Paul Azkoul / Traditional Byzantine Iconography


“We do not change the boundaries marked out by our fathers; we keep the traditions we have received. We beseech you therefore the people of God, the faithful flock, to hold fast the traditions of the church. Unless by the gradual taking away of what has been handed down to us, we should undermine the foundation stones, and would in no short time overthrow the whole structure” Saint John of Damascus, On the Divine Images.

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The reason for this paper is because there is a misconception among many non-Orthodox who believe that simply because they wish to be iconographers and to paint icons they are permitted to do so. There is also a misconception among some Orthodox Christians who believe that simply because they hold membership in the Church they are entitled to become iconographers and paint icons.

The non-Orthodox must understand without the Faith “Once delivered to the Saints” (Jude 3), it is not only impermissible, but impossible to paint icons. Likewise the Orthodox must remember “writing icons” requires more than artistic skill or interest, for iconography is a divine “calling” that allows some Orthodox Christians to paint the icons, a “calling” which is reserved for those of God’s choosing.

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I would like to discuss, as an Orthodox iconographer, why the religious art that comes from Western secular societies seeks to simply portray images of Christ, Mary, the Theotokos, and His saints as naturalistic beings, bereft of any special dignity, or divinity, that is, their depiction of these holy men and women, ignorance of the true theology of what Christian art really is and how it is achieved.

These secular works of such men as the German artist, Mathias Grunewald [1475-1528], depicted images of Jesus Christ, and the Theotokos, in such a naturalistic manner that they suffer having no spirituality whatsoever, [I use “spiritual” in the Orthodox sense of the word], no sanctity, and no grace.

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