The role of images in the Russian Orthodox Church.
The first thing that surprises you when entering an Orthodox church is its unusual interiors. Strangely, it is not so much the lack of chairs and other familiar objects of public convenience, but a given direction of the space, its nonequivalence, that immediately draws us into a hierarchical structure, created by architecture and images.
The church is a complex space system that through form and images tells a story of our understanding of life, gives us a clear disposition to the imminence of prayer, and transforms us even before any word is spoken.
Coming down the aisle, without conscious effort, we are crossing the threshold of the common world, collected and removed from it by the mere hierarchy of images and spaces.
We see the temple as a house of God, as the image of the Heavenly Jerusalem and the entire universe. When we build temples we create a universe, not just a place of worship and glorification.
The building of the temple, as well as the icon, is not created for admiration or delight. Neither the work of the architect nor the work of the artist and icon painter, have intrinsic value in the church but are traditionally subordinate to a spirit.
As musicians in a large orchestra, or as employees of a huge department store, the architect and the painter, forming a liturgical space, work together to solve a common challenge – the creation of such a temple, which would be the most wonderful way to house a God in very practical terms.
And the quality of this space is by no means defined by a number of colored marbles, but by the harmony, unity and the expressiveness of all the parts of the temple space. The busy interior of the temple with gold and other jewelry creates a sense of kitsch and bad taste.
All cross-domed churches found in Eastern Christian countries, despite the differences, retain a single principle of organization of space. In short, it can be described as the harmonious coordination of all elements in the building that allow the viewer to feel the walls and vaults of a temple as a single space. To make an impression more complete, the temple is decorated with mosaics and paintings that help us experience the “cloud of witnesses” surrounding us, as well as to build a spatial hierarchy, assigning different parts of the building a different meaning.
The images that adorn the walls and arches are written as simply as possible so as not to hinder the prayer. Mosaics and murals are the continuation of the architecture and guide us back to service and prayer. Contemplating images of the saints, we are disciplined and subconsciously straightened; we want to imitate them, at least during the service.
Traditionally temple images are created in a flattened manner. Flat spaces, absents of depth and volume in Russian icons, create an impression that everything is happening right in front of the icon in the space of the viewer.
In a Russian Church, the painting, the architecture and the story all work together to create an experience of revelation, space for transformation, and the Holly Union.
Simplicity, clarity, and service to the Spirit are the qualities of Russian icons; the qualities that we want to preserve and follow when creating new works of art.
Credit: Translation from http://sacredmurals.com.