Hidden and Triumphant: The Underground Struggle to Save Russian Iconography
By Irina Yazykova, translated by Paul Grenier
Hardcover, 196 pages
Published by Paraclete Press (2010)
This book by Irina Yazykova has long been on my reading list because it parallels my interest in church history and Russia in particular. The spiritual soul of Russia has so much to offer Christians around the globe, American in particular, due to the fact we have not endured persecution as they have.
Irina, an art history scholar, provides an intricate look into the survival of the icon, and the underground church who protected -and continued to paint- these treasures during the Soviet persecution of the 20th century. It is important to understand, for any non-Orthodox readers, that the icon is not mere ornamentation for the interior of a church. The icon, for many centuries, provided the theology of the Church for illiterate populations. Icons bear witness to the divinity of Jesus Christ, the blessedness of His mother, Mary, and the intrinsic light shining forth from the saints of God, for example. Icons tell vital stories about Truth and the world as God created it.
I completely agree with Canon Michael Bordeaux, whose quote is shared on the back cover of this book. He says, in part, that “..the introduction contains the best theology of the icon I have ever read.” Reading the eleven page introduction is an insightful commentary for anyone who has paused in front of an icon, whether in a church, art gallery or antique shop and wondered at the meaning beyond the paint.
Every chapter in this book is filled with rich history and memorable character sketches of renowned iconographers. Paul Grenier, the translator, did a masterful job in creating a smooth transition for the English reader. I learned so much from this book, such as the role of the Russian exiles who formed a community in Paris soon after the Bolshevik revolution, the delicate embroidered icons chiefly made by female hands and the powerful recounting of Patriarch Tikhon’s death in 1925 at Donskoy Monastery.
I appreciate the author’s expertise and the full-color pages showing icons from the twelfth through the twentieth centuries. Irina also covers quite a lot of ground through three additional appendices, some of which I found to be excessive, given that I am not an expert on art or its interpretation. Even so, this does little to detract from an engaging work.
Above all, the reader is given the understanding that art reflects the spiritual condition of a people. And when the light of a people stands in contrast against the totalitarian state - no matter the darkness - that light never goes out.
An excellent read.
Glory to God for all things †