Orthodox Iconography, by Constantine Cavarnos

Published by the Institute for Byzantine & Modern Greek Studies, 1977

Orthodox iconography by Constantine Cavarnos has four chapters and begins with a brief history of iconography, explaining and outlining the origin of icons. The second chapter continues on to explain the locations of icons in our church. Chapter three then explains the seven functions of Holy Icons, namely:

1) They enhance the beauty of the church

2) They instruct us in matters related to the Christian faith

3) They remind us of this faith

4) They lift us up to the prototypes which they symbolise, to a higher level of thought and feeling

5) They arouse us to imitate the virtues of the holy personages depicted on them

6) They help to transform and sanctify us and

7) They serve as a means of worshiping God and veneration of the Saints.

The book then elaborates on each of these functions. The final chapter explains the theology and aesthetics of Byzantine iconography. The Fathers of our Church did not explain how icons should be painted, but instead they conveyed the basic idea of true iconography, which is that everything in the icon should be reminiscent of heaven, and of the Saints. Thus the idea of a spiritual realm and Saints is the key to painting and understanding true icons. Having a religious theme, such as Christ, does not suffice to make a painting an icon, an object suitable for liturgical use.

An icon must express spirituality, to a reality beyond the physical world, and lifting us to a higher level of thought, feeling and consciousness. Reading this book made me view all holy icons differently. I have learnt to value and understand them in a way which I had not been able to before. This book is one which I encourage everyone to read, as it will enhance your understanding and knowledge of icons. The book will help you in venerating and appreciating their beauty on a whole new scale.


Source: Lychnos August / September 2016