Monday, January 25, 2010

Orthodox World - Russia (Россия)

Eastern Orthodox World

Understanding Orthodoxy (excerpts from

1. The Church Building

External Arrangement

Orthodox churches generally take one of several shapes that have a particular mystical significance. The most common shape is an oblong or rectangular shape, imitating the form of a ship. As a ship, under the guidance of a master helmsman conveys men through the stormy seas to a calm harbor, so the Church, guided by Christ, carries men unharmed across the stormy seas of sin and strife to the peaceful haven of the Kingdom of Heaven. (read post)

Internal Arrangement

The interior of an Orthodox church is divided into several parts. One enters the church through the Porch where, in ancient times, the keepers (Penitents forbidden to enter the church proper) stood. From the Porch one entered the Vestibule (Narthex; Lity - Greek; Pritvor - Russian), in ancient times a large, spacious place, wherein the Catechumens received instruction while preparing for Baptism, and also where Penitents excluded from Holy Communion stood. (read post)

The Iconostasis

The most prominent feature of an Orthodox church is the Iconostasis, consisting of one or more rows of Icons and broken by a set of doors in the center (the Holy Doors) and a door at each side (the Deacon's Doors), In ancient times, the Iconostasis was probably a screen placed at the extreme Eastern end of the church (a tradition still preserved by Russian Old-Believers), but quite early it was moved out from the wall as a sort of barrier between the Nave and the Altar, with the opening and closing of curtains making the Altar both visible and inaccessible. (read post)

The Altar and Its Furnishings

The Altar which lies beyond the Iconostasis, is set aside for those who perform the Divine services, and normally persons not consecrated to the service of the Church are not permitted to enter. Occupying the central place in the Altar is the Holy Table (Russian - Prestol), which represents the Throne of God, with the Lord Himself invisibly present there. (read post)

The Bells

A striking component of Orthodox worship is the ringing of bells. Every daily cycle of public divine services starts with the ringing of bells and no one who has witnessed the procession around the church at Holy Pascha can forget the almost continuous ringing of all the church bells. (read post)

Candles and Their Symbolism

Lit candles and Icon lamps (lampadas) have a special symbolic meaning in the Christian Church, and no Christian service can be held without them. In the Old Testament, when the first temple of God was built on earth - the Tabernacle - services were held in it with lamps as the Lord Himself had ordained (Ex. 40:5, 25). Following the example of the Old Testament Church, the lighting of candles and of lampadas was without fail included in the New Testament Church's services. (read post)

2. The Icons

An Icon as an Image

Icons cannot be referred to as works of art using the common meaning of the word. Icons are not paintings. Artists use lines and colour to represent people and events belonging to material life. Since the Renaissance, life and nature have been depicted in paintings by reproducing three-dimensional space on a plane; people, animals, landscapes and things. (read post)

Reverse Perspective

Understanding icons may be difficult due to a special way of conveying space and the beings and objects inside it. We look at pictures with the eyes of a European, and what we see in them seems to resemble what we see around. 'Verisimilitude' in European painting is achieved by using linear perspective. (read post)

Time in Icon

To be able to understand icons it is necessary to know how people of the Middle Ages perceived and understood the concept of time. The difference between the concept of time in Western Europe and that in Byzantium was formed in the Renaissance period, when Europe, unlike Byzantium, acquired the new attitudes and outlook towards the world. (read post)

Light in Icon

If we speak about icons it is necessary to mention "the lightful Grace of Christ". An orthodox doctrine - isichasm - found expression in icon-painting. God is unknowable in His essence but He shows Himself through His Grace - the divine energy is effused by Him into the world. According to St. Gregory Palama (1296-1359) Jesus Christ is the Light, and his teaching is the enlightenment of people. (read post)

Symbolism of Colors in Icon

An introductory discussion on the symbolism of colors in icons Byzantines considered that the meaning of art is beauty. They painted icons that shined with metallic gold and bright colors. In their art each color had its place and value. Colors - whether bright or dark - were never mixed but always used pure. In Byzantium, color was considered to have the same substance as words, indeed each color had its own value and meaning.  (read post)

How Were the Icons Painted

Icon-painting in Old Russia was a sacred profession. On the one hand, conforming to the canon impoverished the creative process since the iconography of an image was strictly prescribed. But on the other hand it forced a painter to focus all his skill on the essence of his painting. Traditions affected not only iconography but also materials, on which icons were painted, priming substances, methods of preparing surfaces for painting, dye making techniques, and painting sequence. (read post)

Rediscovery of Icon in the XX c.

The Life of an icon was no longer than a hundred years. Then the image on it grew dark because drying oil changed its colour, and it got covered with soot from the candles. Therefore, the image was renovated: New ones were applied upon hardly visible outlines. In the XX century, when restoration techniques became more perfect, suddenly bright, pure colours showed through under the old layer of drying oil. (read post)


The iconostasis is quite a solid screen stretching from the northern to the southern wall of a church, whereon icons are arranged in a predefined order. This screen divides the Altar from the church's middle part. There are three doors in the iconostasis. The central doors are called the Holy Doors. And a man who is not in a Holy order is not permitted to enter them. (read post)

Icons of Theotokos

There is no other subject in Christian iconography, exclusive of the Savior, that has been painted so often and with so much love, as the image of the Most Holy Theotokos. Iconographers of all times tried to impart to the face of Theotokos as much beauty, gentleness, dignity and grandeur as they could imagine. Russian icons always show the Mother of God grieving. (read post)

Further reading:

3. Great Feasts

4. The Holy Sacraments

5. Orthodox Worship

6. History of the Church

7. Monkhood

8. Russian Saints

9. Saints and Martyrs of XX c.

10. Orthodox Church Today

11. The Miraculous Icons

12. Liturgical Music


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