Orthodox Art and Architecture (Part II)

Martyr Longinus the Centurion, who stood at the Cross of the Lord

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


It is truly right and proper to praise the Supremely Divine Trinity, the Unoriginate Father and Creator of All, the Co-Unoriginate Logos, begotten Eternally of the Father before the ages without change, and the Holy Spirit, Who proceeds Eternally from the Father.


It is truly right and proper to glorify You, O God the Logos (Word); the One before Whom the Cherubim stand in awe with fear and trembling, the One Whom the Powers of heaven glorify, in fearful adoration, let us also praise and glorify Christ, the Giver of Life, Who Rose from the tomb on the third day.


Let us all praise in a divine manner, with fervent hymns the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Thrice-Hypostatic Dominion, the One Kingdom, the one Godhead.



On October 16th Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors and entreats the holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics, Teachers and every righteous soul made perfect in Our Orthodox Christian faith: Saint Longinus the Centurion, who stood at the Cross of the Lord; Saint Longinus the Gate-keeper of the Kiev Caves; Holy Martyrs Dometius, Leontios, Terence, and Domninus; Saint Malus the Hermit; Saint Longinus of Yaranga; Saint Efpraxia of Pskov; Saint Gall, Enlightener of Switzerland; Saint Longinus of Koryazhemka; Saint Domna, fool-for-Christ of Tomsk.

+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Martyrs, Holy Centurions, Holy Gate-Keepers, Holy Ascetics, Holy Mothers, Holy Fathers, Holy Confessors, Holy fools-for-Christ, Holy Hermits, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

VENERABLE EFPRAXIA OF PSKOV. Saint Efpraxia was the daughter of Prince Rogvolod, the aunt of holy Prince Dovmont-Timothy, and the wife of Prince Yaroslav in 13th century Pskov. However, St. Efpraxias' husband left her and married a German girl in Livonia, and together with the Teutonic knights, he made attacks on Russia. After he left, St. Efpraxia turned her energy to deeds of piety. She built a monastery dedicated to Saint John the Baptist and became the Abbess (Egoumenissa) there. She went to Livonia at the request of her former husband for a meeting, and while there, his son by his second marriage murdered St. Efpraxia. She was taken back to Saint John's Monastery and buried there. Ten days after her death, an icon called "The Myrrh-bearing Savior," which had been placed on her grave, began to produce myrrh.



Holy Epistle Lesson: Philippians 1:20-27
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Matthew 27:33-54


"The demons of pride, self-esteem, desire for popularity and hypocrisy, never act by trying to dampen the ardor of the virtuous man. Instead, they cunningly reproach him for his shortcomings where the virtues are concerned, and suggest that he intensifies his efforts, encouraging him in his struggle. They do this in order to entice him to give his full attention to them; in this way they make him lose a proper balance and moderation, and lead him imperceptibly to a destination other than the one to which he thought he was going." (Saint Maximus the Confessor)


By Professor John Yiannias

Cross-in Square

Of the large number of Byzantine church plans incorporating domes, we shall consider the one that became most widespread. This is the "cross-in-square" plan, adopted in Constantinople in the later 9th century, after the iconoclastic Controversy had ended (about which more will be said). In the simplest terms, this kind of church is cubical on the first level and cruciform on the second, with a dome resting on a cylinder at the intersection of the arms of the cross, and smaller domes or vaults over the four corners of the cube, between the arms of the cross.

The chambers flanking the central apse on the north and south are the prosthesis and diaconicon respectively. The former is where the priest prepares the Eucharistic elements before the Divine Liturgy proper begins, and the latter is a place of storage for liturgical utensils, books, and vestments.

After the 6th century, Byzantine churches were of modest size but proportionately taller. In the cross-in-square and related plans, the geometric interplay of the spatial units around the domed core compensated for the loss of effects dependent on large dimensions. On the exterior, builders exploited the ornamental possibilities of the brickwork and stonework, producing intricate surface patterns. The overall effect inside and out was one of intimacy.

The Slavic Countries and Romania

Beyond the Empire, Byzantine plans were taken over with few changes or used a point of departure for indigenous designs. In Serbia the "Rascian" style, popular until the 14th century, has a succession of bays, some domed, on a single axis, and an optional tower over the Narthex. In Bulgaria a long barrel-vaulted or domed church, often without freestanding internal supports, was popular. In Russia the familiar "onion" dome was developed by the 13th century, perhaps in response to weather conditions (it sheds snow easily, preventing it from accumulating at the seam between the dome and the drum). Also, in Russia, alongside churches of domed cubical shape, are "tent" churches, developed most energetically in the 16th century from native traditions of timber architecture. A tower with a huge steeple, its silhouette contrasting with the flat landscape, rises over the monocameral body of the church and is topped with a tiny lantern or dome: Saint Basil the Blessed in Moscow's Red Square (actually not one church but a cluster of nine churches) is the best-known example. In Romania several monastery churches (famous for the paintings on their exteriors) are long and narrow, with a single apse almost the full width of the church, and a single roof with a generous overhang. In all of these countries, churches more clearly Byzantine in type were also built.

Their diversity does not deprive Orthodox churches of a certain family resemblance. Most have a vaulted superstructure that establishes a "celestial" space overhead...But the most obvious sign of an Orthodox interior is the iconostasis, or templon, the wall to which icons are affixed, which separates the sanctuary from the part of the church occupied by the congregation. An Orthodox church without an iconostasis, such as those in Constantinople that were converted into mosques, seems oddly incomplete. This brings us to the subject of images in the Orthodox Church.


Historical Background

The history of the early Christian world was not planned for the convenience of art historians; the oldest preserved examples of Christian art date only from the late second or early third century. But the Orthodox Church holds the use of images to be Apostolic practice, and it attributes the earliest icons of the Virgin and Christ to Saint Luke. It also records that Christ created the first image of Himself by impressing His features on a piece of cloth--the Mandylion--that was later enshrined in the city of Edessa. In Orthodox view, the concept of the image is central to Christianity. We shall return to this point after reviewing of the characteristics of early Christian art.

Christian themes were initially expressed in the visual "language" of Roman art, which in late pagan times was made up of two interacting styles, a classical and an abstract. Greek artists in the 5th century B.C. had perfected their knowledge of anatomy and created idealized human figures. Their Hellenistic successors mastered realism, extending the scope of art over the whole world of natural appearances. This ability to produce lifelike images was later used to satisfy the Roman desire for realistic portraits, paintings with an illusion of spatial depth, and sculptures commemorating historical events, such as military campaigns...This Greco-Roman classical tradition emphasized the physical, the measurable, the comprehensible. At odds with it was an abstracting style of uncertain origin, primitive but forceful, and keyed to realities transcending the world of appearances. This style distorted anatomy when distortion suited its ends; hence the eyes in a portrait may be abnormally enlarged, to indicate spiritual depth. It imposed a geometric order on its compositions, allowing nothing to appear casual or purposeless. It preferred frontality for its figures, arresting their movement and making them seem aware of the viewer. Finally the size and distinctiveness of its objects were regulated not by the laws of vision but by the relative importance of the objects, and so the illusion of spatial depth was absent.


Christian artists availed themselves of both styles. The 3rd century paintings in the Roman catacombs, for example, are classical, while the contemporary paintings in a baptistery discovered at Dura Europus, in Syria, incline to the abstract. But gradually a normative synthesis emerged. Constantine's choice of Byzantium as his capital in the 4th century ensured that the major institutions of that city, the Court and the Church, would play a leading role in this evolution. The result was Byzantine art, which combines the classical respect for material form with the capacity of the abstract style to suggest the transcendental. In this way it is able to present a pictorial world in which the historical and the metahistorical, the temporal and the eternal, intersect.

The early art of the Church was undeniably decorative, but is chief function was to instruct and elevate. The selection of themes from the Old and New Testaments and from sacred tradition was guided by the Church's unerring sense of what was dogmatically important. Representation of Christ, the Virgin, Angels, and Saints, shown looking at the viewer or engaged in some narrative action, were executed on the walls of churches and other buildings and on ecclesiastical and personal objects of almost every description. The images that were treated with special reverence and used in prayer were the holy icons. This word simply means "images" in Greek and was employed thus by the Byzantines; but in English it has come to mean the sacred images painted on panels, usually of wood. Icons were venerated out of love and respect for the people represented on them and because the sanctity of their subject matter set them apart from other material objects.

(To be continued)



The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George