THE ICONOGRAPHIC CANON OF ORTHODOX CHURCHES:
HISTORY, EVOLUTION, SYMBOLISM
For Orthodox churches, iconography represents the way in which believers are helped to fulfil the purpose for which they were created, that is, the attainment of perfection in the mystical union with God through prayer and the grace of the Holy Mysteries. The painting of Orthodox churches is, in fact, a kind of theology painted in images. The paintings are not a simple means of decorating the place of worship, so as to delight the eye and satisfy the aesthetic sense of the viewers, but, furthermore, they give voice to the monuments. The painted icon has a special significance. It presents to us not the habitual face of man, rotten and mortal, but the glorious and eternal face. It is not the earthly body, but the transfigured, pnevmatized body that it depicts. This is the body that is permeated by the uncreated divine energies of the Holy Spirit, the new body after the resurrection.
Contingency is not part of the Orthodox churches' painting plan, but, instead, rule and orderliness hold a place of honour. Depending on the inner and outer chambers of the churches, there is an iconographic system, program or pattern that shows the church painters which faces or scenes can be painted in each of these chambers. This system or program was not fixed and uniform but formed gradually, it varied by epoch and region, according to the evolution of religious architecture, depending on the variety of architectural types, the dimensions of the churches and the surface to be painted. The iconography of the Orthodox churches aims to integrate everything into the liturgical mystery so that, besides the sacred ministries, it all forms an expectation of the Holy Mysteries.
Keywords: iconography, ecclesiastical architecture, icon, altar, nave, pronaos.
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