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Paintings/Icons in the Syriac Tradition

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  • James
    Dearly Beloved SOCM members, Can one of the learned scholars of the Church clarify the use of Icons/paintings within the sanctuary in the Syriac Tradition.
    Message 1 of 4 , Oct 22, 2012
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      Dearly Beloved SOCM members,

      Can one of the learned scholars of the Church clarify the use of Icons/paintings within the sanctuary in the Syriac Tradition.

      I've seen pictures of the Middle eastern churches being decorated with blissful Icons/paintings of saints but I don't see it much in the Malankara Church. When asked, I was told that in the Syriac tradition, we aren't supposed to put paintings/icons within the Church building. Which is the fact?

      Also are we allowed to use the paintings of Christ or saints behind the altar? Some churches uses saints, some use the resurrected Christ, some use only a cross..

      Lastly, the catholic church portrays Jesus on the cross...is the use of that painting forbidden in the Orthodox Tradition, as the resurrected Christ is the only acceptable.

      James
      -----------------------------
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    • Mathew G M
      Icons were in use in the church from the very beginning. We have an icon of Virgin Mary Yaldoth Aloho that was written (yes we say icons are written not
      Message 2 of 4 , Oct 24, 2012
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        Icons were in use in the church from the very beginning. We have an icon of Virgin Mary Yaldoth Aloho that was 'written' (yes we say icons are written not painted) by St.Luke the Evangelist; the author of the Gospel and one of the 72 disciples of Christ (72 ariyippukar). This icon is preserved at St. Mark's Syriac Orthodox Dayro in Jerusalem.

        http://sor.cua.edu/ChMon/HLand/YerusalemSMark.html

        Icons especially those depicting scenes from the scripture are very instructional and helps the believers understand the theology of the church. Especially in the olden days before printing when copies of the bible were rare; and illiteracy was common; icons were very important for the common man to understand the teachings and dogma of the church.

        After the Council of Chaledeon in AD 451, the Church suffered a major split. The Latins (Roman Catholic) and Byzantines (Greek Orthodox who later evangelized the Salvs - Russians) were on one side and the Copts and Syriacs on the other side.

        Even after the split both sides continued to use icons. However by the AD 700s in the Byzantine and to some extend the Latin church had an Iconoclasm heresy. In other words, there was a wrong teaching that icons were against the teaching of the bible and hence was to be destroyed. So there was a period of deliberate destruction of icons in that period. So they called a Council of Bishops to decide on this matter. This is the Seventh Ecumenical Council for the Byzantines (Greek Orthodox). This council clarified that icons are indeed 'windows to heaven' and canonical icons can not only be used but also venerated. So after this decision of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, icons came back in a very big way in the Byzantine (Greek) Churches.

        We the Syriacs and Copts were not in communion with the Byzantines by the time of the Seventh Ecumenical Council and hence we dont consider that council to be Ecumenical. We only hold on to the first three Ecumenical Councils. And we never had the revival of icons that happened in the Byzantine church.

        But the degree of importance given to icons in the post 'seventh ecumenical council' Byzantine Church and the Syriac Church is different.

        We also have to consider two more things:
        1) Writing an icon especially a big one is expensive in the olden times when colors / paints were very expensive. So churches which had patronage from very rich kings (Latins, Greeks, Russians etc) had a way of having very elaborate icons in their churches. Churches with no royal patronage didnt have the means to have those icons.

        2) After the 800s, most of the territory of the Syriac Church was controlled by Muslim rulers. In Islam it is forbidden to make images of people. So naturally our churches that were build in islamic lands didnt have that many icons.

        Even in Malankara we have some old churches with very elaborate icons. To see the icons at the St. Mary's Church in Angamaly see the link below

        https://picasaweb.google.com/malankarasyriacorthodox/ANGAMALYICONS#

        In Christ,
        Mathew G M

        --- In SOCM-FORUM@yahoogroups.com, James wrote:
        >
        > Dearly Beloved SOCM members,
        >
        > Can one of the learned scholars of the Church clarify the use of Icons/paintings within the sanctuary in the Syriac Tradition.
        >
        > I've seen pictures of the Middle eastern churches being decorated with blissful Icons/paintings of saints but I don't see it much in the Malankara Church. When asked, I was told that in the Syriac tradition, we aren't supposed to put paintings/icons within the Church building. Which is the fact?
        >
        > Also are we allowed to use the paintings of Christ or saints behind the altar? Some churches uses saints, some use the resurrected Christ, some use only a cross..
        >
        > Lastly, the catholic church portrays Jesus on the cross...is the use of that painting forbidden in the Orthodox Tradition, as the resurrected Christ is the only acceptable.
        >
        > James
      • Mike Wingert
        Hi James, Whomever told you that we aren t supposed to put paintings/icons within the Church building is giving you inaccurate information. When we discuss
        Message 3 of 4 , Oct 31, 2012
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          Hi James,

          Whomever told you that "we aren't supposed to put paintings/icons within the Church building" is giving you inaccurate information.

          When we discuss iconology, we're discussing a theological topic, and that may be why some are apprehensive when the discussion comes up. There is a method in which icons are used in the buildings of the Church. There is a Middle Eastern SOC near me which is entirely clueless about the use of icons in the Church-building and has several paintings that are haphazardly placed throughout the interior. That is equally as useless as the neo-iconoclastic answer you were told.

          Historically, the Syriac tradition is minimalistic as far as iconography is concerned. We did not have an iconoclastic controversy in the way the imperial Roman communion did, so we did not have a reaction against that which resulted in what you can see in Greek or Russian places of worship. Part of the reason for the minimalism is the practicality of matter. The Syriac tradition did not live under the patronage of Orthodox kings the way other traditions did to support a development of this tradition. Most of our icons can be found in manuscripts or tapestries. Other monasteries testify to a tradition of iconology.

          The Syriac tradition used to employ an icon of the Virgin Mary and Christ Child above the altar. This icon is to keep us mindful of the incarnation of the Word and the presence of God among us (which we experience through our liturgy). The question to ask with other icons and the altar is, "to what are we called to be mindful?"

          Icons of the crucifixion are not forbidden, but they have their place. Many of our processional crosses contain an icon or relief of the crucified Christ. It is true that we focus on the resurrected Christ, but that doesn't mean we aren't mindful of His passion.

          These are good questions you asked and I am glad you brought the topic up for public consumption.

          Pray for me,

          Mike Wingert
          0902
          St. Cyril of Alexandria Orthodox Christian Society
          http://www.orthodoxtheology.org/

          --- In SOCM-FORUM@yahoogroups.com, James wrote:
          >
          > Dearly Beloved SOCM members,
          >
          > Can one of the learned scholars of the Church clarify the use of Icons/paintings within the sanctuary in the Syriac Tradition.
          >
        • Dr. Leena Mathew
          Dear Mr. James, ALSO ARE WE ALLOWED TO USE THE PAINTINGS OF CHRIST OR SAINTS BEHIND THE ALTAR? SOME CHURCHES USE SAINTS, SOME USE THE RESURRECTED CHRIST, SOME
          Message 4 of 4 , Nov 1, 2012
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            Dear Mr. James,

            ALSO ARE WE ALLOWED TO USE THE PAINTINGS OF CHRIST OR SAINTS
            BEHIND THE ALTAR? SOME CHURCHES USE SAINTS, SOME USE THE RESURRECTED CHRIST, SOME USE ONLY A CROSS.
            We prefer to keep only cross in the Alter. As Mr. Mathew G.M. mentioned the church used icons to teach the people and it served the
            purpose in those conditions mentioned.

            On Sundays and Holy festivals we meditate the different mysteries of Jesus’ incarnation in the Holy Qurbana. On Christmas we meditate
            the Infant Jesus in the manger. Good Friday we meditate on crucified Christ. Easter Sunday we meditate resurrected Christ. Pesaha, Hosanna all have different mysteries. In the Holy Qurbana, we meditate Jesus birth to the second coming. Our full concentration should be on Jesus Holy Blood and Holy Flesh in the Holy Qurbana. We must visualize all the mysteries of Jesus incarnation on the Holy Cross which is kept in the middle of the Alter.
            ===========================================

            LASTLY, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH PORTRAYS JESUS ON THE CROSS.IS THE USE OF THAT PAINTING FORBIDDEN IN THE ORTHODOX TRADITION, AS THE RESURRECTED CHRIST IS THE ONLY ACCEPTABLE.
            Jesus died, was buried and resurrected from the dead. If Jesus Christ wasn't resurrected, He wouldn't have conquered death caused by the sin. So we emphasize the resurrection.

            With prayers,
            Leena
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