in philosophy- even of professional  theologians propounding their doctrines- cannot be compared to that of the man of prayer brought face to Face with the living God. Each and every kind of mental activity presents less of a strain than prayer. We may be capable of working for ten or twelve hours on end but a few moments of prayer and we are exhausted.

Real prayer, of course, does not come readily. It is no simple matter to preserve inspiration while surrounded by the icy waters of the world that does not pray. Christ cast the Divine Fire on earth, and we pray Him so to fire our hearts that we may not be overcome even by cosmic cold, that no black cloud blot out the bright flame.

St Gregory of Sinai say that prayer is God Himself acting in us. ‘Do Thou Thyself pray in me,’ was the constant appeal of Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow in the last century.

St Paul say: ‘And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father’ (Gal. 4,6).

Archimandrite Sophrony Sakharov. His Life is Mine.

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Περί Προσευχής, Γέροντος Σωφρονίου Σαχάρωφ

Γέροντος Σωφρονίου του Έσσεξ

ΣΟΦΡΩΝΙΟΣ ΕΣΣΕΞ sofronios-2Απ’ όλα τα πλησιάσματα προς το Θεό το καλύτερο είναι η προσευχή, που σε τελευταία ανάλυση είναι το μόνο μέσον. Στην πράξη της προσευχής η ανθρώπινη διάνοια βρίσκει την ευγενέστερη έκφρασή της. Η πνευματική κατάσταση του επιστήμονα που ερευνά, του καλλιτέχνη που δημιουργεί έργα τέχνης, του διανοητή που φιλοσοφεί, ακόμα και του επαγγελματία θεολόγου που προβάλλει τις θεωρίες του, όλ’ αυτά δεν μπορούν να συγκριθούν  με τα πνευματικά βιώματα ενός ανθρώπου της προσευχής που έρχεται πρόσωπο με Πρόσωπο με τον ζωντανό Θεό. Κάθε άνθρωπος και κάθε είδους πνευματική δραστηριότητα παρουσιάζει λιγότερη δύναμη από την προσευχή. Μπορούμε να εργαστούμε δέκα ή δώδεκα ώρες συνέχεια, αλλά λίγες στιγμές προσευχής είναι εξαντλητικές.

Η πραγματική προσευχή βέβαια δεν έρχεται αμέσως. Δεν είναι εύκολη υπόθεση να διατηρούμε την έμπνευση ενώ είμαστε περικυκλωμένοι από τα παγωμένα νερά του κόσμου, ο οποίος δεν προσεύχεται. Ο Χριστός έρριξε τη θεία φλόγα στη γη, και προσευχόμαστε σ’ αυτόν να φλογίσει τις ψυχές μας να μην υπερνικηθούμε από το κοσμικό ψύχος και να μην επισκιάσει κανένα μαύρο σύννεφο αυτήν την λαμπρή φλόγα.

Ο Άγιος Γρηγόριος ο Σιναΐτης  λέγει ότι η προσευχή είναι ο ίδιος ο Θεός που ενεργεί μέσα μας. «Συ ο Ίδιος προσεύχου εντός μου» ήταν η συνεχής αίτηση του Φιλαρέτου, Μητροπολίτου Μόσχας τον περασμένο αιώνα.

Απ. Παύλου  λέγει: «Ότι δε εστε υιοί, εξαπέστειλεν ο Θεός το Πνεύμα του Υιού αυτού εις τας καρδίας υμών κράζον· αββά ο Πατήρ» (Γαλ. 4,6).

Αρχιμανδρίτου Σωφρονίου Σαχάρωφ, Η ζωή Του ζωή μου.

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Άγιος Σιλουανός ο Αθωνίτης, Το Άγιο Πνεύμα ενώνει τους πάντες.

 Άγιος Σιλουανός ο Αθωνίτης

Σιλουανός ο Αγιορείτης_st.Silouan the Athonite_прп. Силуан Афонский-im335108._prp._siluan_afonskiy._30h40Στούς οὐρανούς τά πάντα ζοῦν καί κινοῦνται ἀπό τό Ἅγιο Πνεῦμα. Ἀλλά καί στή γῆ εἶναι τό ἴδιο Ἅγιο Πνεῦμα. Αὐτό ζῆ στήν Ἐκκλησία μας, Αὐτό ἐνεργεῖ στά μυστήρια, Αὐτό πνέει στήν Ἁγία Γραφή, Αὐτό ζῆ στίς ψυχές τῶν πιστῶν. Τό Ἅγιο Πνεῦμα ἑνώνει τούς πάντες, καί γι᾽ αὐτό οἱ Ἅγιοι εἶναι κοντά μας. Κι ὅταν προσευχώμαστε σ᾽ αὐτούς, τότε ἀκοῦνε αὐτοί μέ τό Ἅγιο Πνεῦμα τίς προσευχές, κι οἱ ψυχές μας αἰσθάνονται τήν πρεσβεία τους γιά χάρη μας.

Οἱ Ἅγιοι ζοῦν σ᾽ ἄλλο κόσμο κι ἐκεῖ βλέπουν μέ τό Ἅγιο Πνεῦμα τήν θεία δόξα καί τήνὀμορφιά τοῦ προσώπου τοῦ Κυρίου. Ἀλλά μέ τό ἴδιο Ἅγιο Πνεῦμα βλέπουν καί τή ζωή καί τά ἔργα μας. Γνωρίζουν τίς θλίψεις μας κι ἀκοῦνε τίς θερμές προσευχές μας. Ζώντας στή γῆ διδάχτηκαν τήν ἀγάπη τοῦ Θεοῦ ἀπό τό Ἅγιο Πνεῦμα. Κι ὅποιος ἀπέκτησε στή γῆ τήνἀγάπη διαβαίνει μαζί της στήν αἰώνια ζωή στή Βασιλεία τῶν Οὐρανῶν, ὅπου ἡ ἀγάπη αὐξάνει ὡσότου γίνη τέλεια. Κι ἄν στή γῆ ἡ ἀγάπη δέν μπορῆ νά λησμονήση τόν ἀδελφό, πολύ περισσότερο στούς οὐρανούς οἱ Ἅγιοι δέν μᾶς λησμονοῦν καί δέονται γιά μᾶς.

Οἱ Ἅγιοι περιβάλλουν, μέ τό Ἅγιο Πνεῦμα, μέ τήν ἀγάπη τους ὅλο τό κόσμο. Βλέπουν καί ξέρουν πώς ἀποκάναμε ἀπό τίς θλίψεις, πώς ξεράθηκαν οἱ καρδιές μας, πώς παρέλυσε ἡἀκηδία τίς ψυχές μας, καί γι᾽ αὐτό μεσιτεύουν ἀκατάπαυστα στό Θεό γιά μᾶς.

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On the Saints and Their Intercessions

On the Saints and Their Intercessions

 St Silouan the Athonite:  His memory is celebrated on September 24

In heaven all things live and move in the Holy Spirit. But this same Holy Spirit is on earth too. The Holy Spirit dwells in our Church; in the sacraments; in the Holy Scriptures; in the souls of the faithful. The Holy Spirit unites all men, and so the Saints are close to us; and when we pray to them they hear our prayers in the Holy Spirit, and our souls feel that they are praying for us.

The Saints live in another world, and there through the Holy Spirit they behold the glory of God and the beauty of the Lord’s countenance. But in the same Holy Spirit they see our lives, too, and our deeds. They know our sorrows and hear our ardent prayers. In their lives they learned of the love of God from the Holy Spirit; and he who knows love on earth takes it with him into eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven, where love grows and becomes perfect. And if love makes one unable to forget a brother here, how much more do the Saints remember and pray for us!

The holy Saints have attained the Kingdom of Heaven, and there they look upon the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ; but by the Holy Spirit they see, too, the sufferings of men on earth. The Lord gave them such great grace that they embrace the whole world with their love. They see and know how we languish in affliction, how are hearts have withered within us, how despondency has fettered our souls; and they never cease to intercede for us with God.

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Discourse in Iconography

St. John Maximovitch Discourse in Iconography

by St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco

Iconography began on 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 and, possibly, others which have not come down to us.

Thus did Iconography begin. Then it came to a halt for a time. Christianity was cruelly persecuted: all that was reminiscent of Christ was destroyed and subjected to ridicule. Thus, during the course of the persecutions, Iconography did not develop, but Christians attempted to express in symbols what they wished to convey. Christ was portrayed as the Good Shepherd, and also in the guise of various personalities from pagan mythology. He was also depicted in the form of a vine, an image hearkening back to the Lord’s words: “I am the true Vine…. ye are the branches” (St. John 15:1, 5). It was also accepted practice to depict Christ in the form of a fish, because if one writes in Greek “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior” (Iesous ChristosTheou HiosZoter) and then groups together the first letter of each word, one discovers that one has written the Greek word Ichthys, “fish.” And so, Christians depicted a fish, thereby calling to mind these words which were known to those who believed in the Savior. This also became known to the pagans, and consequently the image of the fish was also held suspect.

When, following the victory of Emperor Constantine the Great over Maxentius, freedom was given to Christians, Christianity quickly transformed the Roman Empire and replaced paganism. Then Iconography flourished with full force. We already see directives concerning Iconography at the first ecumenical councils. In some church hymns, which today are still frequently used, mention is also made of Iconography.

Now what are Icons? Icons are precisely the union between painting and those symbols and works of art which replaced Icons during the time of persecution. The Icon is not simply a representation, a portrait. In later times only has the bodily been represented, but an Icon is still supposed to remind people of the spiritual aspect of the person depicted.

Christianity is the inspiration of the world. Christ founded His Church in order to inspire, to transfigure the world, to cleanse it from sin and bring it to that state in which it will exist in the age to come. Christianity was founded upon the earth and operates upon the earth, but it reaches to Heaven in its structure; Christianity is that bridge and ladder whereby men ascend from the earthly Church to the Heavenly. Therefore, a simple representation which recalls the earthly characteristics of some face is not an Icon. Even an accurate depiction, in the sense of physical build, still signifies nothing. A person may be very beautiful externally, yet at the same time be very evil. On the other hand, he may be ugly, and at the same time a model of righteousness. Thus, we see that 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; yet at the same time it must point towards the inner, spiritual essence. The task of the Iconographer is precisely to render, as far as possible and to as great an extent as possible, those spiritual qualities whereby the person depicted acquired the Kingdom of Heaven, whereby he won an imperishable crown from the Lord, for the Church’s true significance is the salvation of man’s soul. That which is on the earth perishes when we bring the body to the grave; but the soul passes on to another place. When the world comes to an end, consumed by fire, there will be a new earth and a new Heaven, as the Apostle John the Theologian says, for with the eyes of his soul he already foresaw the New Jerusalem, so clearly described in his sacred Revelation. The Lord came to prepare the whole world for this spiritual rebirth. To prepare oneself for this new Kingdom, one must uproot from within oneself those seeds of sin which entered mankind with our ancestors’ fall into sin, distorting our pristine, grace-endowed nature; and one must plant within oneself those virtues which they lost in the fall. The Christian’s goal is to change daily, to improve daily, and it is of this that our Icons speak.

St. John Maximovitch

In calling to mind the saints and their struggles, an Icon does not simply represent the saint as he appeared upon the earth. No, the Icon depicts his inner spiritual struggle; it portrays how he attained to that state where he is now considered an angel on earth, a heavenly man. This is precisely the manner in which the Mother of God and Jesus Christ are portrayed. Icons should depict that transcendent sanctity which permeated the saints. The Lord Jesus Christ is the union of all that is human and all that is divine; and when depicted in an Icon, the Savior must be painted so that we sense that He is a man, a real man, yet at the same time something more exalted than a man, that we not simply approach Him as we app. roach a visitor or an acquaintance. No, we should feel that He is One Who is close to us, our Lord Who is merciful to us, and at the same time an awe-inspiring Judge Who wants us to follow Him and wishes to lead us to the Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, we must not turn away to one side or the other. We should not depict only the spiritual aspect of the saint, completely disregarding how he looked while alive on earth. This would also be an extreme. All saints should be depicted so as to convey their individual characteristics as much as possible-soldiers should be portrayed arrayed for battle; holy hierarchs in their episcopal vestments… It is incorrect to depict bishops of the first centuries vested in the sakkos, for at that time bishops wore the phelonion, not the sakkas, and yet this is not such a great error, for it is far better to make a mistake in what is physical than in what is spiritual, to ignore, as it were, the spiritual aspect.

However, it is far worse when everything is correct in the physical, bodily sense, but the saint appears as an ordinary man, as if he had been photographed, completely devoid of the spiritual. When this is the case, the depiction cannot be considered an Icon. Sometimes much attention is spent on making the Icon beautiful. If this is not detrimental to the spirituality of the Icon, it is good, but if the beauty distracts our vision to such an extent that we forget what is most important—that one must save one’s soul, must raise one’s soul to the heights of Heaven,—the beauty of the depiction is already detrimental. It cannot be considered an Icon, but merely a painting. It may be very beautiful, but it is not an Icon. An Icon is an image which leads us to a holy, God-pleasing person, or raises us up to Heaven, or evokes a feeling of repentance, of compunction, of prayer, a feeling that one must bow down before this image. The value of an Icon lies 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.

This is what our Iconographers were zealous about—those ancient Iconographers of the time before the conversion of Russia, of whom there were many, and our Russian Iconographers, too, beginning with the Venerable Alypius of the Kiev Caves, who painted a number of Icons of the Mother of God, some of which still survive. These wondrous Icons, which continued the Byzantine tradition of the painting of Icons which inspire compunction, were not necessarily painted in dark colors; frequently they were done in bright hues; but these colors evoked a desire to pray before such Icons. The holy hierarch Peter, a native of Galicia who later became Metropolitan of Kiev and All Russia, painted Icons, some of which were until recently to be found in the Cathedral of the Dormition in Moscow. An entire school of Iconography was established in Novgorod under the direction of the holy hierarch Alexis of Novgorod, a whole series of whose Icons have been preserved. The Venerable Andrew Rublev painted an Icon of the Holy Trinity which is now famous not only in the Christian world, but throughout the half-Christian world as well.

Unfortunately, this Orthodox movement as a whole started to collapse when Russia began to be infiltrated by Western influence. In certain respects, Russia’s acquaintance with the European West was very beneficial. Many technical sciences and much other useful knowledge came from the West. We know that Christianity has never had any aversion to knowledge of that which originates outside itself. Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom studied in pagan universities, and many writers, among whom were our spiritual authors and many of the best theologians, were well acquainted with pagan writers. The Apostle Paul himself cited quotations from pagan poets even in the Holy Scriptures. Nevertheless, not all that was Western was good for Russia. It also wrought horrible moral damage at that time, for the Russians began to accept, along with useful knowledge, that which was alien to our Orthodox way of life, to our Orthodox faith. The educated portion of society soon sundered themselves from the life of the people and from the Orthodox Church, in which all was regulated by ecclesiastical norms. Later, alien influence touched Iconography as well. Images of the Western type began to appear, perhaps beautiful from an artistic point of view, but completely lacking in sanctity, beautiful in the sense of earthly beauty, but even scandalous at times, and devoid of spirituality. Such were not Icons. They were distortions of Icons, exhibiting a lack of comprehension of what an Icon actually is.


The purpose of this article is, first of all, to promote an understanding of the true Icon, and secondly, to cultivate a love for the Icon and the desire that our churches and our homes be adorned with genuine Icons and not with Western paintings which tell us nothing about righteousness or sanctity, but are merely pleasant to look upon. Of course, there are Icons painted correctly in the Iconographic sense, but yet very crudely executed. One can paint quite correctly in the theoretical sense and at the same time quite poorly from a practical standpoint. This does not mean that, from the principle of Iconography itself, these Icons are bad. On the other hand, it happens that one can paint beautifully, yet completely ignore the rules of Iconography. Both such approaches are harmful. One must strive to paint Icons well in principle, method and execution. This is why we oppose certain people and their attempts to paint our churches, for they have the wrong approach, the wrong point of view. They may paint well, perhaps; but when the point of view is incorrect, when the direction is wrong, no matter how well the locomotive runs, it nonetheless slips off the track and is derailed. This is precisely what happens to those who execute their work technically and correctly, yet due to an incorrect approach and an incorrect point of view, they travel the wrong path.

From Orthodox Life, Vol. 30, No. 1 (Jan-Feb 1980), pp. 42-45.

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Ἀπόστολε Ἅγιε, καὶ Εὐαγγελιστὰ Λουκᾶ…

46898Ἦχος γ’.
Ἀπόστολε Ἅγιε, καὶ Εὐαγγελιστὰ Λουκᾶ, πρέσβευε τῷ ἐλεήμονι Θεῷ, ἵνα πταισμάτων ἄφεσιν, παράσχῃ ταῖς ψυχαῖς ἡμῶν.

Ἦχος δ’. Ταχὺ προκατάλαβε.
Ἀκέστωρ σοφώτατος, Ἱερομύστα Λουκᾶ, ζωγράφος πανάριστος, τῆς Θεοτόκου Μητρός, ἐδείχθης Ἀπόστολε, ἔγραψας μάκαρ, λόγους, διὰ πνεύματος θείου, ἔδωκας ἐννοῆσαι, συγκατάβασιν ἄκραν, Χριστοῦ τῆς παρουσίας, διὸ πρέσβευε σωθήναι ἠμᾶς.