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ICONOSTASIS OF LIGHT


ADAM STALONY-DOBRZANSKI


The signature compsed by the artist in the form of Gothic tracery made up of the initials of his name and surname: AS-D, shaped as St. Peter's boat, and set on an equal-armed Greek cross.




ROZWADÓW, 1954, THE CHURCH AND RECTORY JUST ON THE BANK ON THE SAN RIVER

Rozwadów, 1954, the church and rectory just on the bank on the San river. Sunday, quiet, sunny afternoon. I'm leaving with the late Rev. Dean Aleksander Ziemiański for an unexpectedly ordered stroll.

 

– I must hear — just for myself — why you, Professor, still remain in the Orthodox Church. You've worked three years already for us, for the Church. I am grateful for the stained glass windows you've begun, for the polychrome, and the joy and learning that from them draw Rozwadów parishioners, and even anyone, who's now entering the church.

 

 

– Thank you that you haven't yielded to my remarks either that there was too much writing in the windows and polychrome. Because there, I repeat, I had an experience in the church, when I was standing all by myself in front of the words written next to the pictures, in face of the words that I've known since my childhood. And how many more after me will read them, for how many more they will be a revelation!

 

– As a priest I saw them play a major role, a catechesis that explains and involves in a reflection over the image itself, and its artistic value. Today I need to hear why you, who really have — in the Catholic way — arranged our church, why you still remain in the Orthodox Church. I know what treasures of the Christian beauty have been preserved in the Orthodox Church, and we both understand that the Gospel, the truth, is one. So isn't all the misfortune of the Orthodox Church a result of its detachment from the unity of the Church?

 

– The Church has been now and then hit by various blows and endangered by various threats, and it still stands firm, because it stands on a rock, on Peter and his successors, the Lord's deputies. Our Church stands and keeps flourishing with more and more saints all the time. And the Orthodox Church – is almost gone — and even what's left is a far cry from what it once was. But you know that, because you are near there, at the top — in Warsaw. I'm not expecting theological or historical arguments. I just want to hear why we are here, here in the church together, and yet we do call ourselves differently. It's good for atheists only, to our shame and bane.

 

– Reverend Dean, I have felt and I still feel so great working for your, as on a very few assignments so far. Thank you for your confidence, and this stroll and this conversation is yet another manifestation of it. I understand that it is meant neither for «conversion», nor for dialectics. You know that I work neither for pay, nor for praise. Owing to you, I may thank God with my work for everything beautiful that I have experienced in my life, and for everything from what God has preserved me in my childhood, under the Nazi occupation, and at the liberation, and even thereafter.

 

I remain in the Orthodox Church, because if find it the most beautiful, because that's where I was born, and that Church has been not only the dearest, but even the most expensive for me throughout my life. This is where I want to save the smallest of the treasures left there, and clean up the smallest trash there. This is where the holiness is, and therefore the power of Evil's fire and arrogance. Unwavering — precisely because that: +For where two or three come together in +My Name, there am I with them(Matthew 18,20), so therefore in an Orthodox church, where we indeed sing +holy be+ Your Name, and +deliver us from Evil.

 

There is an icon of the Saviour in each Orthodox church and we cross ourselves in front of it, because we believe that: +Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life (Matthew 26:27, Mark 14:23, Luke 22:20, John 6,54). +if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing (Corinthians 13,2 ) forewarned St. Paul the Apostle to the Nations, and warns us to not consider ourselves the infallible and entitled to rule. +not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (Corinthians 3:3). And just St. Paul together with St. Peter are the first Apostles to be pictured in an Orthodox church.

 

In each church, in the iconostasis at the entrance to the altar, there is an icon of Our Lady of Purity. „Virgin Mother of God Above Cherubs Venerable Above Seraphim Full of Fame, Who Flawlessly Gave Birth to God-Word – with these words we constantly praise Her in the Orthodox Church. Just from the Orthodox Church have come here the icons, that from Russia, and Our Lady of Częstochowa, and Holy Mother of Perpetual Help, who is in Rome, also miraculous and famous of miracles. Countless are Her sacred icons in the Orthodox Church, miraculous and famous of miracles, beyond time and beyond borders, also beautiful are the words and songs of the Incomparable, with which we worship Her and praise in the Orthodox Church. Her icons show and celebrate Her entire life. +The birth of Our Lady of Purity from St. Joachim and St. Anne, +Presentation — Introduction of Her, a little girl at the temple, +Annunciation, +Visitation with St. Elizabeth, +Birth of God, +Flight into Egypt, and +Under the Cross at Golgotha, where The Crucified told Her standing with John +Woman, behold, your son!, and to John: +Behold, your mother! (John 19:26) and the icon of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God. The icon pictures +The Saviour in the Mandorla of Great Glory with Seraphim standing at Her body. He's taking up Her soul in His hands. All Apostles standing around Her bedside. And She at the top of the icon in the heavenly glory, already raised by Angels.

 

I have painted after these icons and pictured in stained glass. In a choir I also sang in the Old Church Slavonic language. Not always fullness and richness of this most profound language can be expressed, translated with a contemporary word and syntax. A small portion of the wealth of Orthodox icons and churches has been preserved to our days. Centuries of hatred have destroyed these treasures in Greece and Italy, Egypt and Asia Minor, in Georgia, the Balkans and Russia, not to mention the Polish land. Our times and commonly available publications still show newly discovered treasures of the art of miniature, icon, mosaic, and frescoes, of the Orthodox art.

 

When we look calmly and soberly to the modern «peaks» of religious architecture, painting, or singing, it becomes clear why the powers of evil so viciously destroyed those depths and highs. Jut those masterpieces of the Orthodox church. Our days expose in the Church the deficiencies of content, purpose, and meaning in the mazes of dialectic forms.

 

Innocent and naive in the face of what's going on today are all the bourgeois stupidities of Renaissance naturalists who were «on the best terms» with every holy subject and every holy person. And up to this day has anyone in the Church had any problems with imagining the Holy Trinity? Its First Person as a greybeard with the Saviour on his left side, also sitting. While all Christians, regardless of their confession, read: +No one has ever seen God. The unique God, who is close to the Father's side, has revealed him. (John 1:18).

 

I think that we may recollect from the Old Testament the Three Travellers visiting Abraham. Let's see the now world-wide famous and full of content +HOLY TRINITY+ icon by monk-painter Andrei Rublev. The unparalleled beauty and depth of vision. The three equal Angels at the altar — +FATHER ordering, +HOLY SPIRIT blessing, and +SON taking up the goblet for sins of the world.

 

From this very goblet have come all images of the New Testament. All peaks of Christianity, its saints and martyrs on the basis of the Gospel. And also our vision of time, cosmos, atom, an eternity yet visible in the colour of clouds, in the motion of everything, in the silence of flowers.

 

And „filioque was ordered – as we learn – by a German emperor in the ninth century to Pope Urban, who couldn't oppose the emperor because he couldn't deal with rebellions in Italy. And having consented, anyway he had the Credo forged in silver plates without Filioque and set the plates in a church in order not to rankle Greeks. Since I have been created with free will, I have to use it, but not arbitrarily and within the limits outlined for me. I can see emperors and popes come and go, but the random things they left behind them do not — they have stayed and divided us up to this day.

 

While staying in the Orthodox Church I arrange catholic churches with the same dedication. Together we pray +OUR FATHER hallowed be YOUR NAME. Deliver us from Evil, and together we understand deeply +I am the light of the world, +I am the resurrection. Deliver us from the Evil which sustains all the divisions and even holds the crusades under the sign of the cross, and lets the Teutonic knights call themselves the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We know about the «conversions» against which so beautifully and convincingly appealed and warned Great Chancellor Leon Sapieha in his letter in 1622. We know about the pacifications of 1938, clean ups of the Polish landscape, demolitions of Orthodox churches not far from here — in the Chełm land.

 

I find it hard to say here +forgive us our trespasses+, and when I see in Warsaw, by the cathedral, the king with the cross and the sword, to whom they wrote from Rome that he hadn't drawn enough schismatic blood with it. Rome stands firm, the Orthodox Church is nearly underground, and only on that other side it will turn out how countless even today are the saints, with whom it has flourished.

 

So much I can tell in response to the question of why I remain in the Orthodox Church and how together we are. I want to be, just like in a confession, obedient to the genuine ecclesial holiness and tradition, and what I do not understand, I dare neither to paint, nor to propose. I enrolled to the Academy to paint portraits, clouds, vistas, and horses. And you see, Reverend – when we were discussing the horse-mounted saints in front of the vestry, it turned out and we both liked horses as well.

 

The late professor Ludwik Gardowski encouraged me to work single-handedly in churches. He's taught me independent visual thinking with regard to the content, situation, material, and intended action. Thus he encouraged me to undertake various tasks and topics in different visual arts, from lettering and characters, written texts, graphics, books, architecture and urban design, murals, and stained glass. After him I taught the same at the Academy in its faculty of lettering, common for different departments. I taught abstract thinking about letter characters in sets, and their interpretation for an intended purpose and content. I learned that a subject should not only be familiarised with before designing, but also understood, likened, and had as own. Every subject, even the smallest one, and to do it that way that also the recipient will want to internalise it.

 

And when, after the graduation from the Department of Painting, I went to the late professor Ignacy Pienkowski, to say goodbye and thank him, I heard: I'm happy, it already suits me to address you — Dear Colleague, it suits and indeed I should tell you something for the road of life. I think that we agree — painting, and even the whole art, is nothing more than logic and decision. In secret, we know that something must be really loved — goodbye to you, Sir.

 

I do not know how much I love, but I know for sure that God's world clearly tells to humans that there is nothing greater or more beautiful than the good and dedication. In this we are united, and that officially we are separated is just the tangibility of arrogant pride and evil, which go where the most beautiful, where the holiness. That’s why the only prayer dictated to us by +Saviour starts with delight – gratitude, +hallowed be + Your + Name, and ends up with a cry for rescue – deliver us from Evil!

 

+HE is our rock and He is where two or three are gathered in +His Name. United, and not wanting to have anything beyond that, just to be His worthy. He commanded us (John 6:57) to meet Him in two persons. It's clear, too, that dignified attending the Eucharist is the first and only prerequisite above all, because otherwise — you better don't attend it at all.

 

+HE also announced persecutions. And the bring closer and sanctify (John 15:18) even those, who doubt and fall. We all endure owing to countless, on this earth as well as in this millennium, martyrs of the Orthodox Church and other «dissidents», and what's the most terrible, also martyrs tortured to death in the name of the cross converted to a sword, and an «infallible» one.

 

Here are countless altars, churches, icons, chalices, and crosses with devilish force and fury torn down and profaned. And, besides all that, here is something personal that has encouraged me and makes me stay in the Orthodox Church. In 1925, in the sixth grade of the Miechów junior high, my class tutor, a Latin language teacher, when handing over a yearly report card, said to me — when you, in a Polish school, in Poland, will at last cease writing that religion of yours in school certificates, when will you convert to a Catholic! I was a big, post-war boy already, so, as naively as I could, I said. I've got an «A» in the Roman-Catholic religion, and our Reverend Prefect Bronisław Swirczewski from the Roman Catholic Ecclesiastical Academy of St. Petersburg not only let me attend the class, but also he taught us that there is only one baptism, and that the priest, who converted King Jagiełło, had a mortal sin. Sit down, you are not King Jagiełło – I heard.

 

In 1904, before I was born, my late Mother said to my late Father: I owe you a marriage in an Orthodox church, and when we'll have a baby boy, we name him Adaś after Mickiewicz, and we baptise him in a Catholic church. I was born first, they went to see a priest. They agreed that he would come to our house. And also there says the priest, please – Ms. Judge will you please sign a statement. Anna, please read, what are you going to sign. Well, it's something that the Reverend needs — but OK, please read it for me.

 

Reverend, please excuse us, we'll baptise this child in an Orthodox church, they didn't request me there to commit myself, what's more — for life. And that's how they baptised me in an Orthodox church. I never heard at home what it was all about. Now I know — it was my mother's commitment that she would never bring me to an Orthodox church.

 

1923 – by an accident I learned about my Father's relatives in Poland. Lots of intricacies before we received, through the Polish Consulate in Kharkov, a request to repatriate. It wasn't east to get there, but instead of open arms we ended up in a border «quarantine» in Dorohusk. Only once I've seen my Father cry, watching from a bath a little girl, naked, and with her hair cut bald, terrified, my sister. She had beautiful braids, big and fair. We were escorted by a policeman with a bayoneted riffle to a prison in Warsaw's district Powązki. We stayed there overnight — Mom with sister in a women's cell. I with brother in a men's cell, they asked us there — what had you done? Only Father, as a judge, was left to slumber by our stuff in a corridor. The next day my Uncle Antoni, a lecturer at the Warsaw Polytechnic, came over twice to sign that he had sent the repatriation request and now he would provide room and board for us. And then I saw our residence registration card, by a chance — a secret — they registered us in Warsaw as «Eastern Catholics».

 

And now a terrible story. In 1944 Miechów vicar, prelate J.W., picked up his phone saying: I'll rather call the German police than let desecrate the Roman Catholic cemetery! We had brought from Krakow the corpse of our late Mother to bury her next to our late Father, in a grave he bought himself. It was the Nazi occupation, the day was close to end, it was drizzling. We buried her where the prelate had let a grave digger dig.

 

And yet another trinket that I gladly paid for my schism. Shortly after my high school graduation, on a clear, sunny day I met a nice, old Polish literature teacher, Ms. Maria Sokołowska. I bowed, she stopped on the sidewalk. – I feel vaguely uncomfortable whenever I meet or recall you, Dobrzański. What happened, how have I offended you, Mrs. Professor?

– No, no, nothing at all. It's only that I reckoned it would be better if Dobrzański had in his high school diploma three Bs instead of two As and three Cs, so I gave Dobrzański B in Polish literature.

– But, Mrs. Professor, I did not deserve more, and I consider this degree as my best, and I do not understand the math. What three Bs, or two Cs, are you referring to?

- Well, because at the grading conference Mr. W.W, said that if I in a Polish high school had given A in Polish literature to a schismatic, then he would lower his grades in history and psychology to Cs.

 

And how couldn't I mention Mr. Świętosławski, who was appointed Minister of Religion and Public Education as soon as, together with students of a high school he headmastered, he blew up on some great holiday the state Orthodox church of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Chełm.

 

I've learned only recently: «Dean Ziemiański of Rozwadów was born a Jew» — the closer he is to me. Wherever I can, I demonstrate the genius of Polish poet Julian Tuwim, a Jew. The holiness of children with more than one Korczak and Edith Stein I have already revealed in my stained glass windows, I got to know the unparalleled depth of synagogue singing, I admire the unmatched precision of Jewish manuscripts on parchment. I saw a colleague, a friend, Seydler, a Jew from Lodz, in the Planty park near the Academy in Krakow in the spring of 1939, and when I asked him — Why are you so broody, something wrong at home? — he said: – No, only you will soon see, when no swallows will be here anymore, we won't be here either. And in 1945 I was in the countryside and there was something missing — swallows — and I recalled that conversation.

 

So that's about the walk on the San river and the inquiry of the late Rozwadow rector. I know that I have my share in every building, and I'm responsible for every demolition. The more so that I can see ever more clearly that I have been, and, as long as I walk on the earth I will be, led to struggle and work — in the civilian language — for beauty.

 

I thank the Reverend Ziemiański for his question, and I'm writing it, because to these close and those distant I owe this answer: +Wsiak dar sowierszem swysze – i wsiakoje da chwalit Gospoda. +Let every gift made from the heights — every breath, praise the Lord.


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