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Church Art

The Ortho­dox Church has a rich tra­di­tion of iconog­ra­phy as well as oth­er church arts: music, archi­tec­ture, sculp­ture, needle­work, poet­ry, etc. This artis­tic tra­di­tion is based on the Ortho­dox Chris­t­ian doc­trine of human cre­ativ­i­ty root­ed in God’s love for man and the world in creation.

Because man is cre­at­ed in the image and like­ness of God, and because God so loved man and the world as to cre­ate, save and glo­ri­fy them by His own com­ing in Christ and the Holy Spir­it, the artis­tic expres­sions of man and the bless­ings and inspi­ra­tions of God merge into a holy artis­tic cre­ativ­i­ty which tru­ly express­es the deep­est truths of the Chris­t­ian vision of God, man, and nature.

The icon is Orthodoxy’s high­est artis­tic achieve­ment. It is a gospel procla­ma­tion, a doc­tri­nal teach­ing and a spir­i­tu­al inspi­ra­tion in col­ors and lines.

The tra­di­tion­al Ortho­dox icon is not a holy pic­ture. It is not a pic­to­r­i­al por­tray­al of some Chris­t­ian saint or event in a “pho­to­copy” way. It is, on the con­trary, the expres­sion of the eter­nal and divine real­i­ty, sig­nif­i­cance, and pur­pose of the giv­en per­son or event depict­ed. In the gra­cious free­dom of the divine inspi­ra­tion, the icon depicts its sub­ject as at the same time both human and yet “full of God,” earth­ly and yet heav­en­ly, phys­i­cal and yet spir­i­tu­al, “bear­ing the cross” and yet full of grace, light, peace and joy.

In this way the icon express­es a deep­er “real­ism” than that which would be shown in the sim­ple repro­duc­tion of the phys­i­cal exter­nals of the his­toric per­son or hap­pen­ing. Thus, in their own unique way the var­i­ous types of Ortho­dox icons, through their form and style and man­ner of depic­tion as well as through their actu­al con­tents and use in the Church, are an inex­haustible source of rev­e­la­tion of the Ortho­dox doc­trine and faith.

Musi­cal expres­sion may be added to the icon as a source of dis­cov­er­ing the Ortho­dox Chris­t­ian world­view. Here, how­ev­er, there is greater dif­fi­cul­ty because of the loss in recent years of the litur­gi­cal and spir­i­tu­al mean­ing of music in the Church. Just as the the­o­log­i­cal mean­ing of the tra­di­tion­al Ortho­dox icon is being redis­cov­ered, so is the tra­di­tion­al doc­tri­nal sig­nif­i­cance of Ortho­dox music. The process in the lat­ter case, how­ev­er, is much slow­er, much more dif­fi­cult, and much less evi­dent to the aver­age person.

The tra­di­tion­al Ortho­dox archi­tec­ture also express­es the doc­trine of the Church, par­tic­u­lar­ly in its empha­sis on “God with us” and the com­plete com­mu­nion of men and the world with God in Christ. The use of domed ceil­ings, the shape and lay­out of the build­ings, the plac­ing of the icons, the use of vest­ments, etc., all express the teach­ings of the Church. The tra­di­tion­al Ortho­dox church archi­tec­ture and art work are expres­sions of the Ortho­dox Chris­t­ian doc­trines of cre­ation, sal­va­tion and eter­nal life.

It is a very impor­tant spir­i­tu­al exer­cise for Chris­tians to study the holy icons and the hymns of the Church’s litur­gy. One can learn much about God and His gra­cious actions among men by a care­ful and prayer­ful con­tem­pla­tion of the artis­tic expres­sions of Church doc­trine and life (see Wor­ship).