Revista Studii Teologice


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Program iconografic și funcționalitate liturgică în ctitoriile moldovenești medievale

Medieval Moldavian churches: Iconographic program and liturgical functionality

Autor(i): Mihai C. COMAN

The walls of our churches are painted on the inside and at times on the out-side as well, rigorously adhering to prescribed rules in the arrangement of iconograp-hic themes. In the early Christian centuries, worship places used to be scarcely ador-ned. However, as the Church Fathers explained the doctrine and thus clarified the contents of liturgical life, church iconography evolved and the original few pictures turned into a complex iconographic program, covering the entire surface of the walls. The present study, focusing on the iconography within the nave and the altar apse, aims to demonstrate that the arrangement of themes along the walls goes beyond the pictorial preferences of the iconographer and serves the liturgical function of the church. Far from complying with rigid rules that allow no changes, the iconographic program is a living reality, in direct relation to the ecclesial community and its liturgi-cal life.
Based on the common perception of the emperors’ portraits in Byzantium, where the presence of an image was tantamount to the presence of the prototype, our study approaches the iconographic program from the standpoint of the faithful, who turn from mere viewers into participants in the events represented on the walls. Since the picture and, implicitly, the entire iconographic program is centered on the faithful sharing in the same space, time, and liturgical reality, the painter has to keep the viewer in mind while devising the image and indeed the whole iconographic pro-gram. This manner of composing and displaying the picture, in relation to the faithful contemplating it – present in the Byzantine art as early as the 11th century – is cha-racteristic to the iconographic programs of all Moldavian churches dating from the 15th-16th centuries.
The study comprises two parts. The first part provides a brief overview of the iconography of medieval Moldavian monuments. It indicates the main themes and cycles that constitute the iconographic program in the nave and the holy altar, menti-oning the moments when they emerge and become established. The iconographic program adorning the churches built under Stephen the Great and Petru Rareș is very clear and undergoes no significant structural alterations throughout the respec-tive period. Metopes are placed in three areas across the walls, both in the nave and in the holy altar: standing saints are painted in the lower tier (holy martyrs in the nave, holy hierarchs in the altar); the Passions cycle occupies the middle tier; the upper tier includes liturgical themes (the Mystical Supper, the Communion of the Apostles) inside the altar and heortological themes (illustrating the great feasts of the Christological cycle) in the nave. The episodes or figures in each tier may differ slightly from one church to the next, but the contents of the theological discourse stays the same.
Alongside the inventory of iconographic themes, the first part of the study al-so includes a commentary on the liturgical significance of icons’ arrangement on the walls. The entire iconographic ensemble conveys an image of the Church – the body of Christ. Actually, the overall Church icon integrates the images of two distinct reali-ties that merge within the church. The saints depicted in the lower tier represent the ranks remembered by the priest during the Proskomedia by placing the correspon-ding particles on the Holy Diskos. Together with the image of the saints, the image of the faithful attending the Divine Liturgy completes the image of Christ’s Body – the Church. The icons in the upper tier are understood in the same light of the beli-evers’ participation in the events rendered iconically. The cycle of the Passions calls the faithful to join in the salvific events and at the same time indicates the way to-wards the encounter with Christ shown in the dome as Pantocrator. The medieval Moldavian iconographic program aims to transform and transfigure the faithful, making them participate in the reality of saints and the events in the history of salva-tion. The images turn the viewer from mere spectator, into a living component of the Eucharistic chalice.
The second part of the study starts by indicating the new iconographic the-mes, introduced by the founders of Sucevița Monastery into the picture adorning this medieval masterpiece. The main icons, as well as iconographic cycles, are either re-placed or altered. The division into thematic iconographic areas, as we find it at Su-cevița, seems to comply with the classical Byzantine formula; however, the contents of these areas is radically different from the two-century tradition of previous monu-ments. In the lower part, the tier of military saints is replaced with the Genesis cycle. In the middle tier, the Passions cycle is replaced by an extremely ample version of the Christological cycle. And in the upper tier, the great feasts usually represented on the vaults have been replaced with representations based on liturgical hymns: the icon of the Crucifixion in the southern conch of the nave was replaced with the icon Only Begotten, the icon of the Pentecost in the northern conch was replaced with the icon What shall we call thee, and the icon of the Dormition of the Mother of God on the western tympanum was replaced with the icon All of creation rejoices in thee. Each of the three new icons placed by the painters on the nave’s vaults depict the entire synaxis of the Church triumphant. Associating the three iconographic areas with the three great stages in the history of the divine economy of salvation (as con-temporary theologians divide it, into the periods of the Old Testament, the New Tes-tament and the Church, respectively) is based on a Christocentric interpretation of history, expressed in the iconography of Sucevița. Also, both the arrangement of icons and the icon details, clearly evince a marked eschatological dimension of the mural painting at Sucevița. We believe that the presence of the Saviour in all meto-pes of the nave reveals the obvious influence of hesychasm, known to have existed at the time in the region. Thus, two dimensions of man’s encounter with God are repre-sented in this iconographic program. On the one hand, it renders the encounter between God and man in the Holy Eucharist; on the other hand, it attempts to ex-press the encounter between man and God through direct experience, following the purification from vices and passions, and hesychastic prayer.
The painting of Sucevița marks a step forward in the liturgical development of the iconography of church nave and altar, endeavoring to express both Eucharistic eschatology, and neptic eschatology. The importance of such progress is emphasized by the fact that this bold iconographic choices had been authorized by the church hierarchy, in the person of metropolitan Gheorghe Movilă – the founder of the mo-nument – and enjoyed the support of secular, political hierarchy, represented by Ieremia Movilă, a co-founder and brother of the former. Another important conclusi-on reached by the study, concerns the attitude of medieval painters towards the creation of a new mural painting. Obviously, being original or innovating were not goals in themselves, therefore were not pursued although they were characteristic of the painting. The quality of the iconographic expression of the thematic-theological discourse, clearly derived from the collaboration and joint efforts of theologian foun-ders and painters, while the rationale underlying the iconographic program was ex-clusively liturgical.

Pagini: 81-98