The Passion of the Icon: On the Origin, Context, and Dissemination of an Edifying Narrative

par István M. Bugár (University of Debrecen)

A narrative homily preserved under the name of one of the largest authorities of Christian theology, Athanasius of Alexandria (CPG 2262), comprises a highly symbolic and dramatized portrayal of religious conflict as it describes how a Jewish community would have desacralized an image of Jesus by enacting the abuse he suffered while dying on the cross. The story can be understood as symbolic in a double way. First, the acts performed correspond tothose of the Byzantine Eucharistic liturgy interpreted widely from the early Byzantine period as a recapitulation of Christ’s life, and especially of his passion. In this sense the narrative emphasizes the sacramental aspect of icons. Secondly, the passion of the icon is an allusion to iconoclasm. Such parallelism between Christ’s execution and destroying sacred images is displayed at least somewhat later in the well-known Khludov Psalter completed during the Second Iconoclasm.

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