by Xenia Williams
If the Church is the continuation of the Incarnation of God – Jesus Christ – then the revelatory, eucharistic culture of the church is a reflection of this spiritual reality. All of its expressions, its visual arts, including metalwork, woodwork, and the sculptural works; its cultivation of wheat and wine for use in its divine sacraments, its rubrics and sermons, printing presses, and the cyclical structure of its liturgical time and seasons are phenotypical components of the divine culture of the Church – revelatory, prescriptive and medicinal, because the Church is in of itself a hospital whose sole purpose is to facilitate the healing of mankind. Thus, every aspect of the Church is there to enhance and to create a culture that heals.
Thus the role of art in this culture is that it symbolizes, instructs, and as the Russian painter Alexander Ivanov has said, preaches of those things that concern the soul of man, its history, its current state, its yearning, its purpose, its destiny. In short, its falling away and return in relation to its Creator, Christ God. At its highest function, art portrays the eternal story of man’s fall by his own willfulness, and his resurrection through Christ’s mercy.
As St. Nikolai Velimirovic says in a reflection in his prologue, that God uses the materials of the created world to effect the miracle of redemption in all those who participate in the work of salvation. Fr. Silouan Justiniano has said that the highest art is that which serves this purpose of salvation of reconciliation with Christ. For It is said that all of Creation groans for the return of Christ, the healing of the brokenness that was wrought upon it by the Fall of Man, thus all of Creation, willingly seeks to serve Christ in this regard. And man must now labor for salvation by the sweat of the brow for things that were once – before the Fall – spiritually easy for him to do. He must now make a consistent, diligent effort to work out his salvation. Just being able to have an inclination toward Christ and the healing that He offers us in these post-modern times is often very hard to sustain.
Cheesefare Blini ( a type of pancake) usually served on the last Sunday before Lent.
Art helps to spark that inclination by being a mirror of the different states of our soul, how it is and how it was meant to be. And in the Church, all of the senses and the mind are drawn into the contemplative worship of the Creator. The hymns, incense, bread and wine, frescoes which depict Biblical history engage all aspects of the created man and the Church in conjunction with its liturgy, uses this art to attract us, to help us pay attention, and to remember. The art in the Church signifies to us the importance of participating in our salvation. Thus, in the revelatory culture born of the Church, man tills the earth and cultivates his soul. Both types of labors work toward the good for those who love Jesus. Bread on one hand feeds man of the body, and on the other restores man the divine, as God had purposed him to be. And to acquire this ability and even the desire to work is in itself a liturgy – a participatory work of the people of which art becomes a sacred and necessary help. And thus as the Church culture attracts and adopts more to its fold, the healing of not only man but society is effected. In this way, the Church calls to the fallen world, “Come, taste and see that the Lord God is Good.”
*Sources of referential quotes: https://orthodoxartsjournal.org/on-the-gift-of-art-but-what-art-2/
*The Prologue: St. Nikolai Velimirovic
Xenia Williams is an Eastern Orthodox Christian and a member of St. John Kronstadt Church in Utica, NY. She studied art education at Munson Williams Proctor Art Institute-Pratt – Utica, New York and is currently working on pursuing a degree in Art Education while minoring in Art Therapy. Xenia has worked as a Substitute Teacher in the Utica School District.
“As an artist, I am a late bloomer, but I have been working on a graphic novel trilogy called Lilith’s Other Sister about culture and identity, that I started when I was a student at Evergreen State College. (Yes, that Evergreen). I have thought about identity, culture, the source of knowledge, healing and faith since I was twelve and my art tends to reflect those concerns.”