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Generally acknowledged as Russia’s greatest iconographer, Andrei Rublev was born around 1365 near Moscow. While very young he entered the monastery of The Holy Trinity and in 1405, with the blessing of his igumen (the Orthodox equivalent of abbot), he transferred to the Spaso-Andronikov monastery where he received the tonsure and studied iconography with Theophanes the Greek and the monk Daniel. Among his most revered works are those in the Dormition Cathedral in Vladimir.
The icon (“image” in Greek) is central to Orthodox spirituality. It finds its place in liturgy and in personal devotion. An icon is two dimensional and despite being an image of someone it is not a physical portrait. Western art, especially since the Renaissance, has sought to represent figures or events so that the viewer might better imagine them. A western crucifix seeks to enable us to imagine what Golgotha was like. Icons seek to provide immediate access to the spiritual and the divine unmediated by the human, historical imagination.
For Andrei, writing an icon was a spiritual exercise. It involved the ritual of preparing the surface, applying the painted and precious metal background and then creating the image, first outlining it in red. Throughout he would repeatedly say the “Jesus Prayer” (“Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me”). He was creating a window into the Divine which he knew was always before him but which was invisible to the human eye. He knew he was able to create such an image of God because he himself was made in the image of God. His object was to be totally focused on receiving God’s love and loving in return. He died peacefully in 1430.
As Jesus was the icon of God, so each one of us is also. Ascetic practice aims at freeing that image from sinful distraction and claiming it more and more. To venerate an icon is to find some of the ineffable beauty that is God, that is manifest in Christ and the saints, and is also in each one of us.
i Holy God, we bless thee for the gift of thy monk and icon writer Andrei Rublev, who, inspired by the Holy Spirit, provided a window into heaven for generations to come, revealing the majesty and mystery of the holy and blessed Trinity; who liveth and reigneth through ages of ages. Amen.
ii Holy God, we bless you for the gift of your monk and icon writer Andrei Rublev, who, inspired by the Holy Spirit, provided a window into heaven for generations to come, revealing the majesty and mystery of the holy and blessed Trinity; who lives and reigns through ages of ages. Amen.
2 Corinthians 2:14–17
Preface of a Saint (1)
Text from Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.
We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?
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