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Священник Андрей Ковалёв

Reversed Perspective in Orthodox Christianity.

Reversed Perspective as the key to Orthodox Christian Mysteries.

What is Reversed Perspective (RP)?

Some may know RP from studies of genuine orthodox Christian iconography. In an orthodox Christian icon, unlike religious painting, subject-Object relation is in reverse. For example: if one looks at a 'regular' picture, the farther subjects are from the viewer(the object) - the smaller they are. For example: the road narrows towards the horizon. In an Icon, on the other hand - it is in reverse. That is one of the reasons genuine orthodox Christian icons look a little 'unrealistic.' However, the icons portray and teach, in fact, the actual state of life, as oppose to how it may appear. Thus, when you look at an orthodox Christian icon Object-subject relation change places or reverse: it is not 'you - the object' who looks at a subject on the icon, but it is 'you - the subject (created being),' who humbly stand in front of the Object (Creator) Whose Image is on the icon.

RP is a very important truth in orthodox Christianity. RP is why, in orthodox Christian countries like Russia, icons are usually situated in the upper East corner of the room, and not on the flat wall. The reason comes from understanding RP: in the upper corner of the room our 3-D world (length, width, height) come to a point (dead end) - and this is where dimensions of the icon in RP - begin to broaden, open up. just like it often happens in real life.

In orthodox Christian church everything is in harmony. Thus, it would've been strange if the principle of RP could've been seen in iconography only and nowhere else. In fact, in genuine orthodox Christianity RP is everywhere and in everything.

In architecture of the church RP is manifested on many levels of which, for the sake of this short essay, we'll only point to one, namely: inside vs. outside. Unlike many civil buildings - orthodox Christian churches are built and decorated in such a way that all the beauty, like iconography, is on the inside, while outside of the building is usually pretty plain. After all, 'the kingdom of God is within you' (Luke 17:21).

Again, it would've been strange if the principle of RP could've been seen in iconography and architecture only and nowhere else.

Gospel is written, in many ways, in RP. It is not a person who reads the Gospel as some sequence of events and different teaching, but God who talks to a person and transfigures his/her heart. On another level, beatitudes are written in RP. For example: 'Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted' (Matthew 5:4). In the world outside the church we don't usually consider those who 'mourn' or 'poor in spirit' blessed.

Again, it would've been strange if the principle of RP could've been seen in iconography, architecture, and the Gospel only and nowhere else.

Orthodox Christian Saints live in RP. Especially, fools for Christ. People in the world dress in beautiful clothes to hide their nakedness underneath, while fools for Christ dress in rags to cover their spiritual beauty and richness within. But not only fools for Christ live in RP. Thus, for example, we read in the troparion to st. Nicholas the Wonderworker, literally the following: 'Because of your humble life, heaven was opened to you, Because of your poverty, spiritual riches were granted to you...' - a perfect example of RP.

Again, it would've been strange if the principle of RP could've been seen in iconography, architecture, the Gospel, lives of saints only and nowhere else.

Prayer on many levels is in RP. For example, the way prayer is read in orthodox Christian church - monotonous chant kind of prayer, where main emphasis is on meaning as oppose to outward theatrical form of presentation. Or, the fact that prayer is not a monologue, but, a dialogue - and, as such, in prayer, according to RP, I have to learn to listen more than to talk.

Church service is done in RP. In orthodox Christian church - church services are usualy really long and sermons are short, because, according to RP, it is best to talk to God about people than to talk to people about God!

Orthodox Christian Theology is in RP. For example, the question: 'how did you find God?' is not in RP because God is not something along the road that one can accidently find. According to RP - I didn't find God, but He found me! God is always the Initiator, not me.

Here is yet another important application of RP: if one wants to find out who he/she really is - he/she has to get to know God first, and not the other way around, because we were created in the image of God. Thus, the idea to know one's self to know God is wrong due to lack of knowledge of RP!

In genuine orthodox Christianity RP is everywhere and in everything: Trees and flowers grow in RP - not narrowing towards the Sun but opening up towards the source of light as an example to us.

Genuine family life and love are in RP. For example: I don't get married because I am in love, but, according to RP, I get married to love. Thus, according to RP, words 'I don't love him/her anymore, therefore we break up' don't make sense. The Perfect Love, according to RP, is the one on the Cross as 'greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). Not the other way around.

Another example of RP: If you don't love God (Mark 12:29-30) - you won't be able to love anybody... you won't even be able to allow yourself to be loved!!!

We as human beings are in RP on many levels. For example, man is so small compared to the whole universe; however, Whom entire universe can't contain - man can! Holy Theotokos was carrying God in her womb; Christ walked the Earth in human body, etc. Thus it is not I, who being so small, am a part of this universe, but, according to RP, the entire universe is a part of me, as what our universe has - I have also, but Whom entire universe can't contain - I can!

God's providence over/about us is in RP: 'And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.' (Rom 8:28-30). How? Because God is above time. Therefore, He 'foreknows and predestines' those whose free will, later, will lean towards Him anyway.

Our orthodox Christian saints open to us the mysteries of RP by their lives. St. Seraphim of Sarov said: 'Acquire the Spirit of Peace and thousands around you will be saved.' That's RP. Some hundreds years later, here in the United States, more saints proved that.

First saint (of many), whose life is a perfect example of RP is st. Herman of Alaska. Just look at his life from a point of view of a missionary to The United States and see whether it makes sense outside of the RP. One of the best orthodox Christian missionaries: didn't speak English, lived on an island on the outskirts of the North American Continent, no printing press, no radio, no TV, neither internet nor computer, we don't read his sermons, he fell asleep in the Lord 30 years prior to sell of Alaska to the United States of America, and, he wasn't even a priest. The only thing he did (one thing needful) - he did acquire the Spirit of Peace and 'thousands around him are continuing to be saved!' That's RP.

Second saint (of many), who has not yet been glorified as saint, is father Serafim Rose of Platina, CA. He applied RP in his life. He first had a front store shop/mission on Geary Blvd. in San Francisco in California next to a big Russian Orthodox Cathedral (1960's) with logical idea that people would pass by and notice 'man in black,' walk in, ask, and, thus, get introduced to Orthodox Christianity. Dozens of people did. Then, According to RP, he moved far away into the hard-to-reach wilderness of Platina, CA (1970's) and started to pray more in ascetic struggles acquiring the Spirit of Peace and, lo and behold, hundreds of people started to flock around him and be saved. Then, he, having acquired the Spirit of Peace, fell asleep in the Lord, and, now thousands around him are being saved. That's RP.

To understand why orthodox Christian monks go into the wilderness, as oppose to becoming 'social workers,' because they love us - one has to understand RP. Thus, if I love my neighbor, I will 'go into my room, and shut the door, and pray to my Father in secret; and my Father who sees in secret will reward openly (Matthew 6:6)' and thousands of my friends and relatives will be saved. That is real love.

One may ask, but what about saints like st. John Chrysostom? According to RP, we are able to hear and follow st. John Chrysostom not because of what he did and/or wrote, but because of who he was - and he was/is Holy, that is, he acquired the Spirit of Peace. That's RP.

I, myself, is an example of RP. I grew up in former Soviet Union in a family of atheists. Growing up I've never seen an inside or outside of a church as they were all destroyed in our town. I've never witnessed a prayer or saw an icon in our house. I've never heard a single sermon. I've never seen or read a Bible. The first religious book I read was Koran, the second - Bhagavadgita, third - Tao De Ching. How is it, then, that I became an orthodox Christian priest? I know. It is because someone next to me quietly acquired the Spirit of Peace. And, I, may not know his/her name or face, but am thankful to him/her as I am thankful to all who understood RP and acquired the Spirit of Peace.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
'one of the thousands.'