St Sophrony (Sakharov), recently included in the catalogue of saints, is best known for his theological writings. However, during the first years of his adult life, he dedicated himself to a career as a painter. Unable to find fulfillment in this profession, he left the world for Mt Athos at the age of 29. He spent the next sixty-year period as a monk, a hermit, a priest, and a spiritual father. He founded a monastery and wrote several books about his elder, St Silouan, and about his own experiences, mainly as a hesychast. In his later years during the building of his monastery, of necessity, he returned to painting, more particularly to iconography, and expressed his spiritual wisdom with colour and brushes.
This article explores the relationship of light and matter in traditional icon painting and church architecture. In particular, it considers how this use of light reflects the Orthodox Church’s theology of deification, the material world’s transfiguration, the presence of divine logoi within the created world, and the capacity of aesthetics to help nurture the state of soul required for theosis. We might call this the ascetics of sacred aesthetics.
This paper explores ontological and aesthetic similarities and differences between icons and photographs and the tensions that characterize them. It looks at photography’s auxiliary role in Athonite iconography, its influence on the depiction of contemporary saints, and its use in the reproduction of icons for public consumption. The comparison shows that photography has the plastic and expressive capacity to engage spiritual realities.
Holy Athos, the Holy Mountain, is a place where nobody is born. It is perhaps because of this that the spiritual rebirth of many people who wish to go together with the God-man Jesus Christ in his sacrificial course takes place there: a course where the risk, the escape presented by the confidence of an easy life, is at the same time an opening to beauty. This is where iconography flourished and tradition is preserved and continuously recreated.