In my last entry I wrote about silence and the gifts that are born within it, most especially the presence of God. In silence we come to open ourselves to that which is ordinarily hidden because we are not able to really see, hear, or experience it due to our senses being drawn elsewhere. I wrote that silence is filled with the presence of God. It is appropriate that I continue the meditation on silence today because this is the anniversary of the death of the great iconographer, St. Andrei Rublev who died on January 29, 1430 in the Andronikov Monastery in Moscow. His actual feast day is July 4 and therefore he is overshadowed by another favorite of mine, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati as well as our Independence Day, among other celebrations. Given that today is the actual day of his death I thought I would say a few things about him.
St. Andrei Rublev was born in the 1360's, but relatively little is known about his early life. It is said that as a Russian Orthodox monk he began to study iconography under Theophanes the Greek and a monk named Daniel. He painted icons in a few cathedrals, the Moscow Cathedral of the Annunciation in 1405, a few years later the Assumption Cathedral in Vladimir, and also another cathedral 1425-27.* After that not much is known. He is best known for his icon of the Trinity which is the icon which set the stage for all other iconography to follow. That icon is considered one of the greatest icons ever written. I have even heard it described as the perfect icon. The Trinity icon is said to be based on an earlier icon called The Hospitality of Abraham depicting the scene in Genesis 18 in which Abraham is visited by three angels. Rublev’s Trinity is a very peaceful icon, in which we see Father, Son, and Holy Spirit depicted in gentle colors, seated at a table, seemingly about to share in a cup of wine, an allusion to the blood of Christ out-poured. The central figure is Jesus, who is pointing to the cup, with the Father to the viewer's left and the Spirit to the viewer's right.
In contemplating an icon we are drawn into the silence of the figure or figures which are the subject of the work. Icons are one of the best ways to become accustomed to silence, or to become friends with the gift of silent presence. When praying with an icon, we reflect deeply, allowing the symbols to speak to our heart. The main subject of the icon is who we ask to lead us into the silence, whether it be a saint who lived a life which we wish to emulate, or divinity, such as Jesus or the Trinity. The reflection upon the icon allows us to enter into the silent presence of God through the window opened by the icon.
Often people try to sit in silence as if sitting in a void. There is no way that this can be comfortable or even attractive unless we are emptying ourselves in order to be filled. A void is not fruitful unless it is an open space we are preparing to be filled with the presence of God. If this is so, than it is not really a void, but a space pregnant for the Lord to enter; He will begin to help us feel more comfortable in this "new land." Since it is rather difficult for us to do this if we have not grown into it, an excellent way to begin to make room for God in silence is to use an icon. The icon not only serves as a springboard to becoming comfortable in silence, but it draws us in gently. We can start to see and hear in a new way. The beauty of the icon will draw us into the beauty of God; it will help us to contemplate the figure depicted, the virtues he or she teaches, the attributes of holiness that we may be seeking, or anything that the Lord wishes to teach us. But the most important of the gifts received is being able to enter into the silent presence of God. The icon acts as a portal to this silent presence of Love.
St. Andrei Rublev began iconography as we know it today. Though we do not know much about him, we know that the Russian Orthodox Church declared him a saint. This means that his holiness must have been apparent in the life he lived. The evidence we do have of his holiness is the legacy he left in the divinely inspired work which is the Trinity. He had to have known God intimately as a man of prayer in order to have painted such a work of beauty. Therefore he can inspire us to reflect on the fruitfulness of living a life of prayer and reflection upon God in the silence of His presence. He can inspire us to wonder what we leave as evidence of our attempts at holiness. Just as meditating on any saint can help us to learn something about the path of holiness, St. Andrei Rublev can teach us that we do speak volumes to those around us by the way we live; we do paint an icon for others to imitate. And he teaches us that we can come to know God in silence.
What is the icon we write with our lives? Are we people who draw others into the presence of God in some way? Perhaps we can pray to St. Andrei Rublev to intercede for us, that we can find the presence of God in silence and beauty and that we can inspire others by the icon of our presence as well.
May we be able to enter into the silence and beauty of God through the inspiration of St. Andrei Rublev! May we be open to finding God through reflection in silence! May we become friends with silence, finding that silence is full of the life and presence of God! And may we become living icons of the presence of God for those around us! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of the Lord! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* Wikipedia (see link below.)
Some great resources concerning St. Andrei Rublev and his iconography: The first is a classic film which is on the Vatican's list of best films ever made. It is a film by Andrei Tarkovsky called Andrei Rublev; " loosely based on the artist's life and the first (and perhaps only) film produced under the Soviets to treat the artist as a world-historic figure and Christianity as an axiom of Russia’s historical identity" during a turbulent period in the history of Russia." (Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrei_Rublev)
There is more information on the OrthodoxWiki at http://orthodoxwiki.org/Andrew_Rublev.
Also if you go to iconographer Fr. Bill McNichols Facebook page there is a sale going on in conjunction with the "feast" day today. It says: A 25% off coupon just for FACEBOOK friends. In honor of the patron saint of Iconographers, St. Andrei Rublev himself, and the celebration of the anniversary of his death on Jan 29th 1430, enter coupon code ANDREI. This discount is only here and is only good for a few days, through January. It only applies to icon plaque orders. https://www.facebook.com/SaintAndreiRublevIcons?ref=hl
And last, but not least, is Father Bill's web page www.fatherbill.org. The icon depicted at the top of the page is St. Andrei Rublev Patron of Iconographers found at http://www.fatherbill.org/gallery-views/holy-men-icons/product/123-st-andrei-rublev-patron-of-iconographers
A reminder: I get nothing, whether it be goods or services, no financial gain whatsoever, by promoting the work of Fr. Bill McNichols. He is a friend and I love to share the wealth of the beauty of his work.
Heart Speaks to Heart