Leonid Uspensky

On the road to unity?

translated by: Protodeacon Radomir Rakić, professor

pages: 131-155

Abstract

The author stresses the difference between the Orthodox Catholic and Roman-Catholic traditions as specially mirrored in iconography, since in the Roman- -Catholic doctrine on the Holy Tradition the stress is put on the absoluteness of the divine Essence, while the hypostases are reduced to ^permanent relations^ inside of the Essence. The Orthodox theology, however, underlines the personal approach to Godhead. Henceforth, the visible proof of the divine Incarnation can be on an icon of the Logos as Person. Therefore, the decision of the Seventh Ecumenical Council reads: Who venerates the icon, he is venerating an ipostasis (person).

The Orthodox theological distinction between the divine Essence and the uncreated energies opens the possibility of the deification of man without falling into pantheism. On the other hand, the Roman-Catholic theology has no access to know the uncreated God except merely through analogies with the created world. Therefore, its inconography became unfit to express the New Testament revelation. It became unable to depict the man’s participation in the uncreated life of the Trinity in the beauty of the Transfiguration.

Uspensky quotes a shocking experience of S. Boulgakoff at seeing Rafael’s famous picture of Madona in the Sixtine chapel... There was but a human beauty without endowment of the divine grace. It was impossible to pray before such a picture... There was a mother with a child, but there was no even a shadow of a Virgin (and not to speak of perpetual virginity) ... She exudes only her feminity and the ambiguous beauty of her sex. That was a lapse into a pagan fleshly art of the ancient Greece. By composing such a Western »pious« picture with the Orthodox icons we can understand why the Ortodox were ready to die for the veneration of the icons — forbidden by the iconoclastic Byzantine emperors.

Today the Orthodox icon is the best missionary means of the Church. After a devaluation of the language, the mysterious beauty of the icon is the best visible witness and proof of her indistructable unity in transfigured beauty.

The papacy offered itself to be a servant of unity, but in reality it became the source of schism even before 1054.

This unity of the Word and the Image is the main message of the Incarnation. This iconic confession of the faith was preserved in the Orthodox Catholic Church. Therefore the true Church is recognizable not by her great numbers, neither by her world organization but by her faithfulness to the Apostolic Tradition as experienced in everyday life.

We have to face tragic reality that the »differences between the Orthodox and the non-Orthodox are not mere private human misunderstandings or improper conceptions, but — in principle — they exclude each others«.

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