June 2009 Newsletter
 Special Feature: Iconography in the Orthodox Church
Part 1 of 4

Iconography endeavors to negate physical reality in order to portray reality as transformed by Grace. Complex and deliberate artistic techniques are used to do this. The iconographer purposely elongates the body and features of the saints so that the observer will see not the human but the aesthetic nature. To portray the presence of God's glory within a saint, skin tones are ochre rather than pink giving a shadowless illusion of inner light. The halo surrounds the head as a radiating presence of this same spiritual light.

Mouths are small and closed as a reminder to take care when one speaks. High foreheads and large and widely set eyes reflect wisdom and openness to God's grace. Long thin noses offer minimum access for the aromas of reality to enter the holy one. Full-faced images or half-turned images with both eyes showing are used. When depicting holy personages, gaunt facial features are similar from figure to figure. Hair, posture, and setting are used rather than personal physical features to individualize the images. The body is deemphasized by the voluminous folds of clothing.

Being difficult to immediately identify because of similarity of features, the saints are identified by name on the right side top of the icon. Agios written to the left of the image means Saint. Icons of events from the Gospels are also titled. Names and titles can be written both horizontally and vertically and often are written on multiple lines for artistic effect. Abbreviations use first and last letters of words.

Inverted perspective and use of space in icons are additional tools used to convey theological concepts. Two dimensional or even reversed perspective is used by design to take one's mind from reality to the divine. One should not come away impressed with the worldly beauty depicted in an icon. Distortions are intentional, often used as a technique to draw one's eye to the prominent figure in the icon. The flat gold backgrounds allow concentration on only the image. In icons with multiple figures, relative size of the figures and distorted posturing reflect their relative importance theologically.

In the fourth century when Constantine stopped persecution of the Christians and formally recognized the Christian faith, the Church flourished. Thousands were converted. With so many new to the faith, instruction and proper worship became very important. Iconography was seen as an important vehicle for instruction in the symbolism of the liturgy and faith for the growing Church. Maintaining and enhancing the integrity of their instruction was secured by the placement of iconography according to the teachings of the Church. By the ninth century the Iconoclastic destruction had passed and the classic design for placement of iconography was well established. From the ninth to the 16th century iconographic creativity and richness of style continued to flourish within the parameters set by the Church Fathers.

Even after the Great Schism with the Western Church in 1054 AD, iconography continued to flourish in the Eastern Church. With the plunder of Constantinople in the 1200s by the Crusaders, however, the master artisans of the Byzantine Empire scattered to Italy, Mt. Athos and other areas of the Mediterranean world. The ecclesiastical center of Orthodoxy moved from Constantinople to Nicaea in Asia Minor. This period of Paleologan Renaissance was the last majestic period of the Byzantine Empire. Iconography of this period reflected greater emotion and intensity as the Church was influenced by monastic traditions concerning the role of the Holy Spirit.

Contemporary iconography has been influenced by the noted Greek oceanographer Fotis Kontoglou (1895-1965) who led a return to the classic Byzantine style. Orthodox iconography is today recognized as a treasure for all ages as witnessed by the popularity of Orthodox Sacred Art exhibits mounted at such prestigious institutions as the Art Institute of Chicago and the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Icons are the legacy and treasure of the Orthodox faith and still fulfill their role as “Windows to Heaven'' for all who choose to see.

(Written by Faye Peponis, who has served the Greek Orthodox Church for over 35 years in various administrative and teaching capacities. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Education from DePaul University and a Master's in Education from Purdue University.)

Click here to return to June newsletterEcclesia: Greek Orthodox Churches of the Chicago Metropolis

Excerpts and Photography from
Ecclesia: Greek Orthodox Churches
of the Chicago Metropolis

by Panos Fiorentinos

 Share With Others!

Let your family and friends share the savings by forwarding them this email.

 Suggestions & Comments

Dear Greekshops.com customer,

Thank you for contributing to our effort to bring unique and hard to find Greek products to your home. We value your opinion, so please let us know if you have any concerns, suggestions, comments that will improve and help us grow. Send us your feedback at: [email protected]


 Subscription Information

Missed an issue of our
newsletter? Now you can access past newsletters by visiting

To unsubscribe from our mailing list, click here

Copyright © 2009 GreekShops.com All rights reserved.