Death And Orthodox Iconography

1. Introduction

In the Orthodox Church, iconography holds a central and important place, both visually and theologically. Icons are not merely decorations or pictorial teaching aids. They do serve these purposes, but their fundamental reason for being is to bear witness, in an artistic manner, to the Church’s beliefs. They are a reflection of the life in Christ as lived in the Church. We should expect, therefore, to receive from iconography that which is witnessed to and preached by other means, such as Scripture, liturgical texts, dogmatic statements, and the writings of the Fathers.

The subject of death, especially Christian death, is certainly an important one. In some ways, it is the central problem not only of Christian living but also of all human existence. What is death, and why do we die? The Church certainly has answers to these questions which are not isolated. In fact, they touch on the whole structure of Church doctrine. It is only natural, then, to expect to see the Church’s beliefs about death reflected in her iconography. The question is how to “read out” of icons the doctrinal content that has already been “read into” them. The purpose of this paper is to examine the ways death is portrayed in Orthodox iconography. We plan first to deal briefly with the doctrines of death and icons, then generally with death in icons. Then we will move on to the specific ways death is depicted, and finally we will consider the differences between Eastern and Western iconographies of death.

2. The Doctrine of Salvation

Implicit in the word salvation is a notion of what we are saved from. For every salvation, there is a lostness; for every liberty, a slavery. We need to have an idea of what the Church sees as the opposite of salvation, what we are saved from. Without much question, death is the concept and the reality which is identified by the Church as the great enemy, the great destroyer, and it is from the clutches of death that we are to be saved. Death—the inevitability of every person’s dying—is tied up closely with sin. St. Paul states that “the wage paid by sin is death.” (Rm 6:23) Death is seen, then, as the result of something else; it is the result of man’s subjugation to a power that seeks his enslavement and destruction. The opposite of Christian salvation is the enslavement of sin which results in death. Sin itself, however, does not arise outside of man; it is not a power that is imposed on him by an alien master. Ironically, it is man himself who is the author of his own slavery and destruction. By turning away from the author of his being toward himself, man is cut off from the source of his own life, and so he withers and dies.

All creation came into existence out of nothing, absolute non-being. To the degree that we do not rise to and bask in the light of Him who created us, we sink slowly back into that abyss of nothingness out of which we came. Death is a powerful thrust downward into that black pit, leading to decomposition not only of the body but also of the whole man. Man is not to be defined as a soul living in a body, two or more natural substances which happen, for a while, to be joined together so that death is the separation of man from his body. According to this idea, man is essentially identified with a soul. Such a view, however, is not Christian. For Christianity, man is a unitary, though composite, being who is in touch with and allied to many aspects of reality: the physical world through his body, the intellectual world through his mind, the spiritual world through his heart or soul. There is no natural line of demarcation whereby the mind, body, soul, heart, emotions, etc. peel off from each other like layers of an onion. A man is not fully man if deprived of his properties and faculties created by God. Death, in this view, is a radical ripping apart of man’s composite being. It tears apart his being, somewhat like a bee whose insides are pulled out when it stings: in death, man as an entity decomposes. It is only as the Christian man carries within himself the new humanity of Christ that he is given the chance to overcome the present human condition and attain salvation in the midst of this world and beyond it.

It is here that we move from the description of the present, death-bound condition of man to the envisioned salvation. For Orthodox Christianity, the important word in defining salvation is transfiguration, the changing of the conditions by which man lives. This means not only the transformation of man himself, but also the environment in which he lives. The whole of creation needs to be changed and transfigured so as to eliminate the hold sin and death have on the world. We cannot effect this transfiguration by ourselves; we are powerless to change our condition. Therefore, our salvation requires an intervention from outside our world. Christ’s life and work are that intervention. He came into our world, broke the power of sin and death, and made it possible for us to live in a different way than the fallen nature of man requires. By being turned toward the source of our being instead of away from it, we can live rather than die. Christ created a new type of humanity, or more precisely, He restored the old humanity to what it should have been in the first place and brought the potential of the original man to its fulfillment. By uniting ourselves to His new humanity in the Church and by being nourished by His life in the holy mysteries, we can transform and transfigure our present fallen condition so that death will have no final power over us. This re-creation of man and the world in their final state is called the Kingdom of God. By our progressive transfiguration, we participate in the building up of the Kingdom until its final establishment in the new heaven and the new earth where the present conditions of death, sin, and decay will no longer be operative. We will then live the life of intimate communion with God that we were meant to live from the beginning.

One of the key terms used to designate the transfigured world growing now within the Church is the “new Jerusalem.” In his vision recorded in Revelation, St. John the Theologian describes what the Kingdom of God will be like when Christ comes again in glory:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. . . I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, corning down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. . . “Behold the dwelling of God is with men. . . He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. . . He who sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new. . .” (Rv 21:1-5)

Here we see very clearly the idea of the transformation of the old fallen world into the new one of which we have a foretaste in the Church, but which will only come in fulness at the end of time, on the Eighth Day of re-creation.

St. Paul, too, emphasizes this distinction between the old and the new man, life according to the old Adam and life according to the new Adam, who is Christ. In our baptism we die to the old, fallen man, and redo ourselves in Christ. We take on the new life of the Kingdom and live anew in that reality while still in the midst of the old. To quote St. Paul again: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Ga 2:20) So when we die the death of this world, it is the old man that dies. But those who die in Christ have another life within themselves, Christ’s life, His new humanity, and so, though dead, they are alive in Him.

How, then, does iconography relate to this concept of a progressive transfiguration into the new creation? Icons portray the new creation (the new Jerusalem, the Kingdom of God, the new humanity, etc.) in artistic form. This is the primary function of Orthodox iconography, and iconography is true to its purpose only to the degree that it draws us out of this world and its conditions and transports us into the new world which is to come. That is why no attempt is made in icons to reflect the so-called natural world, a world that is precisely not natural because it is fallen. Icons do not depict proportion, depth, three dimensions, etc. because these things are proper to this world and not to the re-creation of the Kingdom. Iconography has its own symbolic language and techniques which have been developed and adapted so as to portray in the most vivid way the transfigured, spiritual world and the men and women who inhabit it. Kalokyris puts the point well:

The faith of the Church in the reality beyond this world, that is, in the truth of the spiritual world, defined from the beginning the essential character of the content of her iconography. She is primarily interested in the beauty of this spiritual world, and with the means which she possesses, the Church seeks to be the interpreter of that world.[1]

From the foregoing, then, how should we expect death to be portrayed in icons? If death is part of this old world which is passing away and if icons show that world which is to come, we can expect that death will not be portrayed in them at all, and this is precisely the point we wish to make: death as a phenomenon is absent from iconography, but at the same time, it is ever-present. As the Reformation only makes sense if contrasted with medieval Catholicism, or the Communist Revolution if contrasted with the Tzarist state, so iconography only makes sense if we assume the presence behind and beneath it of the old world out of which the new creation arises.[2] Death is ever present by its absence, its banishment, since it has been conquered by Christ and eliminated as a power. But because we are now living in the interim before the full establishment of the Kingdom, in the period when the new and old creations still exist together, death is sometimes represented in iconography, but only in a vanquished, powerless, and empty form. It is as though it were making a final appearance in chains before being totally destroyed. This, then, is what we want to set out: the vanquished character of death as shown in icons.

3. General Considerations

The first place we need to look for a demonstration of the omnipresence of death by its omni-absence is in the catacomb art of the pre-Constantinian Church. Here we have a definitely funereal art. The context in which the art appears could not be more death-centered, and yet in the art itself there is no representation of the dead as such, no symbolized death, nothing to recall this death-bound world. In the midst of dead things, in the place of the dead, the art calls the viewer to think of deliverance and life:

Thus, for example, the oldest symbol, that of a ship: to the man of the Graeco-Roman antiquity, it had suggested the voyage of souls into the beyond, but by the time of the Empire, it came to mean a happy passage through life; it was only a sign of prosperity, with the end of the voyage representing death. Christians, taking up the symbol and restoring its primitive meaning, transformed it into a symbol of the faith of the Church and of the soul which the Church guides.

The arrival of the ship to the harbor had signified the end: death. For a Christian, on the contrary, it implied the entrance of the soul into eternal repose and bliss. The pessimistic outlook of the pagan was replaced by the joyous confidence in the resurrection.[3]

Why is it that for the early Christians there is no sign of death, no figure of death, no picture of the dead as dead? Even though the pictures are surrounded by the final reality of this world, the faith of these Christians that their loved ones were alive in Christ, although dead in this world, was so strong as to eliminate any trace of that dead world from their very earliest art:

The art of the catacombs is not only a funereal art and does not only consist in symbolic and allegorical representations as is sometimes thought to be the case. Of course, it does include many funereal elements, but it is above all an art which teaches the faith. . . In the first century, these [symbols and images] consist of the Good Shepherd, Noah and the ark, Daniel in the lions’ den, and the banquet scene. In the second century, there are many images from the New Testament: the Annunciation, the Nativity of Christ, His Baptism and others.[4]

What is striking is that these scenes depict acts of deliverance. God acts to save those in trouble. As He acted to save and deliver the saints of old, so He acts to save those who die in Christ. The New Testament scenes thus depict Christ’s life, the act of deliverance par excellence.

Another area where we might expect to find death and dying vividly depicted is in connection with martyrdom. Today, we want to know the details of a new martyr’s death. The same interest was also prevalent in the early Church, as the various written martyrologies testify. But when it comes to the depiction of the martyrs themselves, we are no longer concerned with how they died; that is really unimportant. What we need to see depicted is their glorified state in the Kingdom. With persecution a constant possibility, and physical death always near for those who followed Christ, why is it that earthly reality is not reflected in the catacomb art? Only artistic expressions of the hope of deliverance, of resurrection to the new creation, are seen:

Thus no trace of the frequent persecutions and the numerous martyrs of this time can be found in the liturgical art of the catacombs. The Christian artist . . . undoubtedly saw the atrocious scenes of the amphitheaters . . . and one would expect to see recollections of these days when the struggle of the Christians against the pagan gods reached its paroxysm. But not one scene of martyrdom can be found in the catacombs. . . It is only later when the persecutions had ceased and the anguish of the Christians had become history that they were sometimes represented.[5]

The representation of the Martyrs of Sebaste is an example of this.[6]

The dead person, perhaps a martyr, is often seen in the orant position, the hands lifted up in prayer. Having died in Christ and for Christ, that is his essential condition: praying in the Kingdom for those left behind, but who are soon to follow. “The drama of the represented situation is not so much the very moment of sacrifice as the internal spiritual state of the person, i.e. the state of prayer.[7] Thus in the first stage of Christian art, funereal though it was, there was no place for “natural” death to be represented.

4. Specific Examples

One of the primary symbolic representations of death, or the realm of the dead, in iconography is darkness, a black area on an icon. Darkness as a symbol of night runs throughout the Bible and the writings of the Fathers, so it is natural that Satan’s kingdom should be represented by black. Evdokimov puts it this way:

. . . the prologue of the fourth gospel: “The light shines in the darkness.” The absolute polarity that this passage contains requires us to understand “darkness” in its ultimate, hellish sense as a designation for all that tragically went wrong with God’s plan throughout human history. Seen from the point of view of time, the child in the cave is the most distressing coexistence of Light and darkness, of God and Satan. . . Seen from the point of view of eternity . . . “the Sun which set with him dissipated the darkness of death forever. . .[8]

One specific way that this kingdom of darkness is shown is by a cave opening to the inner earth, the underground, which is the symbolic realm of the dead and of Satan. The icons of the Nativity, the Myrrh-Bearing Women, the Crucifixion, the Raising of Lazarus, the Descent into Hell, and others depict dark caverns. The icon of Theophany pictures the dark river Jordan, which is sometimes made to look like a lake but represents a dark, bottomless pit. The icon of Pentecost places the old man Cosmos in a dark area at the bottom of the icon: Cosmos, the world, is in the midst of Satan’s kingdom. In all of these icons, however, the dark area is not represented as an independent reality but is only the stage for reception of the new creation. It is into this darkness that Christ or His light now shines. As stated above, when death or its kingdom appears in icons, it is only to show that their power is broken ; they wait to be filled with Christ’s life. Thus in the scene of the Nativity, Christ is lying in a manger in a dark cave with the light of the star shining down upon it.[9]

In some, though not all, icons of the MyrrhBearing Women,[10] one of the angels of light is seated in the dark tomb. On the Good Friday icon, the cross stands above a cave on Golgotha. Lazarus, “prefiguring the general resurrection,” also emerges from a darkened tomb. Christ at His baptism is submerged in the dark kingdom of the Jordan, recreating water, turning what had been an instrument of death into an instrument of life:

Water changes its meaning. Formerly it was an image of death, the Flood, but now it has become “the well of the water of life.”. . . The liturgy calls non-sanctified water “a liquid tomb,” hydatostratos taphos, as the image of death-flood. In fact, the icon shows Jesus going down into the waters as into a watery tomb. The Jordan is in the form of a dark cave, the iconographic image for Hades; it contains the Lord’s entire body, as an image of burial.[11]

In icons of the Descent into Hell, in addition to Christ’s being in the dark pit, we often find Satan or death represented as a chained man lying amidst the locks and keys of the broken gates of hell. On the Pentecost icon, the fire of the Holy Spirit descends on the old man, Cosmos, in the black pit of this unregenerated world, through the apostles who represent the Church. The evangelists may be depicted as writing in a dark cave, an image of the present world about to receive the Gospel.[12] In these and other cases, the dark area is in the lower part of the icon, representing openings into the lower world, into which salvation comes from above.

This symbolism of darkness is also reflective of the doctrine that evil, death, and sin are not created realities in themselves; they are negations of good, created things. They always move toward destruction and the nothingness out of which all creation came, and away from the full being which is God. Iconography stresses this antiManichean belief about the contingent nature of evil. Only God exists; only His light and power give being. To turn away from that source is to slide into the black pit of death and nothingness. We can either rise toward the source of our life, represented at the top of the icons, or slide down to our destruction represented at the bottom. We need to look also at the representation of death by symbolic skulls and bones. The basic principle continues to hold true: there are very few such representations because a skeleton represents death and the fallen condition of this present life. However, we do often find a skull in the cave beneath the cross on the Good Friday icon.

In a Christian tradition, Golgotha is the center of the world. There Adam was created and buried, and there the Cross was raised up. We often see Adam’s tomb and skull represented at the foot of the Cross. . . This is a very frequent subject in icons. . .[13]

This is why on the icons, the foot of the cross goes down into a black cavern in which we see Adam’s head, Golgotha being the “place of the skull.” (Jn 19:17) This symbolic detail shows the head of the first Adam, and in him all human beings are washed by Christ’s blood.[14]

But Adam’s skull, representing the death of the first man, is shown only in relation to the death of the New Man who destroyed death itself.

There are other icons in which bones and skulls appear, but seemingly only for artistic effect and not as the departure point for a theology of redemption: for example, the Last Judgment and the Valley of Dry Bones.[15] Neither subject is of major iconographic import; nonetheless, they exist.

Tombs are another specific symbol of death and serve as the background out of which life comes. In the icon of the Raising of Lazarus, a coffin is sometimes shown in the cave; at other times, the cave itself is the tomb. In this image, Lazarus is being raised again to this present life and not to the new and unending life of the Kingdom. In the Church’s understanding, this event, celebrated on the Saturday before Holy Week, is a prefiguration of Christ’s and our own resurrection. The Descent into Hell shows Adam and Eve being raised out of their tombs by Christ into the new life. The image of the Myrrh-Bearing Women shows only a tomb, without the body. Again we see that the old death, with its normal setting and customary characteristics, has been left behind.

Next let us look at the way the dead are represented immediately following their death. The Crucifixion, the Epitaphion, and the Dormition icons are our main examples. Even though the Crucifixion depicts Jesus as dead, the Church sees His death as a victory: to show forth perfect humanity in obedience to the Father’s will, Christ maintained His integrity even in the face of death. The icon depicts Him with His eyes closed and His expression calm and peaceful. Victory and peace in the worst of deaths are expressed by the position of the body and its general appearance: “In the East, the icon of the crucified Christ never shows the realism of exhausted and dead flesh; painful expressions of agony have no place. Dead and at peace, Christ loses nothing of his royal nobility and always keeps his majesty.”[16] 

The same can be said for the icon of the Epitaphion venerated on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Christ is dead and in the tomb; yet no corruption or decomposition is shown, evidence of the hollow and illusory victory won by Satan at the Crucifixion.

The Dormition provides an interesting contrast to the Crucifixion. Mary lies dead upon the bier, yet she is alive, like a little child, in the arms of Christ who stands behind her. In death, she is portrayed as old and at peace, as though asleep. She is surrounded by the Church, represented by the apostles and other members of the earthly community, together with angels and Christ who receives her. What a perfect depiction of the Christian idea of death in the Lord: no longer black, dark, and cold; no longer filled with fear, pain, and separation, but calm and full of light, surrounded by Christ and His Body the Church. Would that each Christian’s death could be like hers! The Dormition icon thus offers a perfect representation of one of the Church’s petitions: “A Christian ending to our life, painless, blameless, peaceful, and a good defense before the dread judgment seat of Christ, let us ask of the Lord.”

We should remember that the dead often appear in icons of events that occur after their deaths. This is especially true of Old Testament figures. In the Transfiguration icon, we see Moses and Elijah who represent both the dead and the living of the Old Testament. While Moses’s death is recorded in Scripture, Elijah does not die a natural death but is taken directly by God in a flaming chariot. All the figures in the icon of the Descent into Hell, David, Solomon, Moses, John the Baptist, etc. have already died; yet they are alive as they view the “future” event of Adam and Eve’s resurrection. Similarly, any icon of an apparition of Christ, of the Theotokos or of a saint in Church history depicts the person who has died and is yet alive. Iconography proclaims that those who have died in the Lord are in fact alive, in contrast to those who are still alive, but who in Christ are dead to the old world.

Let us turn briefly to the way icons are displayed in the church building. Classically the church is constructed in three sections: the sanctuary, the nave, and the narthex.[17] The sanctuary represents the heaven of heavens where Christ the King rules over all. The nave is the place of the new creation and the Kingdom of God. Christ Pantocrator is painted in the dome of the nave to show His rule in the Kingdom. The narthex, finally, illustrates the realm of this world that opens back into the darkness, just as it opens into the light of the Kingdom. It is appropriate that icons and frescoes in the nave and in the sanctuary should illustrate the defeat of the kingdom of death. As we enter from the outside, we begin to see the new world where death has no place. Since the Kingdom of God is to come fully only after the end of time, it is appropriate to represent the Last Judgment on the western wall of the narthex. To reach the fulness of the Kingdom, we must all pass through this judgment. What we have experienced partially in the Church as judgment and sanctification is thus represented in the organization and symbolism of the church building itself. Therefore, both the content of icons and their location within the church building teach us that, for the Christian, death is a thing of the past, both literally and symbolically behind us.

5. Eastern and Western Art

Here we would like to make a few observations concerning the evident differences between Orthodox iconography and Western religious paintings. The differences are striking, even to the most casual observer.

If our basic premise is correct, namely that religious art expresses a particular understanding of reality, then we should be able to understand some of the theological differences between the two traditions by observing how these two types of art treat the theme of death.

The Orthodox Church claims that its theology of death and its art forms are continuous with the earliest manifestations of Christian art in the catacombs. Iconography shows a great stability and regularity in its inspiration and execution throughout the centuries. During the first thousand years of Christian history, Latin religious art generally represented a variation of this same tradition. Philippe Aries, in his book The Hour of Our Death, makes the claim that Western art for about the first millennium, up to and including the Romanesque period, reflected the theology of death prevalent at that time:

Let us begin by recalling what was said . . . about the Christians of the first millennium. They believed that after their death they rested like the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, awaiting the day of Christ’s return. Their image of the end of time was that of the glorified Christ as he rose to heaven on the day of Ascension or . . . as he is described by the visionary of the Book of Revelations. . . This extraordinary imagery recurs again and again in the Romanesque period. . . On those rare occasions when funerary art did represent the Last Judgment, it is apparent that the event inspired very little fear since it was consistently seen from the point of view of the return of Christ and the awakening of the just. . . This is the traditional image that is repeated in Romanesque art. . .[18] 

On a baptismal font found in France, dating no later than 1150, we have the following scene of the Resurrection: “The risen souls are emerging naked from their sarcophagi in pairs, husband and wife embracing. . . The relation between baptism and resurrection is clear. Those who have been baptized were assured of resurrection and their eternal salvation it implied.[19]

The spirit expressed here is very close to the Orthodox ethos. The techniques are also very similar to the Byzantine: “We know that the Carolingian and Romanesque artist employed a perspective that was different from that of the viewer: he showed the viewer what he could not see, as he ought to see it.[20]” It is clear that in this period both East and West were drinking from the same fountain of inspiration.

It is part of Ariès’s general thesis, however, that something in the West during the 11th and 12th centuries began to change on the level of feelings and deep-seated psychology. This change began to manifest itself in a funerary art very different from what had gone before. The result was a total divergence of the new Western religious art in both inspiration and technique from Orthodox iconography, which continued in the traditional path. Western art moved in a this-worldly direction to concentrate on life as lived here and now and to measure it in terms of immanent factors. Thus, art itself moved toward representing the so-called natural world as we see it, and away from symbolic representations. Aries is not the only one to see this change and to comment on it:

But starting in the thirteenth century, Giotto, Duccio, and Cimabue introduced into their works optical illusion, perspective, depth, chiaroscuro [play of light and shadows], and tromp l’œil [still-life deception]. Such art, though more refined and more reflective of the natural world, lost the ability to directly grasp and portray the transcendent. . . Having broken with the artistic canons of tradition, western Christian art could no longer be integrated into the liturgical mystery, and having left its heavenly “biosphere,” it became more and more autonomous and subjective.[21]

The empirical world became the real world and, therefore, the appropriate world to copy in art. As far as religious painting was concerned, two trends appeared: 1) religious subjects became only the occasion for the artist to express himself; there was no essential difference in inspiration or technique between a religious, mythological, secular, or even pornographic subject. 2) Religious subjects were painted in the most realistic style, reflective of the way the event may actually have looked. The new realism was expressed in both physical and psychological terms, in the striving for the accurate depiction of clothing, anatomy and furniture as well as the convincing portrayal of agony, pain or suffering. The point was that religious art tried to reflect as much as possible an actual scene as imagined by the artist.

Ironically, the “realism” of the new style proved less and less capable of fulfilling the function of traditional religious art: to facilitate communion between the viewer and the religious subject, i.e., God. Thus Archimandrite Vasilios writes:

What a disappointment, what a temptation to unbelief you find in the approach to Christ “according to man”: seeing Christ in the flesh, depicting Him in a painting as an ordinary man of His time, thinking that you will come nearer to the truth about Him the more faithfully you manage to copy the landscape of Palestine or present the area as it was at that period.[22]

In Western art, there were, of course, symbolic and allegorical paintings as well as other art forms depicting lambs, angels, God the Father, and so on. But again, they were executed in terms of the “natural” world in which the artist lived. Consequently, as epochs and styles changed, so did the artistic renderings of religious subjects.

The ramifications of this fundamental change in outlook concerning artistic representations of death were enormous. Aries chronicles the results of this and other changes by showing in exhaustive detail the upsurge in interest in scenes of death, various means of death, pain, suffering leading to death, and dead and decaying bodies. Through a full six hundred pages, he presents the seemingly infinite variety of artistic representations of death, from tombs decorated with sculptures of decaying bodies to later depictions of death related to eroticism.

Such depictions are not surprising where the purpose of art is understood to be the representation of the natural order. Death is a part of this world; consequently, decomposing flesh is as proper a subject for expression as roses in spring. It all becomes a matter of taste.

Such an attitude toward art and artistic expression could not be farther from the Orthodox understanding of death and of its depiction in iconography. Unfortunately, however, Orthodox theology, as well as its artistic theory and expression, have been seriously infiltrated by the very ideas, psychology, and techniques which have run unrestrained in the West. So serious is this problem that it is no exaggeration to say that in many Orthodox churches built in the 19th and early 20th centuries, there are few if any icons at all. There may be many religious paintings, but real icons are few. That this tendency did not totally corrupt the Church can only be attributed to the strong, unconscious sense of the true purpose of icons within Orthodoxy. Kalokyris put it this way:

We attribute this fact not to the intentions . . . but to the false ideas about art, according to which an icon or a wall painting of any merit is only one which depicts the persons naturally beautiful, one which renders their physical conditions naturalistically, one which records according to the laws of perspective, the relation of the depicted persons to themselves, to the space, and in one word, one which shows the sacred scene according to any colored photograph.[23]

As a result, the same interest in “real death” that characterizes Western art has crept into Orthodox icons. Scenes that depict the agony of the Crucifixion and of martyrs became rampant over the last few centuries, during what has been called the Western captivity. Happily, in our time there is a return, in nearly all areas of the life of the Orthodox Church, to her own patristic roots. Such a renaissance has also taken place in iconography. As this movement advances, and as the icon is recognized for what it truly is, the proper understanding of death as well as of the whole of Orthodox Christian life will be reflected in her icons. The Church’s vision of who she is, why she exists, and where we are going will then show itself to all “those who have eyes to see.”

[1]Constantine Kalokyris, The Essence of Orthodox Iconography, Brookline, Holy Cross School of Theology, Hellenic College, 1971, p. 15.

[2]Ibid., p. 24.

[3]Leonard Ouspensky, The Theology of the Icon, Crestwood, NY, St. Vladimir’s, 1978, pp. 84-85.

[4]Ibid., p. 83.

[5]Ibid., pp. 95-96.

[6]John Taylor, Icon Paintings, New York, Mayflower Books, 1979. p. 54.


[8]Paul Evdokimov, The Art of the Icon :A Theology of Beauty, Redondo Beach, CA, Oakwood, 1990, p. 280.

[9]Ibid., p. 279.

[10]Leonid Ouspensky and Vladimir Lossky, The Meaning of Icons, Boston, St. Vladimir’s, 1983, p. 190.

[11]Evdokimov, pp. 296-297.

[12]Ouspensky and Lossky, p. 114.

[13]Evdokimov, p. 140.

[14]Ibid., pp. 314-315.

[15]André Grabar, Byzantine Painting, NY, Rizzoli, 1979, p. 166 and p. 120.

[16]Evdokimov. p. 314.

[17]Ouspensky, pp. 21-38.

[18]Philippe Ariès, The Hour of Our Death, NY, Knopf, 1981, pp. 97-98.

[19]Ibid., p. 98.

[20]Ibid., pp. 132-133.

[21]Evdokimov, pp. 73-74.

[22]Archm. Vasileios, Hymn of Entry, Crestwood, NY, St. Vladimir’s, 1984, pp. 89-90.

[23]Kalokyris, p. 9.

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