Fr. John Meyendorff on the Role of Art in Byzantium

Transfiguration of the Lord Jesus Christ

The Transfiguration of the Lord Jesus Christ

Of all the cultural families of Christianitythe Latin, the Syrian, the Egyptian, or the Armenianthe Byzantine was the only one in which art became inseparable from theology. The debates of the eighth and ninth centuries have shown that in the light of the Incarnation art could not retain a “neutral” function, that it could and even must express the faith. Thus through their style, through symbolic compositions, through the elaborate artistic programs covering the walls of Byzantine churches, through the permanent system which presided over the composition of the Byzantine iconostasis, icons became an expression and a source of divine knowledge. The good news about God’s becoming man; about the presence among men of a glorified and deified humanity, first in Christ, but also through Him and the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mary and in the saintsall this “adornment of the Church” was expressed in Byzantine Christian art. Eugene Trubetskoi, a Russian philosopher of the early twentieth century, called this expression “contemplation in colors.”

* This excerpt is from “Byzantine Theology” by Fr. John Meyendorff


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