“The iconographer paints with Taboric light”

We behold ‘the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror’ (2 Cor 3.18); the truth of God is arrayed in glory because the Lord is the Truth, ‘clothed with majesty and honour.’ And when he shows the light of his countenance, the heart of the creature responds with a hymn of praise to his kingdom, his power and his glory. God ‘has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4.6). He gives the heart the capacity to recognize glory, and also to reflect it: the Church sings, ‘The faces of thy saints are radiant with thy light.’

The icon is another hymn of praise, bathed in glory and singing in a way of its own. True beauty has no need of proofs; it is itself evidence that argues iconographically for divine Truth. The intelligible content of the icons is doctrinal, so it is not the icon, the work of art, that is beautiful, but the truth. An icon cannot always be ‘pretty’; it demands spiritual maturity to recognize its beauty.

The attribute of glory is light. The halos around the subjects of icons are not the distinctive signs of sainthood, but the radiance of their luminosity. For the saints, the statement, ‘you are the light of the world,’ actually defines their nature. The truth of every being speaks by the purity with which it reflects the light; every created thing has the marvellous grace to be the face, the mirror of the uncreated. Such a pitch of inspiration is possible only through the spiritual gifts of the ‘holy iconographers’, by which art is elevated to sacred art. The vision of the iconographers depends on the faith that is the ‘conviction of things not seen’ (Heb. 11.1). They experiment with the invisible aspect, the ‘interior form’ of the being, and this inner reality is ‘Taboric’, spiritually illuminated. There is never a source of light in an icon, light is its subject, you do not illuminate the sun. We can say that the iconographer paints with Taboric light. It is significant that the painting of the Transfiguration is usually the first icon of every monk iconographer, so that Christ ‘may make his light to shine in his heart.’ A manuscript of Mount Athos enjoins, ‘let him pray with tears, so that God will penetrate his soul. Let him go to the priest, who will pray over him and recite the hymn of the Transfiguration.’ The rules of the Councils recommend ‘working with the fear of God, for it is a divine art.’

Paul Evdokimov

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3 Responses to “The iconographer paints with Taboric light”

  1. Patrick says:

    I have a couple of questions about icons that I have not seen clearly answered in the (limited) stuff I have read. Does any icon written by a trained iconographer by definition possess the qualities described here? If some icons are more fully realized than others, what makes the difference? The spirituality of the writer? If we are less drawn to a particular icon than to another, are we to infer that the writer must have been spiritually weak, as opposed to artistically untalented–or that the problem is in us and not in the icon? Is “artistic talent” a meaningful concept in this context? If so, how, and if not, why not? Pious commentary on icons seems to lavish equal praise on every icon discussed, as if intention and realization were one and the same. But surely that can’t be right.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Good questions, Patrick. I’m afraid I lack the competence to answer your questions. Fr Stephen Freeman would be a good person to ask. He recently posted an article on icons: http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2016/03/18/the-matter-of-our-salvation/. Please post your questions there and pass on to us his response.

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    • Ryan says:

      I would say the icon’s power comes from its content; the skill and spirituality of the painter of course play a role in how well this content is communicated to viewers. Of course if we are sufficiently “spiritual” we could derive as much benefit from poorly done icons as masterful ones. That doesn’t diminish the fact that some “windows” are clearer than others. Still, there is one transfiguration, one Christ, one sanctity, and this is where the real beauty of any icon derives from.

      BTW icons are not written. They’re painted. I know, I know, some folks out there argue otherwise and have a number of linguistic and philosophical rationales for it but they’re wrong.

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