Concepts create idols; only wonder grasps anything. - St Gregory of Nyssa

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Theophany, and what sacred art does

You enter a silent museum.  Standing at an appropriate distance, you gaze at a piece of art set against a clinically white wall.  The art is lit as to leave no glare or shine and you as the viewer leave no shadow on it.  Enough space is allotted all around the art so to be admired without peripheral distraction.  Near it is a small tag announcing  the title and the name of the artist. The tag also advertises the more mundane:  the size, the materials used and the year this object was made.  You feel confident this art has been properly documented.   You stand, and you look.  You do nothing else.  For this art to be on display is probably a rare event, and it will soon be stored back into a humidity and temperature controlled room, properly mummified for posterity and as a testimony to the artist’s genius.  It might not be seen again for many years, unless the art finds favor in a curator’s whims.  

As we come to the feast of Theophany, I would like to describe another experience, the encounter with the icon of the Baptism of Christ. an experience characteristic of what sacred art is meant to do. 
You enter a dimly lit church.  On a stand in the center, sitting at a 45° angle is the icon.  It sits at an angle not so much for you to look at it, but for you to kiss it. All around are flickering candles, and in your approach sweetness surprises you as a man wearing shiny robes passes, swinging incense around it.  The icon is surrounded by flowers.  It is surrounded by flowers because today is a celebration, the feast of Theophany, and the icon of the Baptism of Christ is the icon for that feast.  That is the reason why it is displayed.  To see the icon is to hear the chanting, the hymns of Theophany, the feast of light. “On this day you have appeared unto the whole world, and your light, O Sovereign Lord, is signed on us who sing your praise and chant with knowledge: you have now come, you hast appeared, O Light unapproachable.”   Light is related to baptism because as the Divine Man enters the waters of baptism it is light entering the chaotic waters, light entering the deep.
Read it all here.
Wonderful site for those of us who love the Church and the arts.

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