(SAI 213)
Theology of the Icon
Term: Fall 2017


Chady Elias, E: celias@holyapostles.edu, T: (305) 753-5970

Rita Sawaya, E: rsawaya@holyapostles.edu, T: (416) 706-2290


This course explores the canonical Scriptures and Apocrypha and their influence on Christian iconography. It analyzes various Christian artworks from both the pseudo-canonical and scriptural standpoints, enabling students to understand the Bible as main source of inspiration fundamental to Christian iconography, as well as the Apocrypha and their enduring significance in Christian art, both in rhetorical and pictorial forms. We will investigate selected Christian icons and artwork to develop an understanding the theological foundation, interpretation, and finality of Christian iconography.



PART I – Origins & Evolution of Aesthetical Theology & Sacred Art

Week 1: Tues. Jan. 12Introduction: The Word in Color

                “He [Christ] is the image [icon] of the invisible God”

Ὃς ἔστιν εἰκὼν τοῦ Θεοῦ τοῦ ἀοράτου”

(Col. 1:15)

In this general introductory online lecture on the Theology of the Icon, we will briefly overview the course roadmap: importance of the biblical and theological foundations of iconographical aesthetics that gradually developed in an historical context, the major dogmatic and art-history epochs that affected Christian iconography, its integration within the liturgical cycle, and the importance of an icon’s theological dimension and its interpretation.


Week 2: Historical Synopsis: The Genesis of the Christian Icon

In this module we will cover a synopsis of the origins of the Church, its early cultual practices, its art and the foundations of sacred Christian art, its purpose and its relation to historical chronology and Christian revelation.


  1. Leonid, OUSPENSKY, Theology of the Icon in the Orthodox Church, pp. 11-27.

Week 3: The Iconographic Archetype and Paelo-Christian Art

In the Week 3 module we learn about the very first icon Not-Made-by-Human-Hands or “Acheiropoiètos”, its provenance and meaning in Christianity as irrefutable witness to the God’s salvific Incarnation. We also learn about the icon of the Mother of God, the “Theotokos” that represents the first human being whose role is primordial and instrumental in the history of the Incarnation, and its optimal finality: the deification of humanity. We also learn about the Christian sacred art in Early Christianity, its themes, influences, symbolism, forms of expression, applications and role.

The art of the Catacombs & Early Christian Sacred Art.


  1. Leonid, OUSPENSKY, Theology of the Icon in the Orthodox Church, pp. 27-41.

Week 4: Iconography in the Constantinian Era

In Week 4 we learn about sacred art during the Constantinian Period and the first iconoclastic movements. We also survey the Council Fathers’ dogmatic struggles in defense of the truth about the Christian faith, which was proclaimed by word and image, and how the different positions of the Church Fathers between East and West affected Christian sacred art both in Rome and Constantinople.

The Quinisext Council or Council in Trullo (691-2), and the Seventh Ecumenical Council: Council of Nicea II (787).


  1. Leonid, OUSPENSKY, Theology of the Icon in the Orthodox Church, pp. 59-70.

Week 5: Iconoclasts versus Iconodules

This Week 5 module will focus on the various controversial iconoclastic tendencies of the first mainstream Iconoclasm movement (726-787), the second (813-843) their origins, rationale, theosophical-theological polemics, cultual and liturgical repercussions on iconography and on the respective arguments defending the icon as sacred art intrinsic to the Christian faith.

Post-Iconoclasm. Hesychasm & the flourishing of Russian Iconography. Moscow Councils (16th century) and their role in Sacred Art. 18th century sacred art division and the abandonment of Tradition. Russian sacred art in the Russian the church’s Synodal Period.


  1. Leonid, OUSPENSKY, “The Sacred Image”, Theology of the Icon in the Orthodox Church, pp. 71-100.
  2. Id., Ibid., pp. 177-438.

Week 6:The Meaning & Content of Icon & Liturgy

In module 6 we learn about the theological foundations and Church decisions that are directly linked to the purpose, meaning and content of the Christian icon as a result of the Church’s reaction to iconoclasm. We learn the distinctions between ”Iconolatry: adoration”/”worship” and “Iconodule: veneration”, the experience of “viewing” versus “reading” and icon, and the concept and process of icon “writing” versus “drawing/painting”.  

We also discuss the origins, theological meaning and function of the iconographical program, its relation to church building architecture and spacial configuration and worship.

Feasts of the Holy Face and of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. Kontakion of the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy (843). Moscow Sobor (1666).


  1. Leonid, OUSPENSKY, Theology of the Icon in the Orthodox Church, pp. 133-176.

PART II – Sacred Tradition & Iconography

Week 7: (Midterm)

The Icon Apologist Church Fathers & Scriptural Sources

Module 7 will focus on the theological dogmatic thought of the icon apologist Church Fathers – mainly: Basil the Great, Athanasius of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, Cyril of Alexandria, John Damascene, John Chrysostom, Theodore Studium, The Patriarch Nicephorus, The Emperor Constantine VII, Gregory the Referendarius, Peter Damascene, Constantine Stilbes, Gregory Palamas, Dionysos of Fourna and others. We also learn their Scriptural foundations and non-Scriptural or Apocryphal concordances.

Scriptural References: Old/First Testament: Genesis, Psalms; New Testament: Gospels, Epistles; Liturgy: Offices.

Church Fathers quotes.


  1. New Advent, The Fathers of the Church, (passim). http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/, Last updated 2009.

Week 8: Byzantium & Orthodoxy - Main Interlocutors of the Byzantine Language

In module 8 we develop an understanding of the societal context and interlocutors of the Byzantine language from whence the theology of the Icon originates. We also briefly overview the succession of Byzantine and Orthodox Dynasties from Constantine to the Byzantine Commonwealth.


  1. Egon, SENDLER, The Icon Image of the Invisible: Elements of Theology, Aesthetics, and Technique, Oakwood Publications, Redondo Beach, California, 1988, pp. 51-54.
  2. “Byzantium” (passim), Internet Medieval Sourcebook, Fordham University, New York, last revised 3/21/2007.


Week 9: The Byzantine-Orthodox Language: Theological Vision & Dogmatic Tradition

Module 9 focuses on the Byzantine-Orthodox worldview, theological vision and dogmatic tradition.


  1. Egon, SENDLER, The Icon Image of the Invisible: Elements of Theology, Aesthetics, and Technique, Oakwood Publications, Redondo Beach, California, 1988, pp. 54-63.
  2. Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, The Dogmatic Tradition of the Orthodox Church, http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith8038

PART III – Contemporary Iconographical Thought & Theological Aesthecis of the Icon

Week 10: Iconographical Theories

In module 10 we discuss the icon as sign and as participation to the divine.


  1. Egon, SENDLER, The Icon Image of the Invisible: Elements of Theology, Aesthetics, and Technique, Oakwood Publications, Redondo Beach, California, 1988, pp. 76-77.

Week 11: Icon Theology & Literary Genres

How is the icon supposed to be written, read and interpreted? In module 11 we investigate the transposition of literary genres to the processes of writing, reading and interpreting and icon, and their relation to the spiritual experience.


  1. Egon, SENDLER, The Icon Image of the Invisible: Elements of Theology, Aesthetics, and Technique, Oakwood Publications, Redondo Beach, California, 1988, pp. 66-71.

Week 12: Contemporary Iconographical Thought

In module 12 we learn about contemporary thought on iconography and its relation to Sacred Tradition and Liturgy. Among the contemporary thinkers and master iconographers we look at are Photios Kontoglou, André Grabar, the munk Gregory Krug, Leonid Ouspensky, John Zizioulas, Chady Elias and others. We also investigate selected contemporary iconographical works.


  1. Egon, SENDLER, The Icon Image of the Invisible: Elements of Theology, Aesthetics, and Technique, Oakwood Publications, Redondo Beach, California, 1988, pp. 85-139.
  2. Examples of Contemporary Icons: HolyBrush.com (other examples TBD).

Week 13: Sacred Aesthetics, Symbolism & Icon Theology

Module 13 discusses the theological dimensions of the iconographic elements that the iconographer combines to form an icon, and other forms of Traditional iconographic sacred art. These elements include the geometric composition, body proportions, iconographic perspective, color, and light.


  1. Egon, SENDLER, The Icon Image of the Invisible: Elements of Theology, Aesthetics, and Technique, Oakwood Publications, Redondo Beach, California, 1988, pp. 85-139.
  2. Examples of Contemporary Icons: HolyBrush.com (other examples TBD).

Week 14: The Theology of and within Icon-Writing

In module 14 we learn about the process of icon-writing from its preparatory techniques to its realization in various techniques and styles, and about the theological dimension of sacred art as it applies every detail of icon writing and covers the entire icon lifecycle.


  1. Egon, SENDLER, The Icon Image of the Invisible: Elements of Theology, Aesthetics, and Technique, Oakwood Publications, Redondo Beach, California, 1988, pp. 175-240.

Week 15: Icon Themes, Corresponding Inscriptions & Reading Icons

In this module 15 we discover and read different icon themes written in various literary iconographical genres and learn how to read and interpret them, their corresponding inscriptions, their provenance and history. We will also learn how to read, understand and interpret an icon in its various theological dimensions based on what we learned throughout the course.

The Holy Trinity & The Christ: Symbolic Pictograms and Staurograms, Prefigurations, Incarnate Child and Theotokos, Divine Incarnate-Man, Acheiropoieta, Christ The King, Christ in Majesty, Christ Pantocrator (Ruler of All), Crucifix, Christ in Glory, Trinity: Archangels’ Visit, to mention a few.

Theotokos: Hodigitria (The Guide), Panakranta (The All-Merciful), Eleusa (Tender Mercy), Agiosortisa (The Intercessor), Oranta (Praying)

We will also discuss other iconographic themes within module 14.


  1. Leonid, OUSPENSKY, Theology of the Icon in the Orthodox Church, pp. 439-492.

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  1. Leonid, OUSPENSKY, Theology of the Icon, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press 1992, ISBN 088141123X, 9780881411232, 528 pages.
  2. Leonid, OUSPENSKY and Vladimir, LOSSKY, the Meaning of Icons, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1999, ISBN-10 0913836990, ISBN-13 978-0913836996, 222 pages.


  1. Examples of Contemporary Icons: Chady Elias, HolyBrush.com.
  2. New Advent, The Fathers of the Church, (passim). http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/ Last updated 2009.



(Basis of evaluation with explanation regarding the nature of the assignment and the percentage of the grade assigned to each item below). Students who have difficulty with research and composition are encouraged to pursue assistance with the Online Writing Lab (available at http://www.holyapostles.edu/owl).


A 94-100; A- 90-93; B+ 87-89; B 84-86; B- 80-83; C+ 77-79; C 74-76; C- 70-73 60-69; F 59 and below

[The grading rubric below is optional for faculty to include or modify. A rubric is a helpful tool for ensuring that students know a professor’s expectations. It’s also an easy way to score any assignment.]

Grading Rubric for the Major Papers and Discussion Board (DB) Postings

0 pts. – Paper
0 pts. – DB Posting;

3 pts. – Paper
2 pts. – DB Posting;

6 pts. – Paper
4 pts. – DB Posting;

9 pts. – Paper
6 pts. – DB Posting;

12 pts. – Paper
8 pts. – DB Posting;

15 pts. – Paper
10 pts. – DB Posting;


Absence of Understanding

Analysis shows no awareness of the discipline or its methodologies as they relate to the topic.

Lack of Understanding

Analysis seems to misunderstand some basic concepts of the discipline or lacks ability to articulate them.

Inadequate understanding

Analysis is sometimes unclear in understanding or articulating concepts of the discipline.

Adequate understanding

Analysis demonstrates an understanding of basic concepts of the discipline but could express them with greater clarity.

Solid Understanding

Analysis demonstrates a clear understanding and articulation of concepts with some sense of their wider implications.

Insightful understanding

Analysis clearly demonstrates an understanding and articulation of concepts of the discipline as they relate to the topic; highlights connections to other concepts; integrates concepts into wider contexts.


Missing Research

Paper shows no evidence of research: citation of sources missing.

Inadequate research and/or documentation

Over-reliance on few sources; spotty documentation of facts in text; pattern of citation errors.

Weak research and/or documentation

Inadequate number or quality of sources; many facts not referenced; several errors in citation format.

Adequate research and documentation but needs improvement

Good choice of sources but could be improved with some additions or better selection; did not always cite sources; too many citation errors.

Solid research and documentation

A number of relevant scholarly sources revealing solid research; sources appropriately referenced in paper; only a few minor citation errors.

Excellent critical research and documentation

Critically selected and relevant scholarly sources demonstrating extensive, in-depth research; sources skillfully incorporated into paper at all necessary points; all citations follow standard bibliographic format.


Incomplete writing

Analysis is only partially written or completely misses the topic.

Writing difficult to understand, serious improvement needed

Analysis fails to address the topic; confusing organization or development; little elaboration of position; insufficient control of sentence structure and vocabulary; unacceptable number of errors in grammar, mechanics, and usage.

Episodic writing, a mix of strengths and weaknesses.

Analysis noticeably neglects or misinterprets the topic; simplistic or repetitive treatment, only partially-internalized; weak organization and development, some meandering; simple sentences, below-level diction; distracting errors in grammar, mechanics, and usage.

Acceptable writing, but could use some sharpening of skill

Analysis is an uneven response to parts of the topic; somewhat conventional treatment; satisfactory organization, but more development needed; adequate syntax and diction, but could use more vigor; overall control of grammar, mechanics, and usage, but some errors.

Solid writing, with something interesting to say.

Analysis is an adequate response to the topic; some depth and complexity in treatment; persuasive organization and development, with suitable reasons and examples; level-appropriate syntax and diction; mastery of grammar, mechanics, and usage, with hardly any error.

Command-level writing, making a clear impression

Analysis is a thorough response to the topic; thoughtful and insightful examination of issues; compelling organization and development; superior syntax and diction; error-free grammar, mechanics, and usage.

COMMUNITY INTERACTION (50-word response)

Inadequate response

Response merely provides laudatory encouragement for original post, e.g., “Excellent post! You really have thought of something there.”

Poor response

Response misses the point of the original posting.

Weak response

Response summarizes original posting to which it responds.

Acceptable response

Response makes a contribution to the posting to which it responds.

Individually-conscious contributory response

Response makes a contribution to the posting to which it responds and fosters its development.

Community-conscious contributory response

Response makes a contribution to the learning community and fosters its development.


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Because of the nature of this class, academic dishonesty is taken very seriously.  Students participating in academic dishonesty may be removed from the course and from the program.


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12. ABOUT YOUR PROFESSORS2c7f19_26f47c967aaa4676aefa758b09302606

Chady Elias started his artistic life since early childhood and presented his first arts exhibition in Lebanon at the age of twelve. He studied Interior Design and Music. His passion for art led him in1993 to experiment with various renowned artist studios in Lebanon and Europe (Italy, France, Croatia and Slovenia) where he came to master several artistic techniques. After earning a B.A. in Theology from Saint Paul’s Pontifical Institute – Lebanon, he earned a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts from The University of the Holy Spirit (USEK) – Lebanon. His artwork can be found across the world both in private collections and public locations in France, Italy, Croatia, Mexico, Cyprus, Australia, Peru, Switzerland, the USA and Lebanon (ChadyElias.com). Chady’s strong belief in art and creativity as a tool of positive change compelled him to collaborate and partner with various community organizations in various community outreach projects, and to earn a certificate as Executive Professional Coaching from the University of Miami.

Among the subject matters he taught at the university level are Painting, Christian Iconography, Traditional and Ancient Painting and Iconography Techniques. From his studio in Miami, Florida Chady Elias continues to lead in-class and online arts workshops previously delivered in Lebanon, Mexico and the USA that cover various creative art techniques.

Rita Sawaya is currently the Director of Communications & Public Relations at Catholic Diocese and a visual, & fine & sacred arts artist (ritasavoia.com). She holds a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Sacred Art from the Institute of Sacred Art - Pontifical Theological Faculty at the University of the Holy Spirit (USEK) where she also taught several subjects, and a B.A. and Licentiate of Education in Arts and Archaeology from the Lebanese University, along with a number of certifications in the fields of communications & public relations, conflict transformation & peace-building, human rights and business. She previously taught several university level courses related to sacred art and archaeology at the University of the Holy Spirit (USEK) and at the Antonine University. Rita currently lives in Canada, where she previously worked at Salt and Light Television and Media Foundation - Toronto as News Anchor, Associate Producer, Television Shows & Live events Co-Host, as well as Journalist, Reporter, Blogger, and multi-lingual Translator. She also served as Policy Advisor within the Government of Ontario. She has broad based international experience in several areas including and not limited to culture and heritage management and preservation, human and humanitarian rights with a focus on women’s, children’s, environmental rights, and cultural and religious heritage management.