The visual dimension of Byzantine art : theology, iconography and aesthetics
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From its inception, the Christian religion, born out of a basically non-representational religion, expanded in a pre-existing world of images. Surrounded by a predominantly visual world, it began mostly out of traditional necessity to assimilate and continue the development of symbolic imagery. After its acceptance as the state religion by Theodosius the Great (AD 379-395), Christianity required standards and a ceremonial protocol. With this, the 'church as the Body of Christ' needed a house in which the worshipers could assemble, in other words, an enclosed and designated space devoted entirely to God. This development arrived at a visual decoration which became the primary vehicle for the enchancement of the religious mystery (Lowrie). The images became an essential element of veneration, complementing the liturgy and closely interacting with hymnody. Religious images became the vehicle for the teachings of the Gospels, a visual and iconographic text to clarify and assist in the comprehension of the Scriptures. Visual appearances and experiences transformed Biblical teachings rendering invisible divinity to become visible reality. The eschatological Christian year visualized on the walls of the church the recurrent memorials of the Birth, Manhood, Death and Triumph of Jesus Christ. Through a visible, pictorial reality, the invisible God became visible, as the Christian liturgical year is graphically revealed enabling the congregation to visit the unvisitable. The didactic value of the Gospel together with the iconography intelligently arranged and rendered the life of Jesus through a visible and audible expression. At the same time, the Divine Liturgy of the Byzantine or Orthodox Church correlated the entire movement of the Service with the successive phases of the life of Jesus. His hidden birth and childhood, the public ministry as well as the acts of oblation, consecration and communion foreshadow the dreadful mysteries of the Passion and Risen Life.