Interior of Katholikon at Prodromos
The catholicon (communal church) of the cenobitic skete of Prodromos (“The Forerunner”) was founded by Romanian monks in the 19th century.1 The skete is a smaller community of monks living in relative isolation from, and administered by another monastery. The Prodromos skete is a dependency of Great Lavra Monastery. The photograph shows the iconostasis (icon stand/screen) surmounted by a painted crucifix, the hanging lamp in the center, light emanating from the dome above the sanctuary (behind the iconostasis), as well as free standing icons.
An iconostasis is a wall of icons, which acts as a barrier between the nave (main part of the church) and the sanctuary (altar). It has doors built into the screen to allow the monks to move between the altar and the nave of the church during the liturgy. This particular example has multiple tiers with different icons on each tier. The first tier holds the larger icons of the Theotokos (Virgin Mary) and Christ Pantokrator. The other tiers hold icons depicting the patriarchs, apostles and prophets.2
The iconostasis originally evolved from the Byzantine templon, which was an open screen with a low rail enclosed by carved marble transem slabs that marked the boundary between the nave and the sanctuary. This image depicts the latest phase of a long development, which culminated in a solid, multi-tiered wall of icons that stretched from floor to ceiling.3
The icons that appear in this photograph are heavily influenced by Western European styles, as opposed to staying true to traditional, more abstract Byzantine icons. Most icons in the Prodromos skete, including the famous Icon of Theotokos “Archeiropoietos” (1863), came from the 19th century. The western style appears painterly, with attention paid to light and shadow and three-dimensionality. This change in style reflects the artistic revolution that came about after Peter the Great opened Russia to western European influence at the end of the 17th century and actively recruited Western painters to retrain icon painters in the new methods of painting.4
The Icon of Theotokos “Archeiropoietos,” mentioned above, is the most famous icon housed in the catholicon of the Prodromos skete. It is particularly special because it is thought to perform miracles. The old painter of the icon was said to have been unsatisfied with the way he painted the Holy Faces of Jesus and Mary. He decided to cover the icon with a cloth and pray to the Holy Ghost to help him finish the work to the highest standard. The next day he returned to find the icon finished and beautifully done. Since then, the icon is believed to continue to perform miracles.5
Along with the icon, the interior of the katholikon is wonderfully ornate with gold detailing and an abundant amount of natural and artificial light. The atmosphere exudes a holiness that one feels when entering the house of God. When one worships in the catholikon, in front of the holy icons, one experiences a multi-sensory connection with God.
Arida, Robert. “Another Look at the Solid Iconostasis in the Russian Orthodox Church,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 52.3-4 (2008):339-66.
Holy Image, Sacred Presence: Russian Icons 1500-1900 (Chazen Museum of Art, 2011), online exhibition catalogue at http://arthistory.wisc.edu/exhibitions/icons/.
Krasilin, Mikhail. “Russian Icons of the 18th to early 20th centuries,” in L. Evseyeva et al, A History of Icon Painting. Moscow, 2002.
Speake, Graham. Mount Athos: Renewal in Paradise, 2nd ed., Limni, Greece: Denise Harvey, 2014.
Walter, Julian. “The Origins of the Iconostasis,” Eastern Churches Review 3, no. 3 (1971): 251-67; online at http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2011/08/eastern-churches-review-origins-of.html#.WFB2eqIrLUo.
Wharton Epstein, Ann, “The Middle Byzantine Sanctuary Barrier: Templon or Iconostasis,” Journal of the British Archaeological Association 134 (1981): 251-267.
1“Prodromos (Mount Athos)” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prodromos_(Mount_Athos); Speake, Mount Athos: Renewal in Paradise, 166-167.
2Arida, “Another Look at the Solid Iconostasis in the Russian Orthodox Church”; Walter, “The Origins of the Iconostasis,” Eastern Churches Review, III no. 3 (1971),: 339-66, http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2011/08/eastern-churches-review-origins-of.html#.WFB2eqIrLUo; Epstein, “The Middle Byzantine Sanctuary Barrier.”
3“Prodromos (Mount Athos)” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prodromos_(Mount_Athos).
4Krasilin, “Russian Icons of the 18th to 20th centuries”; Peter Bovenmyer, “St. Nicholas Thaumaturge ("The Wonderworker"),” in Holy Image, Sacred Presence at http://arthistory.wisc.edu/exhibitions/icons/1992-26.html.
5“Prodromos (Mount Athos)” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prodromos_(Mount_Athos).