ISR Lecturers to Explore the Use of Images and Icons in the Modern Church

Feb. 15, 2016
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WACO, Texas (Feb. 15, 2016) – The question of images in the Christian faith is one that has been debated for centuries. Each Christian tradition has different beliefs about the use of images and icons, and this issue has divided the church over time.

Now, scholars from three major Christian traditions will discuss the use of images in Christianity from 10 a.m. to noon on Thursday, Feb. 18 in Room 143/144 of Baylor University's Paul L. Foster Campus for Business and Innovation.

Carole Baker, a Catholic, Dmitri Andreyev, who is Orthodox, and Matthew Milliner, Reformed, will explore the questions of what constitutes an idol, why there is so much violence surrounding images, the depths of the differences in thought concerning images and what role images may have in a reconciled church.

Baker, research associate at Duke Divinity School, is lecturing on the Lord's body as the Salvific Image.

"The tradition of holy images, including the practice of their veneration, has been integral to Christian worship and theology from very early on and it continues to be for us today," Baker said. "The earliest defenders of the holy images saw clearly that the issues concerning their theological significance touch on the most fundamental aspects of the Christian faith."

Her research is currently focused on the relationship between the holy images of the East and the cult of relics within the Catholic West. Her lecture will focus on Eucharistic Adoration and the Blessed Sacrament as the paradigmatic image for the Catholic West.

"The relationship between the Eucharist and the holy images was debated in the early iconoclast controversies," Baker said. "I will briefly trace the logic of what became the orthodox position on the matter. I then argue that the Blessed Sacrament is the salvific image in that it conforms us to Christ and, thereby, transforms us into the salvific image of the unified Body of Christ for the world."

What Baker finds most interesting about the subject is that there isn't a major world religion that doesn't have some form of highly developed iconography.

"Iconography belongs to culture and I cannot think of an established world religion that doesn't have a highly sophisticated culture," Baker said. "There is a general commonality in that all faiths are material in practice. Again, it's how a faith theorizes or theologizes about this materiality that makes for very interesting study."

Although the use of holy images differs between each religion, it has stayed much the same for Eastern Orthodox churches and Catholics. However, Baker said, the status of holy images in the church continues to be hotly contested by Protestants of various denominational affiliations. Baker hopes to continue studying this divisive subject and extend her research to other religions.

"I am presently preoccupied with my own faith tradition," Baker said. "But last year I was reading a bit more about Islamic art and aesthetics and was absolutely fascinated by what I found. I would like to return to that someday."

Dmitri Andreyev, iconographer at Andreyev Iconography Studio and instructor at Prosopon School of Iconology, is an artist who keeps the tradition of images in the church alive. Born in St. Petersburg, Andreyev came to the U.S. to study iconography and now leads workshops around the country.

"Traditional iconography uses natural materials, which I find very satisfying to work with," Andreyev said. "All the elements that go into the painting are a part of what we are physically. For example, when I use clay, in the gilding process, I think how it is a part of myself. Besides the material aspect, everything we use has a symbolic significance, and I am naturally drawn to that aspect. That clay represents my physical aspect while the gold laid on it represents our spirits. It is also a discipline that helps me to grow spiritually. Through the technique and trying to achieve a certain quality in the work, I learn to be mindful."

Andreyev, who is an Orthodox Christian, said that although some might find iconography to be restrictive or medieval, he sees beauty in the past masters inspiring and challenging. Andreyev paints small icons for private commissions as well as large icons, icon collections or wall paintings for churches. Interestingly, the largest portion of his commissions do not come from Orthodox sources.

"Today's interest in iconography emerged with the Modern Art movement in the beginning of the 20th century, as an aesthetic appreciation, and, at least in Russia, in a pre-revolutionary religious revival, in appreciation for their spiritual profundity," Andreyev said. "No aesthetic can be a living one if it's cut off from its spiritual roots. Contemporary iconography is the continuum of this revival. There is a vibrant conversation out there in academics, social media and churches about the place of images in our culture and contemporary iconography has an important place in that discussion. There is a mystical depth in icons that moves even some non-believers."

Andreyev believes people can be changed by an encounter with an icon and noted that the majority of his students are from non-Orthodox denominations. "They seem to be drawn to the deep teaching present in the icon's symbolism," he said. "People are seeking that mystical aspect as a support in their spiritual journey."

The event, which is sponsored in part by the Louisville Institute, is free and open to the public. The Paul L. Foster Campus for Business and Innovation is located at 1621 S. Third 3rd St., Waco, TX 76706.

by Jenna Press, student newswriter, (254) 710-6805


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