Western Rite Critic

A Balance to Contagious Enthusiasm


statue.jpgWe know that the Frankodox innovation of venerating statues occurred before the Schism, but we also know that it came from a foreign (to Orthodoxy) piety that led to the creation of the Schism with the institution of the filioque by the Franks. In fact, their success in installing a Frankopope in the Roman See, bringing with it that heresy, was really the deciding point of division.

“The iconoclastic emperors were from those eastern parts, and they wavered, being weak in faith. Facing the powerful Arabs, they wanted to please them, so they started forbidding, removing, destroying, and burning Icons in the Christian Church. At first, they raised them higher so that Christians could not reach them and venerate them. In the West, this practice unfortunately started from the time of Charlemagne and the Franks (eighth century): the practice of raising icons beyond people’s reach. (There were also statues there that they had introduced instead of icons).” [source]

The veneration of statues is rejected because a statue gives the impression of being able to circumscribe the uncircumscribable. It is linked precisely and exactly to the filioque, since it attempts to transform the symbol of God into the symbol of a concept contained in created thoughts – a circumscribed “god” – a god as religious philosophy.

Furthermore, venerating statuary is actually a form of iconoclasm. It preserves the illusion of cherishing icons, but substitutes for the icon something else, just as does the filioque-infused creed that symbol. Venerating statuary is actually a means of depriving a space of iconography, under the pretext of filling it with the same. It is the repudiation of icons, and it must be shunned.


February 5, 2008 - Posted by | Western Rite Pieties | , , , ,


  1. Well, to be fair, I wasn’t saying that God forbids statues. 🙂 By that reasoning, married bishops would be fine as well, since Christ chose them personally.

    This seems a relatively simple matter. There may be no canon forbidding it – perhaps you’re right – there doesn’t need to be a canon, for it to be a really bad idea, to start populating the Church throughout America w. these things. I call them ‘things’ because I don’t know where they come from – whether there are bless ‘statuographers’ that are ‘writing’ them, or whether they’re being ordered from the Roman Catholic supply house. You see my point. Reductio.

    But canon or not, there is some reference somewhere that disparate and unrelated people are remembering as a rule – having to do w. grasping the nose. The simplest solution is to track it down. I’ll do what I can, w. my limited resources. In the meantime, remember, I’m not trying to be contentious on it being a canon or not.

    Comment by tuD | February 17, 2008 | Reply

  2. First, let me reiterate that I do not favour the presence of 3-D statuary in a church. I love and venerate the holy icons which represent the fullness of the Church’s iconographic tradition and best expresses the Faith. That said, there is absolutely no canon of the 7th Oecumenical Council which forbids 3-D statuary. There is nothing about pinching the nose (although I would not be surprised if there is something in Balsamon’s commentaries regarding it.) In fact, that the Council knew of statuary, spoke of statuary, and despite its awareness never condemned statuary. That’s significant. In fact, its language remained quite open: “images to be produced with paints, with mosaic, or tessellated work, AND WITH ANY OTHER SUITABLE MATERIAL [emphasis mine]. The reason that statuary was not specifically included with the paint, mosaic, and tessellated work, might easily be that so few statues then existed, they required no mention. Or, again, it may be that there was a reticence towards 3-D statuary, and so it was neither specifically blessed nor specifically condemned (that’s pure conjecture, of course). The notes in the Pedalion bring out many good reasons for not having statues. But to say the 7th Council forbade statuary is quite inaccurate. We know that in the Holy Scriptures God commanded sacred statuary to be fashioned on more than one occasion.

    There was once a clairvoyant and holy old monk from Russia. He was encouraging a Western rite church towards Orthodoxy. There arose a controversy of sorts about the one remaining statue in the WR church, it having gone over otherwise to flat icons of Orthodox iconographic tradition. The old monk, who did not have a way of knowing this church had exactly one statue left, suddenly telephoned the pastor of this WR church. And did he rail at him for anything? No, but he used humour to convince his heart. The old monk said, in almost exactly these words, “You know, I was praying, and I thought… Why the statue? What is it for? Why do you need it? Nah, you don’t need that statue, you can do without it? Why is it there?” And, amazed, the pastor immediately took the statue out of that church which thenceforward had only flat icons.

    Comment by hieromonachusaidanus | February 17, 2008 | Reply

  3. Monk Aidan, I am advised that the rule of the nose is a canon of the 7th Oecumenical Council and it is believed that it’s in the Eerdman’s edition of the councils somewhere. I haven’t gone thru the text of the council to verify this, but I did quickly find this reference:

    At the Seventh Ecumenical Council, meeting at Nicaea in 787, the images were restored, but with the qualification that the icons must be paintings or sculptures in low relief, not in the round. If the thumb and forefinger could be held on the nose of an image it was unacceptable. For the Byzantine Church as well as for her daughter, the Russian, such sculpture as was to ornament Chartres and the other great Churches in the West thus became impossible.” – Christianity, by Roland Herbert Bainton

    These, also, were interesting.

    To this day, in obedience to the commandment not to make “graven images”, Orthodox icons may never be more than three-quarter bas relief.” – wikipedia

    For whatever reasons (and at the same time obvious reasons) statues have never been apart of the apostolic tradition. Whether statues existed in churches before the iconoclastic controversy is irrelevant because their existence were not seen as a legitimate christian expression regardless if they were in churches.

    This is evidenced by the iconoclasts themselves. The iconoclasts arguments was never over statues but over ‘pictures’ and whether they can be venerated. In the Iconoclastic robber-council of 754, the heretics anathemized those that portray Christ in “lifeless pictures” using “colors”.
    The iconoclasts didnt attack statues because the iconodules didnt accept them to begin with.

    In the 7th Ecumenical Council in session 1 a number of bishops who adhered to the iconoclastic pseudo-council repented and were recieved back into the Church by confession, these were Basil of Ancyra, Theodore of Myra and one Theodosius. The confession of Theodosius sheds light on these images, that they were all flat images using a number of materials:

    “….Of every kind of material of gold and silver and of every color so that his incarnation maybe set forth to all men. Likewise there maybe painted the lives of the saints and prophets and martyrs….. For people go forth to meet with lights and incense the ‘laurata’ and images of the emperors when they are sent out to cities and rural districts, they honor surely not the tablet covered with wax (aka encaustic painting) but the emperor himself. How much more is it neccesary in our churches of Christ our God, the image of God our saviour and of his spotless Mother and all of the holy blessed fathers and ascetics should be painted? Even as St. Basil says, “Writers and painters set forth the great deeds of war, the one by word, the others by pencils, and each stirs many to courage…”

    We can see here that only 2-dimensional images are involved in the iconoclastic controversy. Gold and silver were used in icons as they are now, and these images were “painted” images and the artist uses “pencils”, another words they were ‘written not ‘chiseled’. The example Theodosius used were pictures of emperors painted on ‘tablets’ using wax paints, a technique known as encuastic also used for icon painting. Ironically statues of emperors were abundant.

    Likewise 100 years earlier in canon 82 of the council of trullo (extension of the 6th ecumenical council) it says that the icon of the lamb(type of Christ) is to cease and only his human form is to be “painted” sometimes translated as “colored expression”. Again only 2-dimensional images are recognized as proper christian expression not statues.

    I have many problems with the WR attempts to make statues equal with icons. They can defend statuary all they want and quote theologians all they want, but the fact remains; the councils and Fathers did NOT have statues in mind when they defended icons and their veneration.” [source]

    “Interpretation (from The Rudder):

    An idol is one thing, a statue is another thing, and an icon (or picture) is a different thing. For an idol differs from an icon in that the icon is a likeness of a true thing and its original, whereas the idol is an image of a false and inexistent thing, and is not the likeness of an original, according to Origen and Theodoret — just as were the idols of the false and inexistent gods of the Greeks. We call those images which embody the whole figure statues and carved or sculptured figures in general. As for this kind of images, namely, the statues, the catholic (Orthodox) Church not only does not adore them, but she does not even manufacture them, for many reasons:

    1) because in its present definition this Council says for images to be produced with paints (or colours), with mosaic, or tessellated work, and with any other suitable material (which means with gold and silver and other metals, as Theodosius the bishop of Amorion says in Act 4 of the same Council) upon the sacred utensils, and robes, including sheets and cloths; upon walls and boards, and houses and streets. It did not mention a word about construction of a statue. Rather it may be said that this definition of this Council is antagonistic to statues;

    2) because neither the letters written by patriarchs in their correspondence with one another, and to emperors, nor the letters of Pope Gregory to Germanus and of Pope Adrian to the present Council, nor the speeches and orations which the bishops and monks made in connection with all the eight Acts of the present Council said anything at all about statues or sculptured figures. But also the councils held by the iconomachs, and especially that held in Blachernae in the reign of Copronymus, in writing against the holy icons, mention oil paintings and portraits, but never statues or sculptured figures, which, if they existed, could not have been passed over in silence by the iconomachs, but, on the contrary, they would have been written against with a view to imputing greater blame to the Orthodox;

    3) because although the woman with an issue of blood made a bronze statue of Christ in memory of and by way of giving thanks for the miracle and the benefaction which it had conferred upon her; and she set it up in the Panead, at the feet of which there sprang up a plant, or herb, which cured various ailments; and, as some say, that statue was smashed to pieces by the Emperor Maximinus, before Constantine the Great, and the bronze was seized by him; or else Julian the Apostate seized it, and put in its place the statue of Jupiter, as an anonymous writer says. Though, I say, the woman who had an issue of blood did make this statue (which the Christians took into the Church and honoured; and people went to see it out of a yearning for the original of it, as Philostorgus the Arian historically records), yet, as a matter of fact, that work of the woman who had an issue of blood was a concession from God, who, for goodness’ sake accepted it, making allowances for the imperfect knowledge of the woman who set it up; and because that was an embodiment and mark not of the grace of the Gospel, but of the old Law, as Pope Gregory II says in writing to St. Germanus (for the old Law had the two Cherubim, which were gold statues and sculptured figures containing all the body of the angelic powers, according to ch. 38 of Exodus, which Cherubim, according to an unknown expositor, had the face of a calf, and adored the Ark of the Covenant (here called the Ark of the Testimony, and by this adoration separated the Israelites from the idolatry of the Egyptians, who used to adore the calf. For the Jews learned from this that if a calf adored the Ark, it followed that the Egyptians were wrong in adoring it as a god).

    Not only the old Law, but also the custom of the Greeks fostered the erection of statues and sculptured figures, as St. Germanus writes in a letter to Thomas of Claudiopolis which is to be found in Act 4 of the present Council, and which says: “It being obvious that the Saviour levelled His own grace to condescension with the faith of the woman, and showed what has been made evident to us above, namely, that it is not that what is performed is in general the object, but that it is the aim of the one performing it that is being reduced to experience . . . .” And again: “We do not say this, so that we may find an excuse for exercising the art of making bronze pillars, but merely in order to make it plain that the Lord did not discard the national custom at this point, but, instead, availed Himself of it to exhibit therein for a considerable length of time the wonder-working and miracle-working efficiency of His own benevolence; on which account it is not devout to disparage the custom of a somewhat more pious nature which has prevailed among us.”

    You see here three things as plainly as day, to wit: 1) that the erection of the statue of Christ was moral, and that the Lord accepted it as a matter of compromise with the times; 2) that statues ought not to be manufactured; and 3) that it is more pious and more decent for the venerable images to be depicted, not by means of statues, but by means of colours in paintings. For the same saint said above by way of anticipation that in historically recording the facts concerning the statues, he historically recounts the fact that the icons of the Apostles Peter and Paul, painted in colours, were still extant . . . Canon LXXXII of the 6th, moreover, says that we ought to prefer the grace of the Gospel to the legal form, and ought to set up the human character, or figure, of Christ in icons instead of the olden lamb even in oil paintings.

    So that from all that has been said it is proved that the Westerners are acting contrary to the definition of this holy and Ecumenical Seventh Council, and contrary to the tradition of the Church in making statues and sculptured figures and plaster of paris replicas, and setting them up in their churches. We said hereinabove those representations which embody the whole of that which they represent are called statues and sculptured work and plaster of paris figures in general, whereas those representations which do not embody the whole of the person or other object which they are intended to represent, but at most merely exhibit them in relief, projecting, that is to say, here and there above the level and surface of the background, are not called statues or sculptured work or plaster of paris figures or any such name, but, instead, they are called holy icons (or, if they are not holy, simply pictures). Such are those which are to be found engraved or stamped or otherwise delineated upon the sacred vessels, on divine Gospels, and other holy books, on precious crosses, of silver and gold, according to Dositheus (p. 656 of the Dodecabiblus); to the same class are assigned also images cast in wax and more or less in relief, that is to say, projecting at various points above and receding at other points below the plane surface of the image, concerning which divine Chrysostom (in his Discourse wherein he argues that one and the same Lawgiver is the author of both the Old and the New Testament; and in Discourse 307 on the vesture of priests, the origin of which is to be found in the Gospel of the kingdom of Christ) says the following:

    “I myself have loved the images cast in wax as a matter of piety. For I beheld an angel in an image driving back hordes of barbarians. I saw barbarian troops being trodden underfoot, and the words of David coming true, wherein he says: ‘Lord, in thy city Thou wilt do their image havoc’ (p. 852 of the second volume of the Conciliar Records, in Act 6 of the 7th C.; and p. 647 of the sixth vol. of Chrysostom). Oecumenius, too, accepts and approves this kind of image which is cast in wax in the manner above described (in his commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews). Hence, in writing to Symeon the bishop of Bostra, Anastasius the Patriarch of Antioch says: “though, as a matter of fact, an image is nothing else than a piece of wood and colours mixed and mingled with wax” (p. 845 of the second volume of the Conciliar Records). In the same class with these images are placed also the images which are carved in wooden crosses (crucifixes) and medallions. They, too, likewise are wrought in relief and project above the plane of the level surface, and do not compromise the whole body of the person or thing represented.

    The reason and cause why statues are not adored or venerated (aside from the legal observation and custom noted hereinabove) seem to me to be the fact that when they are handled and it is noticed that the whole body and all the members of the person or thing represented are contained in them and that they not only reveal the whole surface of it in three dimensions, but can even be felt in space, instead of merely appearing as such to the eye alone, they no longer appear to be, nor have they any longer any right to be called, icons or pictures, but, on the contrary, they are sheer replications of the originals. Some persons, though, assert or opine that the reason why the Church rejected or did away with statues was in order to avoid entirely any likeness to idols. For the idols were statues of massive sculpture, capable of being felt on all sides with the hand and fingers.

    It is clear from the above that, while bas-relief and embossed images are permissible for veneration, fully 3-dimensional statues are not.” [Ibid.]

    That whole discussion at monachos is interesting, and gives me twin concerns. If the statues are being venerated, it seems to contradict the 7th council, and we are the church of the 7 councils, if anything. If the statues are prevalent but not being venerated, then they are taking the place of iconography, filling space rightly filled with the venerable icons, and so are properly an iconoclast implementation. I have the same problem w. churches covered in stained glass, where scarcely an inch of their walls are adorned with icons. Iconoclasm is an insidious set of techniques that threaten the whole faith.

    Comment by tuD | February 16, 2008 | Reply

  4. This makes perfect sense to me, and I have decided to agree. 🙂 In short, you’ve elaborated on a nascent opinion, and helped me form it better. Thank you.

    Your descriptions address the concerns I have, in the main.

    I would expand on your example of where 3D prevails, and scant use of 2D, something is wrong. On a personal level, too, an ecstatic love and veneration of statues, and a coldness and ambivalence for icon, would also be a distorted spiritual psychology. Whether based on distorted affections or on a philosophy of one icons being somehow more “Eastern”. There’s an interaction, in short between iconography and psychology, and there can be problems with either that contribute to the other.

    I am a bit concerned when a statue forms the altar cross, in any case. When the crucifix is of the RC variety, rather than the Orthodox – i.e. it’s a 3D corpus. That makes me very nervous.

    One additional issue: if these places are designed to make potential heterodox converts more comfortable, they will likely make a lot of Orthodox brethren less comfortable, and of course the reverse is argued. But it is my contention that it is more important for the potential convert to become comfortable with and adopt the psychology of the fullness of Orthodox experience, than to begin by limiting himself to an ethnic form of it which, while that’s precisely the argument of many WR adherents, they also quickly fall into. In short, I’d rather a potential convert have to come to understand the value, richness, and fullness of iconography, which the 7th council says is necessary to be Orthodox at all, than to appeal merely to a part of things to make his conversion easier. That has never been helpful and always been tragic in the history of Orthodoxy.

    Comment by tuD | February 16, 2008 | Reply

  5. This has been an interesting discussion. I agree wholeheartedly that Orthodoxy has, as a norm, a two-dimensional iconography rather than a three-dimensional. I personally embrace this, as the norm of the West when it was Orthodox, and the norm of the East now.

    Regarding which expresses the “fulness” of Orthodox piety – I agree that flat icons (or bas-relief) express the fulness “as a norm,” but that individual statues are just as full an expression of the faith, “individually.”

    What am I saying? Well, if you go into a Church and find an almost total dearth of 2-D iconography, and an handful of 3D crucifixes and statues – well, something has gone wrong. But if you go into a Church and find the richness of Orthodox iconography and a statue or two – well, it’s allright. The statues are not somehow “less full,” taken individually. Only when statuary becomes a norm in spite of traditional iconography, is the general use of statuary lacking an Orthodox fulness.

    St. Luke is reputed to have carved the statue of Our Lady of Montserrat. St. Veronica is supposed to have carved a statue. The Celts certainly used 3D art. Reliquaries have used 3D art very frequently. Our Lady of Einsiedeln(?) was a wonder-working statue from before the Schism as well. None of these thaumaturgic statues are “lacking the fulness of Orthodoxy” as individual objects of devotion. In fact, they are quite palpably filled with its fulness.

    I don’t know that it makes much sense, “logically,” but I believe it makes sense to the Orthodox mind: a statue on its own is not “lacking” an Orthodox fulness – it can be a miraculous thing. But a piety which overwhelmingly looks to statuary (especially of a realistic sort) and rejects 2D iconography – by reason of its altered standards (and not because of any faults in the individual objects of devotion), has diminished the fulness of Orthodox piety.

    Just my opinion at the moment – I’m very open to discussion on the matter.

    Comment by fatheraugustine | February 16, 2008 | Reply

  6. My prayers you shall have. I will add your name to my icon corner.

    Comment by tuD | February 16, 2008 | Reply

  7. In your kind words about myself, you go too far, I’m just a sinner and nothing special. I will pray for you, though, and I also ask your prayers for me. It is certain that death is coming quickly; may God have mercy on us.

    Comment by hieromonachusaidanus | February 16, 2008 | Reply

  8. Your essay is excellent. I disagree w. you on a few points, but not overall, not in attitude or religious psychology. Thank you most deeply for the corrections in those areas; it’s very hard to find anyone to do that. People want to hand you pet theories that are patently false, sure; finding that’s as easy as sniffing the wind, but getting any real help in maintaining the course of Orthodox attitudes means finding someone that knows what it is and, frankly, perpetual childhood seems the rule, for all the talk. Something about our system – our way of being has become strangely Protestantized, bizarrely parochial, and it seems like a diabolical design to keep us from making any real progress beyond affiliation and the basics.

    This is really good. Incidentally, if it had let me, it was my intent to post two photos of Orthodox statuary in the comment section, but unfortunately there seems to be some kind of bug on that. I’ll try to address each of your paragraphs:

    1. I was taught a rule, that I certainly have taken to be a canon, though I confess I do not know the source. I’ll see if I can track it down. I remember the rule for grasping the nose vividly. I am aware, certainly, that there are venerable and venerated statues out there. I simply mean, and ‘weirder’ things, if I may escape impiety for lack of a better word, but I regard these as ornaments to the rule. That’s the thing, I think you’ll agree: when we Orthodox make a rule, we frequently then have no problem with breaking it, so long as its there. I realize you’re saying the rule came later; I’m not sure of that: my understanding is that it was always the way to paint on walls and disdain the statues of the pagans. With exceptions, but the rule was understood. Thing is, we Orthodox have another rule: we don’t write everything down, or even comment on everything. Exceptions abound but, in general, we don’t bother to say anything unless something is challenged, and then we defend the unwritten rule, by writing it down, in order to protect the innocent. But the rest of the time, we just try to save ourselves. Ours is not a belief system, but a process of salvation. Beliefs, in fact, can hamper this. You’ve perhaps read Lossky’s Mystical Theology on this? I quote him often; he’s been such solace.

    But of course, I can only argue an attitude, which you’ve already agreed with, and I cannot cite the absence of a written rule as evidence of a rule. Your point of course is the danger of making of a way of thinking – an Orthodox rule – instead an academic rule. Yeesh – how easy I find it to see that when others do it. 🙂 But me? I miss it sometimes. Thank you.

    2-3. On the pinch the nose rule, no I knew that had been violated with reasonable piety. Such rules are pieties, so we don’t treat them like rules in other religions or in legislatures. A couple of examples: there is some really bad iconography out there during the Westernized period in Russia. I blame the Vatican 🙂 But in any case, it’s bad. Really hideous stuff. And I have a hard time venerating it, but I do when I see it, know that it has been blessed, and is being venerated by others. Now, if I saw a heretical sign in the icon, you couldn’t make me kiss it at gunpoint, and there are such things. Recognizing that the westernized icon is not the fulness of Orthodox tradition and that, yes, it shows a certain impoverishment of understanding, learning, and awareness on the part of the iconographer and his school, does not mean that I am not well aware that he is probably *much* farther along the path to theosis than me, and I would do well to sit at his feet in regards to prayer, to thinking, to any number of things. Just not as an iconographer. But even there, he probably could teach me much. We keep these things in tension. Another example: I’ve seen pious but superstitious or disturbed people do some outlandish things that people felt were wrong or at least gave the wrong impression. But I have no problem with this. If such a one were to say, “look, I’ve got to do this to avoid the evil eye”, I would probably decide not to have heard that, and would reverence the rest of their piety. But not knowing what they’re thinking, and seeing the attempt toward piety, I’m convinced they know God and I do not. They are the teacher, and I am the unholy fool. There are some wild things that happen and have happened out there. Our Faith is rife with miracles, not matter how quiet we try to keep it. There’s a general pattern to most, but there are also just some outright ‘strange’ (again not to be impious) things that are undoubtedly so. And they don’t always ask whether they’re correct.

    We are held in tension between a hyper-Cyprianism that suggests that the limits of Grace are the limits of canonicity, and on the other hand a hyper-Augustinism that takes too far the notion that the Holy Spirit blows where he will, which is quite true, and that the boundaries of the Church, or canonicity cannot be said to be the boundaries of Almighty God. We Orthodox are signified by moving around between those poles, rather than seizing either as an absolute and, as you say, turning it into a philosophy. I get it (I do need to be reminded of it, though).

    I would differentiate crosses from statues. I’ve no problem with crosses. The attitude, I’d venture to say, is different from the one thing to the other.

    4-5. When you say that statuary leave something to be desired when it comes to the optimal, we’re talking about fullness. That’s exactly it. And Orthodoxy, at least my first father taught me, is about fullness upon fullness ad infinitum. We seek always, to quote a Protestant source, “our utmost for his highest”. That’s all I mean. I still think there’s a canon on this, but I defer until I’ve proven it, and meanwhile can accept our agreement on the rule of fullness (rule in the… Orthodox sense) as making icons preferable in general, while saying nothing about particular statues.

    You mention St. Seraphim. I think (it’s speculation, admittedly) that this was his way of a) redeeming an icon he had or was given or that was cast off and b) remaining humble. I was taught that when we burn a heretical icon, we do it with as much reverence as possible, and prayers to the Saint, for even the lies about them point to their glory. This, to me, is part of the glory of Orthodoxy – that we even violate rules, or pieties if you prefer, for the sake of greater ones, like love or humility. But just to be clear, I certainly don’t believe that anyone is less Orthodox than me because they have a statue or a westernized icon. I don’t like those things, and don’t think their the fulness of our Faith, but I don’t confuse that with their place and mine. The non-fasting, non-confessing, RSV-toting, cruxifix wearing, chotki flourishing, beardless sitter who never bows or crosses or says the prayers aloud, and who thinks we ought to modernize and instrumentalize our music… well, this person is deeply… um… wrong, in a lot of ways. The thing is, he makes the coldness of my heart even more ashamed, I who have no love.

    That’s the thing about this WR site, too. I think a lot of people assume that because we are defending our Faith, we must think our opponents are dogs, or that we’re better than them. Hardly. They are not even really our opponents, and we do what we do in their service. Every Western Rite person, even if they were doing the wrong thing for the wrong reasons with the wrong attitude (I could go on, but it’s a touchy subject around here 🙂 – every one of them will be saved while I am condemned. If I don’t have this attitude, nothing I say matters. The Celts? Who could have better fathers? And as for the WR people, I learn from them whenever they can teach me anything.

    That said, when we try to craft, from the basic material of what the Church has done over the last few hundred years, a series of inflexible rules, laws, and pronouncements, the results can range from inadequate to impious. Soon we’re accusing whole centuries-ful of Orthodox people of the first millennium of not being as Orthodox in understanding as we ourselves are! God forbid.

    This is deeply, deeply appreciated. Father, some of us starve out here w/o this kind of help. Thank you. Please continue, and correct wherever I have failed. You do battle with demons; pray that I escape pride? Pits and pitfalls and more pits within them await, say your brothers, and I believe them and have seen. Ask that my soul not be lost? These things we do here, they are such as they are; but in the larger scheme of things, there is something more important, and I am a sinful man.

    And, Father, I only realized what you are when I got to the end, and paid closer attention to your screen-name. Forgive my speaking until now as to an equal? You are a light of men. Forgive me for troubling you to add to your prayers, but I dare not fail to ask, save me, Father, by them. Ask that I not be the kindling, the dead wood, the dry thing that will go into the fire? Christ is coming, or I will be dying, and I know that I will face the Judge.

    Comment by tuD | February 14, 2008 | Reply

  9. Actually, if one delves into the Pedalion (Rudder) published in 1802 by Sts. Nicodemus and Agapitus of the Holy Mountain, one finds that wonder-working, venerated, 3D statues were quite in use in the ancient Church. One example the Pedalion gives is St. Veronica, the woman who was healed of an issue of blood by Christ. After her healing, she made a statue of Christ, and this statue had wonder-working properties. If I recall, the very herbs which grew at the feet of the statue would heal infirmities. It was venerated by the Eastern Orthodox for centuries until it was broken or lost.

    There is ancient Christian statuary, such as the famous carving of Christ the Good Shepherd. The Orthodox Celtic Christians of the West were fond of erecting quite large crosses, which were entirely 3D, and had carvings all over them. Sometimes the carvings were in the tradition of bas-relief (such that one could not “pinch a nose”), sometimes they were more 3D than that. Were the Orthodox Christians of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, and were the Celtic saints, simply lacking an Orthodox phronema? That would be disrespectful to say.

    Furthermore, well prior to the Schism of Rome in 1054, there were in the West (and also in the East) wonder-working statues of the Theotokos and of Saints. These were warmly venerated by the faithful and some still exist. In Russia there is venerated to this day an ancient and wonder-working 3D statue of St. George. The odd thing is, because of the current feelings about statues being primarily Latinate, the statue is venerated by placing in front of it a traditional icon. Thus the miraculous image is hidden from view as people venerate it by kissing the flat icon.

    There is actually no church canon which discourages, much less forbids, the faithful from venerating 3D images of Christ and the Saints. We are obligated as Christians to venerate ALL images of God Incarnate, the precious Cross, and the Saints. A visiting Russian Bishop taught my own congregation to be sure to save, off their letters, the Christmas stamps which are images of the Theotokos and of Christ. If we toss them in the trash, we do a thoughtless and iconoclastic deed. Surely cancelled U.S. stamps are not prime for veneration, but we respect them nonetheless.

    The existence of alternate forms of imagery to the usual Orthodox ones, does not mean that it was not for good reason that flat iconography came to predominate in the Orthodox world. As with Westernised depictions of the Saints which incorporate renaissance and post-renaissance techniques of proportion, depth, and realism, 3D statues leave something to be desired when it comes to optimal achievement of the Church’s iconographic sense. Still, the fact that St. Seraphim of Sarov reposed praying on his knees before a thoroughly Westernised icon of the Theotokos with swords sticking out of her heart, does not mean he had a hint of impiety, nor that he lacked divine grace. These matters can be made (oddly enough, by a Western-legalistic turn of mind!) into laws, principles, rules, and dogmatic formulations, into things by which (historically) the Orthodox Church has really not been bound. Before long, one is implying our Celtic Orthodox forebears worshipped “a concept contained in created thoughts – a circumscribed “god” – a god as religious philosophy.” Behold in what direction chains of syllogisms lead a person. Such outcomes seem to be strongly present in the ‘Franko-iconography’ article. There is much more to say, but time fails.

    I am all for Byzantine iconography (which is at its origin the same as contemporaneous Western iconography in many places in the West, so it is not really an Eastern distinctive), and I do not prefer Westernised icons, and I really don’t prefer setting up statues in church, even though many Eastern Orthodox (e.g., Carpatho-Russians) do so. That said, when we try to craft, from the basic material of what the Church has done over the last few hundred years, a series of inflexible rules, laws, and pronouncements, the results can range from inadequate to impious. Soon we’re accusing whole centuries-ful of Orthodox people of the first millennium of not being as Orthodox in understanding as we ourselves are! God forbid.

    Comment by hieromonachusaidanus | February 14, 2008 | Reply

  10. 🙂 This would be so much easier over coffee. 🙂 Let’s try again:

    You’ve asked about the reasons statues aren’t venerated, and also sources for the canon law.

    On the latter, I would have to refer you to someone w. a wider library. You may want to consult Dr. Georg Kordis, Iconographer and lecturer at the school of Theology, University of Athens, Greece. There may be other scholars of canon law w. the answer.

    On the former, of course, I’ve given some of the reasons.

    Hope that helps. Forgive my unworthiness.

    Comment by tuD | February 6, 2008 | Reply

  11. tuD: I told you I am dense, and I am certainly not looking to fix Orthodoxy!

    I am however looking, to use your own words, to “discuss real concerns which seem to have been squelched.” Quite frankly I find the topics on this website very interesting.

    Yet, somehow, I now get the feeling there really is not much room for discussion. Did I contradict you? Personally attack you? Ridicule your point of view? Perhaps my concerns are not “real” enough?

    My inquiries stem precisely from this concern “against a false mind and a pseudo-dox syncretism”!

    Comment by parchemente | February 6, 2008 | Reply

  12. Parch: I’m not able to do that research for you right now. Many of us learn these things at a certain point and then move on. We’re not so much driven my surrounding ourselves w. sources and footnotes, which is more a Protestant way of thinking (needing chapter/verse).

    You might find what you want in the Rudder (Pedalion) which is the most portable collection of canon law but I advise you specifically NOT to acquire it. Again, a more Protestant psychology is one that tries to go everywhere, touch everything, etc. Our tradition advises not to touch things like the Philokalia w/o specific instructions to do so from one’s father confessor thru a continual/sustained relationship of penance and spiritual direction. Same thing w. the Rudder and things like it – it’s not food for young Orthodox minds but poison. This is one of the principles of Economy – from the Incarnation and how Christ saves – that what saves me slays you, and vice versa. The monks have warned repeatedly of the pitfalls that await the unprepared in such works and ways. It’d be like attempting to regulate your breathing on your own – it’s forbidden.

    That said, I know a lot of headstrong will not listen to the rest of us. Just be aware of that we gave the warning and, not being greater than the desert fathers, worse pits within pits await to fall into, and delusion, possession, etc. I advise, and doubly advise, and advise again, do not go becoming a justifier of the faith, an apologist, a canon lawyer, a source hound, a prover of the proven, a debater, or a defender of Orthodoxy, unless and until you have been Orthodox for years and years, and have the guidance of the aforementioned Confessor to do it.

    A wise father communicated our mentality about such things – that we do not, as Protestants do, piecemeal our faith together from a collection of religious philosophical principles, but we embrace the organic whole in peace:

    “It is clear that the Apostles did not deliver everything in writing, but many things without it, and these likewise deserve to be believed; let us then give credit to the traditions of the Church. It is tradition — seek no farther.” – St. John Chrysostom

    In other words, we are about learning a way of living, a way of thinking (spiritual psychology), an attitude, every bit as much – perhaps more – than correct doctrine. Things that cannot be sourced. But even if there is a source, as in this case there are. Most of us remember the rule for frescoes that “if you can grasp it by the nose” it is a statue and not a frescoe, and is rejected.

    But even so, what difference does it make? We’re not justifying our faith to anyone. Embrace it or dump it – that’s on you. It’s not like if you found it in some way lacking or needing modification or erroneous (which would be something occuring in your own mind) we’d then say, “Well, it’s a good thing you came aboard Parch, so now you can fix this for us.” We’d all lead each other into the pit.

    It is enough that we do it this way. That it is tradition. If you can’t accept that, no matter what doctrines you want to reduce it to, you can’t accept Orthodoxy. We are not a belief system. No matter how often we say that to Protestant ears, it seems to be heard as “yeah yeah, that’s just pious goop, you’re really a belief system, now let’s get back on track.”

    You’ve been warned about this. A mental conversion cannot save. You must have the Orthodox mind (phronema), and that is aquired in humility, silence, and learning how we live and think by living and thinking with us. It doesn’t exist in books – and the books only make sense and cease to be distortion, delusion, and hellish poison, when you have that mind.

    We are NOT “people of the book”. Breathe and spit on that. We are not monotheist. Breathe and spit. We are not religious philosophy. We have nothing to prove to anyone. And we do not have a place for the merely curious. We are not a roadside attraction. And we do not need to be improved by the neophyte. We are the Faith. One converts to it, or one doesn’t.

    Forgive my strong words; please realize they are not aimed ‘at’ you, but are a sincere, concerned attempt to warn you with as much caution as possible, against a false mind and a pseudo-dox syncretism of what will no longer be Orthodoxy with what has always been heterodox. If we were just another religious philosophy, frankly, I’d dump the thing and go to a brothel.

    Comment by tuD | February 6, 2008 | Reply

  13. tuD: Thanks for your time. At the risk of sounding dense (which would not lead one to an altogether false assessment of my noetic faculties) and so as not to waste time or space, would you point me to the Holy Canons, specifically those speaking about this issue? To clarify, my point is not that your reasoning is not the fullest expression of the Orthodox mind so much as the reason for condemning 3D while yet accepting 2D seems not to make any sense to this ignorant pilgrim. If however you can demonstrate to me how my mind can be more Orthodox in this regard or in general, by means of the Holy Canons or any other Orthodox manner, I will bow my stiff neck in the hope my heart will follow the same.

    Comment by parchemente | February 6, 2008 | Reply

  14. Parch: The equal and opposite way of expressing it is that statuary suggests wrong piety or incorrect religious psychology because statues indicate the limitations of the senses to the sensible 3 dimensions, where icons are windows to heaven, and so point us in form to further consideration. This is why naturalistic art is not iconography, but is rejected in favor of expressionistic art. In fact, this is basic principle of Orthodox icon writing available for understanding in any number of books on the subject. I could suggest one, if you’re looking at the issue.

    On the whole, of course, these thing are not things I need to defend, frankly:

    On the one hand, if one is outside the Orthodox Church, I will say that the Orthodox Church is not something we make up as we go along based on what you or I have decided in our minds by ourselves. That’s Protestantism, not Orthodoxy. We’re no using theoretical building blocks to build a religious philosophy. If, on the other hand, one is Orthodox, well the Holy Canons are quite clear about this, and woe to him who shows such impiety as to speak against the Holy Canons. I wouldn’t dare to converse with him, less we both fall into a pit.

    So if your point is that my reasoning is not the fullest expression of the Orthodox mind on this point, then please contribute the best explanation of the Orthodox phronema in the matter, and I’ll learn from it. If on the other hand, you’re wanting to debate the question as a theory in and of itself, apart from the tradition, I don’t think I can help you, since, not being Protestant, I just can’t think that way. But you’re certainly welcome to use the space – and perhaps someone else will engage in that with you.

    Comment by tuD | February 6, 2008 | Reply

  15. Ordo: Thank you for these helpful clarifications. I didn’t understand your comment on the Celts – they were of course, quite iconoduul.

    I question the notion that the Slavs did not like to venerate icons. I think you meant this in a certain context, and not as a general statement.

    I am aware that there exist Orthodox examples of statuary, as well, just that these in the main were frowned upon. In general the notion of an icon, as 2-dimensional, or even a fresco, is that of limited knowledge, of something coming forth as revealed, but to which we have limited access in our understanding, and cannot decisively comprehend.

    With statuary, being able to walk around it, look at it from all sides, comes the notion of something fully circumscribable, something one can be definitive about, and this is really quite contrary to the Orthodox conception of what an icon is and does.

    Comment by tuD | February 6, 2008 | Reply

  16. This seems a bit of a stretch – well actually more than just a bit. “The veneration of statues is rejected because a statue gives the impression of being able to circumscribe the uncircumscribable.” So this is now about 2D vs. 3D? Somehow a 2D image does not circumscribe the uncircumscribable, but a 3D does? This reasoning leads one to reject all images, 2D or 3D!

    Comment by parchemente | February 5, 2008 | Reply

  17. Speaking as someone who is in his heart an Orthodox Christian (Melkite for political reasons) I think this is a very contentious issue which must be studied very closely to be understood correctly as far as the churches history relating to veneration of images far too many are ill educated on this subject.

    “Venerating statuary is actually a means of depriving a space of iconography, under the pretext of filling it with the same.”

    Currently this is a valid comment for the Latin Catholic Church of today and I agree whole heartedly with this , with a few exceptions but for the Latin Church of 1000 years ago this is not a valid statement.

    As we can see from the Church of Saint Georg on the Island of Reichenau built in the 800’s and painted in the 900’s to 1000’s before 1200 AD we do have primarily frescoes and mosaics as in place of statuary in the West. Once statuary came in the frescoes and mosaics started to move out so that by 1500 very little of the tradition of early christian iconography and sense of history and reverance for received tradition remained left to the west.

    However veneration of any image at all in the west especially far north of of the mediterranean I have not yet managed to understand but in general it was probably not as strong as it was in the east. It would serve us well to compare and contrast the tradition that was given to Western Slavs vs the tradition given to Eastern Slavs. One kept the tradition of icon alive the other did not. Part of this has to do with the fact that the Western Slavs were evangelized as much by the Frankish missionaries as they were by Cyril and Methodius. Unfortunately generally speaking it is true that the Franks did not like to venerate images. With Rome though this is not true..there are several roman panel icons used in processions and venerated as far as I can tell the same as in the east. As to why the Romans were unable to pass on their veneration of icons to the Franks they missionized to (though even here most of that may have been done by the Irish, where was there tradition of images?) is a mystery I have yet to solve. Further reading of Hans Beltings book should resolve much of this mystery.

    see links:


    “(There were also statues there that they had introduced instead of icons).” <-I must say that this is not actually true. Nothing that could have been confused as a statue was introduced until the 900’s in any number. What you had introduced somewhere around Lotharingia (upper and lower lorraine) in the 800’s in RARE instances were reliquaries which were covered in gold and jewels in the shape of (perhaps freestanding) sculpture ALWAYS in an enthroned position, so they could not be confused as a statue in the sense of western statues of today.

    please see the book:

    Likeness and Presence: A History of the Image before the Era of Art By Hans Belting,

    page 297

    Chapter 14 “Statues, Vessels and Signs: Medieval Images and Relics in the West”

    This entire book is worth reading and will benefit any understanding of the Orthodox (and previously Western Catholic) Churches correct use of images. it is one of my most cherished posessions which I have only recently acquired.

    I will post frequently on this topic on my blog in the future.

    Comment by ordoromanusprimus | February 5, 2008 | Reply

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