1. Baker Galloway

    Dear Aidan,

    Your article raises several questions for me. Visiting very old churches it has always perplexed me why the iconographers spent so much effort in the frescoes when the church itself would always have been so dimly lit that it was impossible to apprehend the details and qualities of the paintings. Does this dynamic speak of the intricate mysteries of God’s kingdom that we are not privy to? And technically, did they use supplemental light to paint? Also, there seems to be a growing trend for parish walls to be painted with a very light colored background rather than the dark blue/gray you first suggest. My feeling is that light backgrounds are better for contemporary parishes but I have nothing really to found that on yet. Personally I am also curious how it would work for a parish to have an intentionally dark nave with many small children present. I have actually only experienced dark naves at monasteries. Can you or any other readers comment from their own parish experiences? You have hinted at opening up a conversation that I am interested in, namely, do a different set of priorities govern the design of a parish temple vs. a monastery temple, given that a parish will be less inward-focused, i.e. noisy? One last question: I personally don’t like the choros I have witnessed in person very much for use in a parish as it seems to create a kind of no-man’s-land under its circumference on the floor of the nave. It’s an intimidating thing to stand under. If it fell it would slice you! Have you experienced this feeling yourself, and in your view is it good to have this no-man’s land in a parish nave?

    1. You raise very pertinent points. Regarding parish vs. monastic lighting, I think that the choice of church lighting, like preaching, is pastoral. It should be a response to the needs, charisms and aspirations of the people of that particular community. Though not a hard and fast rule, the tendency for monastic communities is certainly to prefer darker interiors since their main charism is intense prayer, a work of the inner heart. While parishioners are also called to “pray without ceasing”, in the words of Saint Paul to the city dwellers of Thessalonika, perhaps their emphasis is more on finding Christ in the hurly-burly of daily life.
      Regarding the possible tendency of the choros to demarcate the area beneath as a no-go area, it is a very good point that I hadn’t considered. I will ask the priest of the parish for whom I have just made a large choros if this has been his parish’s experience.

      1. Baker Galloway

        Thank you, Aidan. You have called my attention to a number of things I had not thought of before. And I will read Thessalonians again to try and gain a better understanding.

        with your prayers,

  2. Fr. James Ellison

    I am trying to grow in my appreciation for aesthetics. This article was very helpful. I took the bold step of painting the walls and ceiling in the apse a fairly dark blue in our converted church building while leaving the vaulted ceiling of our nave white. The effect was immediate and moved the space toward a more prayerful ambiance. We especially enjoy using the church for First Hour and evening services during lent when the lumped and offering candles are the primary light.
    We are about to move in to a larger existing church building not built as Orthodox space and I will attempt to be more sensitive to the lighting we provide. Thank you again.

    1. Thank you, Father James. Do let me know how things progress with the new church. It is interesting how your present colour scheme has combined the mystery of deep blue in the altar with the manifest glory of a lighter colour in the nave. This corresponds somewhat with what St. Maximus the Confessor teaches, namely that a church building is an image of the human person, the nave (what he calls the Temple) being the body, the sanctuary (what he calls the Holy Place) being the soul, and the Holy Table symbolising the nous. As you know, he says that with the body/nave the Church expresses moral philosophy (moral action), with the soul/sanctuary natural contemplation, and with the nous/alter mystical theology. So the emphasis of the nave is the application of God’s will through a visible life of virtuous action, while the sanctuary emphasises more inner and hidden contemplation. The two together make the fullness of life in Christ. Your colour scheme combines the two perfectly! I tried to do a similar thing but in a slightly different way with a chapel that I frescoed in Greece (see http://aidanharticons.com/sanctuary-agia-skepi-2/). The nave had a greenish background and images of standing saints amidst trees (representing their active life int he world), while the sanctuary had a deep blue.
      In Christ, Aidan

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