Icons and their effect on Russian people
Function icons in the fields of religion, history, warfare, and anthropology. Setting the icon painter - to bring human consciousness into the spiritual world, bring a sense of reality of the ideal world, to help a person find their way transformation.
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Icons and their effect on Russian people
For many centuries religious icons played an important role in the lives of the Russian Orthodox people and stretch far back into medieval times. This significance cannot be underestimated and it would be erroneous to assume the history of Russia without icons. To this day the icon has a plethora of functions in the fields of religion, history, warfare, and anthropology. In the modern Slavic world the icon may gradually start to lose popularity in the younger generation, but those who hold on to the past traditions know the value of an icon. These holy images were carried into battle in hopes of defeating the foes, protecting people from a possible curse, granted the wishes of those who asked, and performed miracles of healing. The icon in all of its forms left an imperishable outcome in the history of Russia. However, it is crucial to know its origins to understand the icons and their universal effects.
The Russian word "icon" (икона), comes from a Greek word that means "portrait". However it is not stated in the usual sense of the word. The individuals portrayed in these images were saints: Apostles, Martyrs, Jesus Christ and The Virgin Mary. Any other persons who were distinguished for spiritual matters in their life or died a tragic death could have been later treated as a saint (lsa.umich.edu). The first images were produces by early Christians who were religiously oppressed by the Romans. As a consequence they were painted on the walls of the catacombs, where the early Christians were forced to hide. By tradition Apostle Luke is regarded to be the first one who started painting icons. The oldest icons that have survived to the modern day are dated to around the fifth and sixth century. New images on the icons were introduced rarely and the newly painted ones were generally copies from the original icons called "podlinniki" (подлинники). The artists behind those icons didn't have much creative input on what was to appear on the icon since there was a curtain canon, a set of adopted rules in which the icons were executed. The creative input could be applied to the way in which the icons were portrayed and to the quality of the work. Theophanes `the Greek' is one of the famous icon painting masters of the 14th century who was celebrated for his technique and memory in the icon painting. Unfortunately the only remaining work by him is a fresco located in Novgorod. Andrei Rublev was Russia's most praised medieval icon painter. He also happened to work under Theophanes for a period of time.
Throughout time icons found their way into many aspects of everyday life. Some of them would be passed down in the family, just like an heirloom ring in the western tradition. The so called "beautiful" or "red" corner was a designated place in the house where one or more icons would be placed. Usually they were not hung but were rested upon a shelf with embroidery hanging off the sides. This designated space was the place where the prayers would be said. Such prayers could take a form of a petition for pardon of sins, a prayer of gratitude, a plea for healing of a loved one or to give a blessing and protection. Many of the icons have specific prayers that are prescribed to each icon and are meant to grant an appropriate plea to those who ask. There is a set of guidelines for placing such icons if they are arranged in a home iconostasis: which is a row of icons usually separated from one another. By convention the top row is occupied by the icon of the Trinity since it is revered as one of the most important ones. The next row is ought to be a series of major icons: the Lord Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary. Below that is the series of angels; such as the Guardian Angel. Last but not least are the icons of the Saints. Due to the sheer diversity of saint icons, those are usually placed at the will of the owner (zograf.ru). It does not come as a surprise to see a small version of icons hanging in public transportation: taxis, busses, and even trains. icon religion spiritual transformation
On the other side there were times of tribulation for the icons and those who venerated them. During the 7th and 8th centuries in the Byzantine Empire, the world of Christianity was faced with a problem of iconoclasm (иконоборство). It was a widespread rejection of any sacred or religious images. The icons were seen as heretical and therefore ordered to be destroyed (art.1september.ru). This came from the interpretation of one of the Ten Commandments, which forbade worshiping or making of any images, thus seen is idols. Any supporters of the icons were persecuted as well. Fortunately the icon and the traditions surrounding it outlived this struggle.
In the early state of Christianity, the icon played a role as "a book for the illiterate," and this remained one of its main functions in the west. The VII Ecumenical Council states: "The icons are necessary to ensure that those who do not know the Scriptures on the walls could read what they cannot read in books."(azbuka.ru). Because of the high illiteracy rate not all Christians could read a book, especially theological ones, so the instruction role fell upon the icon. By its symbols, lines, and colors it was capable of teaching the common people the same way church taught the doctrine, which is expressed by the word. Frescos, mosaics and icons were all unified in the same function: talking about the major Christian dogmas, describing the main events of religious history, life of the saints and Christ's teachings. In turn this provided an example for the people to follow.
After the October revolution of the 1917, the Orthodox Church entered a period of persecution where many works of religious art were lost or destroyed. As the Soviet Russia headed on a path of atheism, the place for icons was determined to be in the museums, where it could be displayed as "ancient Russian art." Anti-religious feelings started to grow roots in the new generation of communists. This was true up until the fall of the Soviet Russia. However, according to modern legend, in 1941, during the German winter offensive on Moscow, the icon of Mother of Tikhvin was taken from the church it was sitting in. By the orders of Stalin, it was placed on the plane which circled around the city. The result was a first successful offensive of the Red Army, which ended with the capture of the city of Tikhvin (vidania.ru).
This and many other legends and stories make up a huge collection of tales about the wonderworking of the icons; and that they would fulfill the wishes of those who asked. In the present these stories are not given much attention on the basis of their credibility. However living in Russia for ten years I got to hear some of them first hand. My family lived in a Siberian town by the name of Dudinka. It was port town sitting on the river Yenisei. During the winter a huge portion of the river froze, including the part near the town where it was around 10 miles wide. When the spring time came the water rose about 20 meters, all of the ice would start to break and come down the river. These ice piles could stack up to the height of a seven story building and would demolish anything in its path. A house happened to stand dangerously close to the river and was at a risk of being destroyed in such a fashion. Of the witnesses who saw the miraculous event one told this story to my dad. An old believer family happened to live in the house. They had enough time to get out of the house when they saw the pile of ice creeping up in their direction. However the oldest member of the family stayed back at the house. He grabbed an icon with him and started praying while standing in front of the house. The ice was coming closer and closer to the house and it seemed as there was nothing to do to stop it. But within meters of the old man and his house the pile of ice halted. None of the people present saw anything like that happen and many saw this as a providence of God. Even a skeptic would have to admit that supernaturally or not, the house and its inhabitants were saved.
Ultimately, many features shaped the history of Russia. It is safe to assume that the religious icons reflected some of these features. There have been several attempts to get rid of icons and any influence they had on the people. Nevertheless these attempts didn't produce long lasting results. The deep roots of veneration for these holy images aided people to restore the traditions and the icons behind them, thus claiming a rightful place in the everyday lives of Russian people.
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