Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Celebrating Christmas in the Right Spirit

How bad is the spiritual decline in the West?  Judging by its popular Christmas music, it is nearing its collapse.  Consider this version of ‘We Three Kings’ by the ‘Christian rock’ band Tenth Avenue North:

Alternating between low mumbling and wild wailing, it is fairly clear that the West is sliding back into heathen conceptions of religious worship, which focuses on feeding and inflaming the fallenness of the passions rather than healing them.  These reflections on religious art in the Orthodox Church and in the Schismatic West plainly show there is a difference between the two approaches:

 . . .

“Liturgical art, on the other hand, has a spiritual, symbolic and supernatural character.”

“The ecclesiastical art of the Orthodox Church does not strive to delight our senses, but rather to sanctify our senses by offering us the same holy nourishment which we partake of during our holy services. This nourishment comes to us through hymnology, iconography, architecture, and even through the art of the sacred utensils, vestments and every other man-made object in the temple. All these, with their reverent and elevating character work together for the purpose of lifting the souls of the faithful to praise and thanksgiving, but not in the aesthetic manner which the secular art serve. It is, rather, accomplished in an entirely different manner, a manner which is spiritual in itself.”

 . . .

As secular induces human emotion which is temporary and often misleading and misunderstood, the art of the church brings contrition. Mr. Kontoglou gives us these simple examples:

“I am emotionally moved in the theater; I am contrite in church.” The confusion of these two feelings {that is, of the profane and the sacred, of the worldly and the religious] is the cause of the confusion of the worldly and the spectacle with the liturgical service, a confusion of reason of which there have been introduced into many of the churches Western art which depicts the saints as ordinary men, painted in a natural style and especially four part music which is not only foreign to the character of [Greek] Orthodoxy, but is in itself worldly, theatrical, sensual, romantic, having no place in he Church especially the Orthodox Church where everything has liturgical character.”

Also from Photios Kontoglou: “The works of Western religious art are emotional and dramatic. The dramatic element is carnal, even though it is thought to be spiritual. In the Orthodox icon there exists the liturgical element. Wherever the liturgical element is present, there the dramatic and emotional [or carnal] element is neutralized. In the works of Western religious art there is no spiritual ascent. The saints, Christ, the All-holy Mother of God are simply people painted from life, ordinary people who portray Christ, the All-holy One, or the saints. With us the iconographer is not an ordinary painter as in the West; he has a special service [liturgy] to perform through this art, a spiritual service [liturgy] and for this reason his is called “iconographer”.

 . . .

The Western art of today is a reflection of Western religion today. Today’s Western religion is a reflection of their attitude about the importance of the world in religion today. Thus, in the West, people departed from the original purpose of the Christian faith; the inner freedom from the passions by battling their Devil, to overcome sin, but in the place of welfare of the soul and acquiring the Holy Spirit, striving to be accepted by the world, the prosperity and pleasure of the body has taken precedent. Thus in the West, people hope to avoid the moral guilt of sin, if not by good works, then by faith alone. So commonly, their religious art shows the empirical man, having forgotten the piety once delivered to the saints.

 . . .

In the Orthodox icon of the Crucifixion and His bringing down from the cross, all the figures, Christ Himself, the Theotokos, and all those portrayed, show minimal expression. One of the icon’s primary function is not to display the passions but dispassion. It is not suppose to be theatrical and worldly, but humble and dignified. Dispassion is the route to salvation.

 . . .

Rather than bringing about any sort of dispassion and contrition, post-Schism Western art does the opposite, bringing about a state of frenzy which is spiritually dangerous, and can lead people into the nets of demonic delusion.

But the more traditional-minded Anglicans and Roman Catholics may protest that their arts are also quite different than the Evangelical type we have been writing of.  This is true to a degree:  Some of it does create more of a feeling of calmness and compunction (though some of it is also very sensual and agitating), but this is borrowed (and diminishing) capital from their Orthodox past.  However far they may walk back down their particular branch to its starting point, it still remains separate from the Tree of the Orthodox Church, broken off from the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, and thus dead already despite some external signs of life.

What is true of writing icons is true in the making of all truly Christian art:

Only those who have adapted “faith once delivered to the saints” [Jude 3], following an uninterrupted tradition, of true doctrine, the same yesterday, today and forever, can paint icons, because icons are not just inspirational, and educational, but they are a representation of true doctrine, an expression of one faith and one baptism. Faith means nothing if it is a false faith. If iconography is Theology, or as Trubetskoi said, “Theology in Color”, then false theology begets false iconography. The reverse also being true, and therefore he or she who espouses false doctrine can not paint icons. They may attempt it, but only a pseudo reproduction will have been their greatest achievement. They may be technically accurate, and aesthetically beautiful, but it will not be grace filled, and so, consequently, not an icon, but a religious painting. Iconography must have two natures as did Christ, spiritual and physical. Those with false doctrine have only the physical. The logic is supremely simple.

 . . .

Iconography is not “special” as if it is one among many other “special” talents. It is not a brick in a wall of many other bricks which can not be singled out, being assimilated into some obscurity. Talents such as, ordinary art, or the ability to compose music, or poetry, beautiful as they may be, or even a genius for science come from an inner natural aptitude, but iconography is a noetic gift, a calling, if you will, from God to a select few of His people. One can not simply decide that he or she “feels” moved emotionally, to paint icons, they can not just choose it because they have artistic ability or aspirations to paint them, and therefore, merely pick up a brush, practice for a few years and then call themselves, iconographer. It is not an academic subject. The iconographer works in direct contact with the Holy Spirit, the saints, and the angels. What an awesome task, a fearful and humbling task! The unity between God and the iconographer is rare, and extra-ordinary. The idea that one may open up a “workshop” to show people how to paint icons for themselves is presumptuous.

Source:  Ibid

Let the West leave behind her corrupted doctrine and arts (some of her art can be salvaged, though), and celebrate Christmas in the noetic way it was intended to be - with stillness and watchfulness in the heart, rightly ordered passions, joyful sorrow, repentance, humility, etc., which one will find in these Orthodox Christmas hymns and the icons shown with them.

Troparion for the Prefeast of the Nativity

Christmas Kontakion


Holy Ælfred the Great, King of England, South Patron, pray for us sinners at the Souð, unworthy though we are!

Anathema to the Union!

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