Aesthetics plays an important role in the expression of Christianity. Apart from the doctrinal creationism, beauty finds other channels to take form—especially in Catholicism and Greek Orthodox. With the former, most people would be familiar with the Gothic style architectural structure of the many famous basilicas. On the one hand, these buildings show great diligence of the artistic detail in design; on the other hand, they reflect much theological perspectives of the architect. The high ceiling, resulting from the flying buttress, intends to impress on worshipers with the transcendence of God. Also, every church is built according to the shape of the cross, which resembles that of the tabernacle in the Old Testament. The pulpit, which locates at where the veil would separate the ‘Holy of Holies’, replaces the veil with the proclamation of the Word of God, which leads to (and not separating) the dwelling of God. The purpose of this article, however, is to introduce spirituality of Greek Orthodox icons. In fact, I intend to speak of the icon, Holy Trinity, in the photo album named “Greek Orthodox” in this blog.
The title of the icon gives away that the three figures represent the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In this painting, the individuality of each person is distinguished; at the same time there is a subtle connectedness by portraying the faces of all the figures looking exactly the same, therefore the doctrine of three persons but one God. Another feature, which one may find subtle but striking, is that the faces of God look feminine! Although Orthodox does not hold the position of a maternal God, most scholars of mainstream Christianity would acknowledge the attributes of God contain “feminine” features. After all, God created Eve in his image. And, the prophets have no problem portraying the ‘motherhood’ of God (Isaiah 49:15). On the other hand, the suggestion of a maternal God often creates an uncomfortable sensation, especially after the highly profiled The Da Vinci Code brought on much grief to the church. I believe this is where the intellect may guide the emotion. One of the things that the truth shall set us free is fear. While overemphasizing the motherhood of God might not be proper, neither is its omission.
The artist who created Holy Trinity does not intend for the identity of the three persons to be vague. Instead, he gives each person of the Godhead a distinguish image of who he is. The clue is revealed not in the position of the figures or facial expressions but is revealed in their hand gestures. The Father is the one who is pointing to the dove on the table with one finger and to the Son with another finger. The dove represents a sacrifice given to God. The Father is saying to the Son: “You shall be the Sacrifice.” With his hand bending down, the Son is responding to the Father with obedience. Across the table from the Son is the Holy Spirit, who raises his hand and blesses the giving of the Son (by the Father) and the obedience to atonement (from the Son). Although the message is simple, the painting is able to lead a believer to a much deeper level of appreciation of the doctrine. Such is the work of icons in illuminating spirituality.