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ICON REFLECTION: By Fr. Thomas Chelena

We have mentioned in past articles the fact that Byzantine art is a spiritual and intellec­tual treasury. Now we would like to uncover another dimension of Byzantine art and, that is, the effect that it has upon believers. Since Byzantine art reveals a heavenly spirit, it not only teaches us our faith but it also facilitates and encourages prayer and worship in us. We might say that icons are the accumulators of prayer through the generations of Christianity; they receive the radiation of ardent prayers which makes them grow into shrines of worship. Someone even made this distasteful comparison: "The icon, the image of a saint, placed in a special corner is comparable to a television set in the home of a Byzantine Christian."

Noteworthy among the works of Byzantine art that creates a prayerful attitude among us are the icons of the saints. Among the most revered are the "fathers of the church" and ..in particular the three holy bishops: St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian and St. John Chrysostom." In the icon of the Three Holy Bishops each figure of the saints reveals a vast dome of the forehead which signifies a sign of wisdom. Their cheeks are hollowed and the mouth fully molded giving them a "faraway" gaze. These suggest that each saint was a great orator, theologian or a man of ascetical vision.

The figures of the saints appear almost motionless externally, but internally possess a deep inner life. Their calm I inner collectedness is rendered by the bend of the head and the stoop of the shoulders. The posture of each is free and natural and their touch rating cares.

The saints are dressed full vestments of Byzantine bishop. Over phelonion and around shoulders is the omophorion, the sign of their high office and symbolizing their role as bishops, to seek the lost sheep as our Lord did. As succes­sors of the Apostles and teachers of the Church, they hold in their left hand the Gospels while they gesture a blessing with their right hand. All of these characteristics raise the minds of the, believers to sense the awe and mystery while they assist in prayer and worship.






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