In Hebrew, the language of the Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament, the notion of goodness is identical with the notion of beauty. On the first pages of the Bible we read that God at creation of the world "saw that it (the creation) was good". However, we could also say: "He saw that it was beautiful." In the Bible and in the Church we learn that moral goodness in fact is moral beauty. The New Testament should be read with the idea of inseparability of goodness and beauty as well. The Savior said about himself that he was a good Shepherd. So we could also say - a beautiful Shepherd.
The Church of Khristos helps us fully live the union of goodness and beauty. Church choirs and architecture reflect beauty. In temples we are surrounded by holy icons which evoke our desire to live the way that those pictured in icons lived in the truth and beauty. Thus Orthodox icons help us unite with God, help us improve our content of the spiritual truth and goodness, they silence body, and mind is being carried towards majestic eternity. Icons help us become what we have to be according to the pre-eternal "plan" which was pictured by God himself about every human. The plan is: "that all should find salvation and come to know the truth." (1 Tm 2,4). The prototype was drawn by God who pictured every personality in himself. It contains spiritual beauty and boundless moral perfection of goodness. The Church offers us this "prednachertannyi" (outlined in advance) prototype in icons.
St. Simeon Stolpnik.
And so icon presents a new human - without sins, changed by God's mercy of love, forgiveness, and metamorphosis. Icon does not portray earthly beauty, which is physical, as portraits or sculptures do. Icon does not express the physical but the spiritual. This spiritual beauty is specially well evident in the icons of the God's Mother with Khristos - Child in her arms. In traditional icon of the God's Mother there is reflected her heavenly beauty which raises her incomparably above cherubim and seraphim. Simultaneously, this icon expresses boundless goodness of love which was given to people in personification of the Savior.
Icon neither pictures, nor expresses abstract functions or abstract ideas. There exists a link between icon and the subject painted in it. Icon reflects a historical subject and depicts it in its own - iconic way. Nevertheless, icon is never a mere photograph but an inspired expression of a person in whom we recognize his/her spiritual abilities and analogy with God.
Icon of (from left):
Fotina, Kiriaki, Ekaterina, Varvara,
Fekla, Paraskeva, Maria Egiptska
Pelagia, Anastazia, Anastazia
Icon in its beauty is not isolated. It is a part of religious service. It is impossible to perceive fully its content in a museum. Icon belongs to the redemptory mission of the Church in which we in prayers enter in space and time, that are sacred, the sphere of the past. St. John of Damascus said that an iconograph painting (more correct word is "writing") an icon reminds of a priest. Icon expresses a certain historical personality. Kissing icon, our love turns to the prototypes pictured in it.
Icons of (from left):
Ludmila, Olga, Helena,
Konstantin, Vladimir, Vatslav
Icons of (from left):
Orthodox icon does not show a body which will pass away but a body of a saint which is changed, enlightened by the God's mercy, a body in the perspective of resurrection, a body designed for eternal life. For this reason in the Orthodox Church we do not acknowledge such cult in which human being is worshipped in itself. Also, we do not worship individual parts, e.g. heart, but a whole being. For Orthodox believers Khristos' human body is inseparably connected through the divine light with the divine glory, it is always changed. Orthodox icon pictures only a body freed from sins. This is the beauty about which the saint apostle Peter says: "Your beauty should lie, not in outward adornment - braiding the hair, wearing gold ornaments, or dressing up in fine clothes - but in the inmost self, with its imperishable quality of a gentle, quiet spirit, which is of high value in the sight of God." (1 Pt 3, 3-4). Aesthetic aspects are not crucial in Orthodox icon, nor the search for external beauty, nor reflecting of objects and moods, but the beauty which encourages and preserves faith, love, peace, and inner harmony. This is a message of the Gospel. Further on we must remember that Orthodox icon is a visible expression of dogma ,i.e. of the belief in metamorphosis of the whole universe.
Maxim Sandovich, Peter Atensky, Nikolai Planasky,
Tikhon Moskovsky, Kesnia Peterburska
The Orthodox Church does not acknowledge and has no sculptures. The reason is not that it rejects this kind of art but that in sculptures the earthly beauty, earthly efforts and functions of body are strongly emphasized. Pictures of Western Renaissance painters and their sculptures accentuate the physical beauty of a human in the first place, as Greeks in their pagan, pre-Christian art did. Sculpture is a three-dimensional model, it is bound to the earth, to matter. Observer is not able to enter a spiritual dialogue with a sculpture because it communicates nothing more elevated, nothing higher than the things visible. And on the contrary, Orthodox icon with golden light around the metamorphosed
saint's face invites observer to the spiritual ascend towards the divine mercy. Some of you may be familiar with the life of St. Bernadette, the Western Church saint, who had a vision of the Virgin Mary in Lourdes (France). When they asked a sculptor to create a sculpture of the Virgin according to St. Bernadette's words, the saint did not accept any variant as a true expression of her vision. "My Mistress was much more beautiful", she said. This is because sculpture even if it is aesthetically impressive - misses a perfect expression of spirituality.
Orthodox icon is not, as some might suppose, an ordinary picture or illustration of the Bible. We recognize many various adaptations of Biblical stories. But it is evident how far the illustrations are from the spiritual impact of a plain Orthodox icon of the Savior or of the God's Mother and the saint Apostles.
top row (from left): Resurrection of Lazarus, Jesus enters Jerusalem, Jesus in Getsemana, Crucifixion of Jesus Christ
middle: saints Feodulos, Leintios, Minas, Vakkhus, Serhiy
bottom row: saints Georgiy Pobidonosets (St. George), Dymitriy Myrotochivy, Feodor Tiron, Feodor Stratilat, Nikita
It is so because both the Holy Scriptures and icon are of divine nature, they are sacred and were created in the holy service in the Church, in the evidence of spiritual experience, in the life of prayer which unites a human with the living God. They are filled with and sanctified by prayers of the Church which stood at their creation , and which repeats itself before them, which plunges them into spiritual atmosphere and into the reality of the Holy Spirit dwelling eternally in the Church. Icons represent the substantial part of holy services. St. Basil the Great claimed that what language said to ears, icon said to eyes. Icon unvails the truth which is hidden in it. Who has eyes to see spiritually, that can see - as in a mirror - the eternity of a new heaven and of a new earth which will come.
Thus the 7th General Council in 787 acknowledged the highest significance in the Church of the icon of Khristos the Savior, and of the icons of all saints of the God's Mother in the first place. Icon should not be missing at a dignified place in any Orthodox family, for a family is a small Church in itself. Life of a family should run under the sanctifying light of icon which brings beauty and the goodness of God's presence into our family lives.
Choir from the Cathedral in Presov
Page prepared by Walter Maksimovich
Copyright © 1999 LV Productions
© LV Productions Originally Composed: July 3rd, 1998
Date last modified: July 10th, 1999.