During the darkest years of Soviet power, iconographers kept alive one of Russia’s brightest lights—the icon
“The 1920s and 1930s were a time of mass arrests and executions. With churches demolished and defiled and monasteries disbanded, there was every reason to fear for the continued existence of the Church itself. Meanwhile, revisionist propaganda was decimating the clergy; the authorities were waging a campaign of anti-religious sentiment in every corner of the country. Not the best time, one would think, to be painting icons…” —from the book
Skillfully translated from the Russian by Paul Grenier, this dramatic history recounts how the very heartbeat of Russian Orthodox art and spirituality–the icon–survived throughout the 20th century. Adopted from Byzantine tradition, Russian iconography continued to keep faith alive in Soviet Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution. As monasteries and churches were ruined, icons destroyed, thousands of believers killed or sent to Soviet prisons and labor camps, a few courageous iconographers continued to paint holy images secretly, despite the ever-present threat of arrest. Others were forced to leave Russia altogether, and while living abroad, struggled to preserve their Orthodox traditions. Today we are witness to a renaissance of the Russian icon, made possible by the sacrifices of this previous generation of heroes.
A blinding flash of theological illumination has come out of Russia. The subject of Hidden and Triumphant is the history of icon painting in Russia. How did this ancient tradition, at the center of Russian spirituality, survive seventy years of persecution in the 20th century? It almost didn’t, but the renewal of the tradition in the last twenty years is a remarkable story, beautifully told by Irina Yazykova. The introduction contains the best theology of the icon I have ever read.
Canon Michael Bordeaux, founder, Oxford Keston Institute, UK