Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

The Kyriotissa of Hagia Sophia

July 16th, 2010, Promulgated by Bernie

Previously in this series here and here

Enthroned Virgin and Child

Apse Mosaic, Church of the Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia), Constantinople, before 867

A mosaic image of the Enthroned Virgin and Child in the apse vault of the “Great Church” was perhaps destroyed and replaced with a simple unadorned mosaic cross at about the start of the iconoclastic controversy in 726. Certainly by 754 the old image was gone by order of the so called Iconoclastic Council that banned the use of all images save simple crosses in churches. The monks who defended the use of icons in worship were persecuted between 762 and 768. By the end of that period icons were no longer being produced in the traditional capitol of icon painting, Constantinople.

I won’t get into the arguments both for and against the use of images in Christian worship except to say that the argument that eventually prevailed rested upon the doctrine of the Incarnation. The Second Person of the Trinity –the eternal Logos- had become man in Jesus Christ; by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man. In the Incarnation, God was imaged in Jesus Christ. To deny the use of images of Jesus Christ and all other human images in worship is to deny the doctrine of the Incarnation.

The restoration of the icons on March 11, 843 is celebrated in the Eastern Church as “The Feast of (the) Orthodoxy.” The apse mosaic in Hagia Sophia of the Mother of God Kyriotissa was eventually restored. “The images which the imposters had cast down here, pious emperors have again set up” is the inscription that accompanied the restored image. In a homily delivered on March 29, 867, the patriarch Photius addressed the following words to the Virgin and Child in the apse:

Christ came to us in the flesh, and was born in the arms of His Mother. This is seen and confirmed and proclaimed in pictures… Does a man hate the teaching by means of pictures?…  Who is there who would not marvel, more from the sight of it than from the report (hearing about it)…? For surely, having somehow through the outpouring and effluence of optical rays touched and encompassed the object, it too sends the essence of the thing seen on to the mind, letting it be conveyed from there to memory… Has the mind seen? Has it grasped? Has it visualized? Then it has effortlessly transmitted the forms to the memory.

Why are so many of our churches today devoid of an important role for images? Why do we no longer visualize, grasp and hold “effortlessly” the Incarnation in our collective memory?


Picture Source:

Center picture of panel:…

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