I took images above from volume ll, Russian Icon Design of holy persons and event portrayed for Byzantine orthodox line drawings. The collection of 500 sacred images includes only 14 images of women. It is a pitiful female representation in a comprehensive collection of templates. There are 290 images of male saints. Why are there so few powerful images of women in Iconography; women portrayed as messengers, teachers, wisdom crones, disciples, leaders, sorceress, prophets, or mystics? We have not heard women’s voices in equal measure to that of men.
Orthodox Icon theologians are keen to correct those who “break iconographic rules”. This is expected, it gives structure to the tradition and prevents its corruption. I have been posting articles about Mary Magdalene hoping to open some minds and generating conversation. Iconographers need to elevate the images of women as symbols of God love.
Mary Magdalene is the most important example of a woman’s devotion and commitment to Christ’s teachings, second to Mary, his Mother. It is a tragedy theologians did not give women more of a voice in Scripture. This absent voice was of considerable disservice to women and a determent to spirituality for our society today.
MANY WILL AGREE, we need POWERFUL IMAGES OF WOMEN IN THE CHURCH.
These classic acceptable Saints and women Iconography patterns represent powerful images of Women in Iconography. These female saints hold scrolls, symbols of wisdom,- jars of spices for healing and sacrament,- crosses of martyrdom and devotion. We do not crown these women for royalty, but for God’s blessing upon them as faithful women. If we examine these attributes, we see they illustrate women as dignified teachers, mystics, and healers and more.
I suggest if we had more images of powerful women in the church, women would breakthrough the glass ceiling given to them. The church authorities gave us the Queen of Heaven, the blessed Virgin Mother Mary, silent, contemplative, and filled with divine suffering.
THEY MODELED WOMEN IN ICONOGRAPHY AFTER THE MOTHER OF JESUS.
Women in Iconography are few. They do not appear in the Last Supper, Pentecost, the Baptism, The Assertion, or anywhere Christ is Teaching. The bible mentions women with Jesus throughout His death and resurrection. Their devotion is intense, with no fear and a deep understanding of transformation. They were there with Christ and the bible did not name them or explain their bravery after His death. It is possible to depict powerful images of Women in Iconography and we will have to invent new portraits for them today. Mary Magdalene may have been wed to Jesus and fled to France with a child, however this part of her story is not the core reason we elevate her. She was a leader and influential, like so many other women in history.
AS AN ICONOGRAPHER for THREE DECADES, I CANNOT REMAIN SILENT.
One of the Greatest Saints, Teresa of Avila (1535), the first female Doctor of the Church. She was told not to not pray by a man, that her thoughts were of the Devil. Imagine what she had to endure. It is time to go deeper in gender discussions and get comfortable with our desperate need for change by looking at the roots of this bias against women.
There is nothing incorrect or demonic about elevating women as creatures loved by God, cherished by Jesus and filled with female wisdom. Most women know all too well how we are “sinners”. We are the flowing haired temptress, disobedient, and seductive force that men cannot resist dominating. We have been told to “know” our place.
I say, Let’s unpack that kind of wording. Why do we not ask men to rise above their animal nature, go beyond craving sex? Why are men not more accountable for war, violence, corruption, greed, and raw physical power over women and children? We need to help one another to cross the bridge of our difference and celebrate the common ground. It is time to bring to the table conversations where both sides speak. We have to get comfortable with who we are and what calls us to be. Christians want to love God and to live in the Light. Let us begin.
Mary Jane Millers books on Iconography. In Light of Women: One Woman’s journey with Icons highlight Mary Magdalene and her Gnostic Gospel Text found in Jordon. Another book Byzantine orthodox line drawings for Embossing Metal, Facebook below
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