Human nature is twofold. Our being has a material and spiritual side. Similarly, communion with God, prayer, contains a twofold nature. On the one hand – smart sobriety, attention, concentration, appropriate spiritual attitude. On the other hand, when we create prayer, we use various material objects that help us in prayer, which are the property of Orthodox culture. These are icons, candles, lamps, books, lecterns, ladders, assistants. We get up for prayer in appropriate decent clothes. A man puts on a traditional kosovorotka, necessarily belted with a belt. A woman will wear a sundress and cover her head with a scarf. That’s how many special material items we use when we pray. And when we come to the cathedral prayer in the church … there is architecture, and painting in the form of holy icons, and salaries, books, crosses, liturgical clothes, carved iconostases, panikadila, and all this is of high artistic execution.
The main difference between ecclesiastical and secular art is that the first one is necessarily filled with a doctrinal meaning. Each church object contains a deep symbolism of our Orthodox faith. The icon is “theology in colors”, the architectural structure of the temple is an expression of the gospel truths in the beauty of the line, the perfection of the form, the znamenny singing brings to our ears the Christian teaching in sound. The belt is a symbol of spiritual attention and vigil, the women’s dress is a symbol of grace and humility. The creed in symbols and signs is contained in the Old Believers’ lestovka, podruchnik. The dogma of the Resurrection is imprinted on the Orthodox cross. And so it is in everything. Even the very statutory following of the divine service reflects the history of human salvation. The great symbolism of the Kingdom of Heaven is contained in the Orthodox iconostasis, and not the early Christian altar barrier, but the high Russian iconostasis, formed in our church by the end of the XIV century. At the same time, the iconostasis does not “close” the Kingdom of Heaven from man, but “introduces” man into the divine abode.
It must be remembered that there is nothing superfluous in church art, nothing is established “just like that”, “for beauty”. Everything is filled with a deep doctrinal meaning. Dogmatically, ecclesiastical art has as its source not human imagination, but the grace of the Holy Spirit, for God, by His omnipotence, also influences matter. We know that the world created by God had the likeness of Heaven, but even after the fall of man, both the world and man did not completely lose the image of the Lord. And in the sinful world, in the universe and nature, behind their complexity and amazing dispensation, we see God’s image. Similarly, ecclesiastical art is one of the types or echoes of divine revelation, but only in symbols and images.
The author of the divine revelation — the Holy Scripture — is the Lord God Himself, Who through the prophets and apostles revealed to mankind the Book of Salvation. Similarly, through the creations of church art masters: icon painters, singers, architects, foundry workers, blacksmiths, carvers — the Almighty and All-wise Lord reveals Himself to the world through art. And the talents of art that God gives to people should grow for the good of the Church, in the name of the Almighty.
Church art is very ancient. Even in the Old Testament, the Lord indicated how the tabernacle should be decorated. Christianity has already given real inspiration to religious art.