The Eastern Orthodox Church and its use of Symbols
Until I made a brief study of the eastern orthodox iconography I did not realize that the Byzantine artists made such an important ad profuse use of symbols to express great doctrines of their faith. The three stars on the image of Mary to indicate her thrice virginity, the adult robes of baby Christ as he sits on the lap of his mother to suggest his pre-incarnate existence, the thumb and first finger joined together as he gives his blessing as an expression of his two natures, divine and human and many more symbols are used by the Greek iconographers. It is a wonderful process of election and variation of existing symbols and making also some new symbols. No wonder that the Greek Orthodox Church has called these icons the windows to heaven.
Indian Church and its use of Cultural symbols.
we consider what the church in India has done with the Indian cultural
symbols. Like in all cultures where the Gospel went in the world there was
always an encounter between the Gospel and the host culture. But the
Indian church was always a little hesitant to use the local cultural idiom
whether it is in the song dance and drama or with the pictures. The Gospel
has been brought to us in a western pot and we did not break the pot to
let the Gospel plant grow in Indian soil. Some one has said that the
Indian Church has not offered even a decent heresy to the universal
church. Our hymns are translations of the western hymns sung to western
tunes, our creeds and liturgies are carbon copies of their western
counterparts, and R.S. Boyd has called this the Latin captivity of the
Indian Church (see R.S. Boyd, Indian Church and Latin Captivity).
When I made once the Christ image with a third eye on the forehead even our Christian intellectuals did not see that I am speaking about the all seeing eye of the cosmic Christ. Once I made the Gospel story in Indian dance form with Hindu girls most willingly dancing away the deep messages of the Gospel. But my church people saw the most unacceptable idiom in that. They thought that the dance is not biblical, and unbaptised girls have no right to tell the story especially in dance, which is all Hindu temple-related and associated with temple prostitutes. Many of my people do not know that the tunes to some of the best Western church hymns we sing come from pubs and dance houses.
Symbols will stay with us as tools of communication along with the spoken word and the written word. We can not exist without symbols of one kind or another. One may even say that symbols will one day replace all languages, certainly replace the printed page monopoly in course of time. Symbol language by definition is a hidden language but for the same reason it is also an open language of liberation and freedom. A symbol speaks different things to different people, which should be the same truth viewed from different angles. If one day humanity speaks one single language, that will be the symbol language reversing the curse of Babel. Then may of our communications problems will be solved and I think it will be a picture language like the hieroglyphics of the old Egypt.