Book Reviews

Windows to Heaven

Introducing Icons to Protestants and Catholics

Elizabeth Zelensky, Lela Gilbert Grand Rapids 2005-02-01

As interest in older church traditions grows, Orthodox Christians are responding with accessible introductions to their expressions of faith. Zelensky, a Russian Orthodox Christian and visiting professor in history at Georgetown University, and Gilbert, a professional writer with Protestant roots, approach the subject of Orthodox iconography from separate directions. Each chapter examines a representative icon: Rublev’s “Holy Trinity,” the Vladimir “Theotokos,” Theophanes’ “Transfiguration of Christ,” “The Dormitian of the Virgin,” “The Sinai Pantocrator,” and the typical iconostasis (including a discussion of the architectural symbolism of the Orthodox Church). Italicized journal entries preserve a devotional aspect to the encounter, followed by a more formal discussion that includes history, basic characteristics of the work, and its significance. Full-color illustrations of each icon guide the reader through the material.

Zelensky and Gilbert’s perspective gives a tantalizing glimpse of church history through the lens of ancient Christian aesthetics and explains why an ancient tradition appeals to postmodern spiritual sensitivities. Above all, their work dispels prejudice born of ignorance and encourages sympathetic dialogue with theology from the patristic paradigms of the Eastern churches.

Most Western denominations have long since departed from the theological priorities of the Reformation. By contrast, the Orthodox Church (in its many ethnolinguistic forms) has remained firmly rooted in the evangelical faith forged by ancient theological debate. The ecumenical spirit of Orthodox believers is strongest in North America (while admittedly low or absent in the Orthodox homelands). In a post-Christian age when allies are few, this work adds another span to the growing bridge to evangelical Protestants. At least one can learn more about the meaning of the strange buildings being built in many American neighborhoods.

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