In the dark, violent, and brutish years of medieval Russia, there lived shining examples of God’s grace, who shone all the brighter in contrast with the surrounding shadows. Among these elders, monastics and ascetics lived one man who preached the Gospel in paints rather than words: Andrei Rublev
In common with all pious iconographers, Rublev did not paint for glory, profit, or fame, and did not sign his works. Yet the style of Rublev’s icons are so distinctive, so beautiful, that he inspired a whole school of iconography which is instantly recognizable.
St Andrei was born near Moscow in the 1360’s, and as a young man entered the newly-founded Monastery of the Holy Trinity. It is here, as a monk, that Andrei strove to fulfill the high calling of letting God speak to people through his icons. Such a calling can only be fulfilled through overcoming self-centeredness (that gets in the way of God speaking through them) by strict fasting, abstinence, prayer, frequent reception of the Holy Mysteries, helping the needy, and by cultivating the spiritual attitudes of humility, patience, joy, peace and love.
It is a beautiful irony that through such selfless humility – following the canons set down by previous iconographers without innovating – St Andrei would paint Icons so distinctive. The powerful serenity of the Holy Trinity, the Angels, and the Saints captured by Andrei captivated others and his style soon spread throughout Russia.
Andrei Rublev died on January 29, 1430. He was honored as a Saint immediately by his brethren at the Holy Trinity Monastery, yet outside of the local area his name was forgotten. Throughout Russia, churches were adorned with countless images either painted by him, or influenced by his style – yet the life and even the name of St. Andrei Rublev was forgotten. Many of the images painted by him were covered in jewels, hiding in glitz the power of their simple beauty; the wooden panels of St Paul and the Archangel Michael (shown above) became blackened with centuries of dirt and hidden from view – as did the Icon of Our Saviour. It was only in the late 19th century that these icons were rediscovered, and only in the 20th century – 1988 in fact – that Andrei was universally acclaimed as a Saint by the entire Orthodox Church.
It is no coincidence that the years in which Andrei was revealed once again as a saint mirrored the 14th century in terms of brutality, war, and horror. It was certainly during the terror of Soviet times that Russians most needed to experience once again the divine beauty expressed by Andrei Rublev. And so it happened.
As the late Fr Alexander Men put it:
It often happens that in times of external peace and prosperity the Divine window that leads to eternity is closed. Yet when the days are filled with trials – a window is opened, and the Light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome Him. Amen