27 March 2009


During the Stalinist era, the Moskow Patriarchate was complicit in the persecution, even martyrdom, of Catholic Ukrainians. It would be nice if, instead of resenting the resurrection of the heroic and ancient Church of Ukraine, Moskow could express some penitence for a period of its history when it appeared very willing to benefit from the oppression of the Ukrainian Church and even from the genocidal famine which Stalinism unleashed upon the Ukrainians.

Moreover, I have a lot of sympathy for the wish of Russian Orthodox that Latin Christianity should not proselytise in the Canonical Territitory of the Moskow Patriarchate. I would wish that Orthodoxy be supported in its desire to be the Church of the Russian people. But a real solution to this group of problems would need examination of the mirror-image problem: the existence of (several!) Orthodox jurisdictions within the Canonical Territory of the Roman Patriarchate. Or is the Patriarchate of Rome a virgin area in partibus infidelium and available as sort of free-for-all for Orthodox to missionise?

During the Inauguration of Pope Benedict XVI, while the Holy Gospel was being sung in Greek, a considerable number of the Orthodox present turned away. I can only suspect that they were so anxious to show disrespect to the "uniate" deacon singing it that they were also willing to show disrespect to the Incarnate Word proclaimed. I suspect - I don't know how to check this - that the deacon concerned may have been associated with the Abbey of Grottaferatta near Rome in the Alban hills; founded by S Nilus in 1004 and for more than a millennium an oasis of Hellenic Christianity in the heart of the West and never out of communion with the See of Rome. If this were so, it would make their action even more unpleasant.

Post Scriptum
I have been asked about Benedict XVI and Ikons. See The Spirit of the Liturgy p134:
"[The West] must achieve a real reception of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, Nicaea II, which affirmed the fundamental importance and theological status of the image in the Church. The Western Church does not need to subject itself to all the individual norms concerning images that were developed at the councils and synods of the East, coming to some kind of conclusion in 1551 at the Council of Moscow, the Council of the Hundred Canons. Nevertheless she should regard the fundamental lines of this theology of the image in the Church as normative for her." (My emphases.)


rev'd up said...

But what about S. John of Damascus' stand for statues? Is not the East in error for continuing to dissallow them?

BillyD said...

What I find odd about EO attitudes towards statues is the Antiochian Archdiocese of North Amerca's allowing them in their Western Rite Vicariate.

BJA said...

I always hear about this supposed EO prohibition of three-dimensional images and I have never seen any concrete proof of it. This is one of these strange modern fairytales cooked up by anti-Western and anti-Roman Orthodox apologists, and repeated by some converts to Orthodoxy, particularly those from already anti-Roman (e.g. Baptist) backgrounds.

As a matter of fact, there were iconographic statues in Byzantium. See, for instance, the 10th c. ivory 'Hodegetria' statue now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. The Black Madonna of Montserrat is believed to have been a Byzantine import.

Certainly the Orthodox (my coreligionists) can't ignore the fact that Emperor Saint Constantine the Great, Equal-to-the-Apostles, erected a number of statues of Christ and the Apostles in Rome.

Three-dimensional icons are also known in Russia, particularly the north.

BillyD said...

BJA, the way that I had it explained to me by an Orthodox priest was that three dimensional images were allowed, but not for veneration. The test of whether or not something was allowable (according to him) was if you could grasp its nose with your fingers. If you could, you weren't allowed to venerate it.

BJA said...


Sorry, that explanation sounds made up to me. Of course one can venerate a statue! Pious Roman Catholics do it all the time. Has your priest friend ever seen the worn-down big toe of Arnolfo de Cambio's statue of St Peter in that Apostle's Basilica in Rome? :-)

BillyD said...

I'm not sure that my source would find Roman Catholic practice relevant.

BJA said...

Probably not. I think I read your response too hastily.

I still, however, don't understand it. Where specifically in the Orthodox Tradition is such a thing prohibited? For instance, one would expect this to be reflected somewhere in the canonical tradition.

BillyD said...

I wonder if he was giving me some sort of traditional rule of thumb (no pun intended) used to check if an image was acceptable for use in Byzantine liturgy, rather than a canonical rule.

BJA said...

In 10 years as an Orthodox, while I've heard the baseless idea that 3D images aren't allowed (again, show me where in the Tradition this is explicit, and explain why we do have examples of Byzantine and Slavic church statuary, some of which became popular objects of great devotion and veneration), I've never, ever heard it precisely as your priest-friend put it. Which, forgive me, makes me extremely skeptical.

BillyD said...

Perhaps if you could point to an example of Byzantine Orthodox currently venerating statues it would be helpful, BJA.

BillyD said...

BJA, what do you make of statements such as this:

Question: Does this mean the Orthodox Church uses statues as in the Catholic Church?
Answer: No, the Orthodox Church prohibits the use of statuary in our Houses of Worship, following the teachings of the Seventh Ecumenical Council. The icon is flat and does not seek to embody the full physical characteristics of the portrayed person. The Byzantine iconographic style is designed to show an inner reality beyond the external physical dimension. The statue is the opposite of all just described and is therefore prohibited in our churches."

This is from http://www.holyghost-oca.org/answers/introcourse/index.htm, the site of a parish of the Orthodox Church in America in Ambridge, PA.

BillyD said...

I believe I have found an example of modern statue veneration in Serbia/Kosovo:


What then, to make of the fairly straightforward statments of Orthodox priests (like the OCA author of the text I quoted above)?

BJA said...

I'm extremely skeptical of what you posted from the OCA Church, BillyD.

There's nothing there to back up the assertion, except a vague reference to the teaching of the Seventh Council. But the Seventh Council (which is also received by the statue-venerating Western Church) does not anywhere prohibit the veneration of 3D images of our Lord, our Lady, or the Saints.

I am not aware of any authoritative canonical prohibition of 3D images in the Orthodox Church, despite the assertions of some modern Orthodox apologists wanting to distinguish themselves as much as possible from Rome.

BTW, I never meant to suggest that statue veneration is widespread in the Byzantine Church. It's not. But it's not canonically forbidden, nor is it entirely unknown.

BillyD said...

Sorry to post so much in succession, but I think I may have partially solved the mystery.

The Rudder, the codification of Orthodox canon law by St Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain (c. 1749-1809) contains this note on the 7th Act of the Seventh Ecumenical Council:

"An idol is one thing, a statue is another thing. and an icon (or piclure) is a different
tiling. For an idol differs from an icon in that the icon is a likeness of a true thing and
its original, whereas the idol is an image OF a false and inexistent being, and is not the
likeness of an original, according lo Qngen and Tlieodoret-just as were the -idols
of the fake and inexistent gods of the Greeks. We call those images which embody
the whole figure statues and carved or sculptured figures in general. As lor this kind
of images, namely, the statues, the catholic (Orthodox) Church not only does not
adore them, but she does not even manufacture them, tor many reasons: 1) because
in its present definition this Council says for images to be produced with paints (or
colors). with mosaic. or tesselated work, and with other suitable material (which
means with gold and silver and other metals, as Theodosius Lhe bishop of Amorion
says in Act 4 of the same Council) upon the sacred utensils, and robes, including
sheets and cloths: upon walls and boards and houses and streets. It did not mention a
word about construction of a statue. Rather it may be said that this definition of this
Council is antagonistic to statues; 2) because neither the letters written by patriarchs
in thcir corrcspondcncc with one another, and to emperors, nor the letters of Popc
Oregoy to Gcrmanus and of Popc Adrian to the prcscnt Council, nor the spcechcs
and oralions which the bishops and monks made in connection with all the eight
Acts of the present Council said anything at all about statues or sculptured figures.
But also the councils held by he iconomachs, and especially that held in Blachernae
ill h e reign of Copron~iniisi,n wiling against the holy icons, menlion oil painlings
and portraits, but never statues or sculptured figures, which. if they existed, could
not have becn passed over in silence by the iconomachs, but, on the contrary, they
would have becn written against with a view to imputing greater blame to the Orthodox..." (415).

[Sorry for the typos - when I copied the PDF that's how it came out.]

Later, St. Nocodemus says that "whereas those
representations which do not embody the whole of the person or other object which
they are intended to represent, but at most merely exhibit them in relief, projecting,
that is to say, here and there above the level and surface of the background, are not
called statues or sculptured work or plaster of paris figures or any such name, but;
inslead, key are called holy icons (or, if they are not holy, simply pictures). " (ibid.)

Could the Serbian image referred to above be considered as merely an extreme example of relief work?

BJA said...

I don't have a copy of the Rudder nearby, but I believe the commentary you quote was written by one Apostolos Makrakis (1831-1905). Not only is his commentary not an authoritative part of the Rudder, but Makrakis himself is a very shady character. Some of his Christological teachings were condemned by the Holy Synod of Greece and the monasteries of Mount Athos, and there is a question over whether or not he was personally excommunicated. Makrakis was also viciously anti-Catholic. And so I would take any of his commentary with a mountain of salt.

BillyD said...

You seem to misunderstand me, BJA. By quoting Makarios' notes on the Rudder (and I find you're right - they are his notes) I'm not trying to convince you that you shouldn't be venerating three-dimensional images - I'm trying to explain why some of your co-religionists say you shouldn't.

If you look at the text of the Act in question, Makarios is at least correct in noting that it doesn't mention statues:

"We define the rule with all accuracy and diligence; in a manner not unlike that befitting die shape of the precious and vivifying Cross, that the venerable and holy icons, painted or mosaic, or made of any other suitable material, be placed in the holy churches of God upon sacred vessels and vestments, walls and panels, houses and streets, both of our Lord and Godand Savior Jesus Christ; and of our intemerate Lady the holy Theotoke,
and also of the precious Angels, and of all Saints."

Makarios would seem to represent a strand of interpretation of the Act that sees its silence on sculpture in the round as forbidding such works of art. This interpretation (which, given the extreme rarity of three-dimensional sculpture in the EOC, doesn't can't have originated with Makarios) apparently has some currency in modern American Orthodoxy, as witnessed by the OCA website quoted above. Those Orthodox who say that icons are forbidden are making a not unreasonable interpretation of the Act 7 of Nicea II. Do I think it's the One True Interpretation of Act 7? Since I am a crucifix-venerating heretical Western Episcopalian, obviously not. ;-) But are they pulling it completely out of thin air? It wouldn't appear so.

BJA said...

BillyD, I understand what you're getting at. I'm not arguing with you (I gathered that you weren't Orthodox) as much as I'm arguing with the kind of arguments are reporting.

My view is simply that there is no canonical prohibition of 3D icons in the Orthodox Church.

I am perfectly willing to admit that statues (apart from some notable exceptions) are not a part of the Byzantine liturgical tradition or devotional ethos. I would be among the first to cry foul if someone were to fill a Byzantine Rite church up with statues.

But I am not willing to grant that Western Rite Orthodox communities are in violation of any canon or are guilty of heterodoxy because they venerate 3D icons. This is a legitimate feature of the Western Catholic heritage claimed by the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate.

orrologion said...

The Orthodox do not have a strong tradition of producing or venerating icons, therefore it is not allowed. It's 'not allowed' only in the sense that as it is not a part of the consensus of her tradition, she doesn't do it.

However, it is not that there was a written prohibition that led the Orthodox not to do it.

This is an example of unwritten, Holy Tradition laying down a 'rule' rather than a rule being written that is then promulgated and followed.

Make sense?

BJA said...


I think what you write makes a lot of sense. I'm not terribly impressed with many of the theological arguments used to justify the unwritten 'rule' against three dimensional images, but I agree that they're not a legitimate part of the Eastern Orthodox ethos. I still think, however, a good argument can be made for allowing statues in a Western Rite Orthodox context.

orrologion said...

I believe statuary is a part of Western Rite Orthodoxy, at least in this Detroit, MI parish of the Western Rite:


The former priest at the OCA Cathedral in NYC also had a copy of Our Lady of Montserrat (I believe it was this one), which is said by some to have been set in front of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.

I take protests that statues are not allowed to be similar to the protestations I heard in the Lutheran church of my youth regarding Crucifixes not being allowed. The reason was that it was deemed a 'Catholic' practice that believed Christ was not risen, or was re-sacrificed, etc. I never got a clear answer. It isn't Lutheran, BTW, but an influence from more iconoclastic Protestantism; there is also no 'rule' disallowing crucifixes (rather than mere crosses) in the Book of Concord, which is the 'rule book' of Lutheranism.