The Neoplatonic Substructure of Russian Orthodox Iconography and Theology

Ключевые слова: Русское православие, иконография, визуальная теология, Лестница Восхождения, св. Иоанн Лествичник, икона, символ, Ямвлих, Плотин, Флоренский, неоплатонизм.

Аннотация

Цель данной статьи – раскрыть неоплатонические идеи, глубоко укоренённые в русской православной иконографии и теологии. Автор уделяет основное внимание двум ранним фигурам неоплатонизма, а именно Ямвлиху и Плотину. У Ямвлиха явно прослеживается его определение религиозных практик, или теургии, как императива для единения с Богом. Эти практики включают в себя использование символов и образов для укрепления веры – методику, которую русское православие в значительной степени адаптировало к христианскому контексту. Однако понимание красоты как у Ямвлиха, так и в русском православии исходит из онтологии Плотина, изложенной в Эннеадах. Слияние плотиновской онтологии и ямвлиховой теургии привело к православному изображению Божественной Лествицы, символизирующей союз с Богом. Эта теологическая символика очевидным образом заимствована центральными фигурами восточной православной теологии и художественно представлена в православных иконах, таких как иконы XII века Лестница Божественного восхождения и Вера, Надежда и Любовь. Обе иконы также тесно связаны с богословскими текстами Восточного православия, особенно с Филокалией, которая пропитана неоплатоническими темами. Эти темы отражают глубокую историческую траекторию влияния, которую, как мы надеемся, лучше прояснит предлагаемая статья.

Биография автора

E. Alexandrov, University of Notre Dame

DOI: https://doi.org/10.34680/vistheo-2023-5-2-135-150

Emile Alexandrov
University of Notre Dame, Fremantle, Australia
University of Tyumen, Tyumen, Russian Federation
e.aleksandrov@utmn
ORCID: https://orcid.org/0009-0008-5327-4810

Abstract
This paper aims to uncover the underlying Neoplatonic ideas embedded in Russian Orthodox iconography and theology.
The focus is on two earlier figures of Neoplatonism, namely, Iamblichus and Plotinus. In Iamblichus, his determination
of religious practices or theurgy as imperative for union with God
is emphasised. This includes his utilisation of symbols and icons
for heightening the worshipper’s faith, a practice that Russian Orthodoxy largely appropriated into a Christian context. However, the understanding of Beauty that both Iamblichus and Russian Orthodoxy incorporated is propelled out of Plotinus’ ontology set in the Enneads. The suffusion of Plotinean ontology and Iamblichean theurgy resulted in the Orthodox portrayal of a divine ladder symbolising assimilation with God. This theological symbolism is markedly adopted by central figures of Eastern Orthodox theology and artistically rendered in Orthodox icons, such as the 12th-century icons Ladder of Divine Ascent and the Faith, Hope, and Love.
Both icons are also closely intertwined with the theological texts
of Eastern Orthodoxy, especially the Philokalia, which is permeated with Neoplatonic themes that portray a deep historical trajectory
of influence that this paper hopes to have better elucidated.

Keywords: Russian Orthodoxy, iconography, visual theology,
Ladder of Ascent, St. John Climacus, icon, symbol, Iamblichus, Plotinus, Pavel Florensky, Neoplatonism

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About author

Emile Alexandrov
PhD student at the School of Philosophy and Theology
University of Notre Dame
23, High St., Fremantle, WA 6160, Australia
Assistant Professor at the School of Advanced Studies
University of Tyumen
2/1, 8 Marta ul., Tyumen, 625000, Russian Federation
E-mail: e.aleksandrov@utmn.ru

For citation:
Alexandrov E. The neoplatonic substructure of Russian Orthodox iconography and theology. Journal of Visual Theology. 2023. Vol. 5. 2. Pp. 135–150. https://doi.org/10.34680/vistheo-2023-5-2-135-150

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2023-12-26
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