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Author Topic: Historicity of First Century Iconography  (Read 4371 times) Average Rating: 0
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Alveus Lacuna
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« on: April 03, 2009, 03:26:23 AM »



I am wondering if I can get some feedback surround what the Orthodox Church teaches about iconography.  From what I understand, we are to believe that all of the practices and beliefs of the Orthodox Church have always been just as they are now.  However, many of the eastern churches (Armenian, Assyrian, et cetera) lack their own historical iconographic practices, because iconography had never been a part of their churches.  So how can we really be expected to believe that iconography has always been a part of the Church, and that icon veneration has always been a catholic practice?

It just seems naive to imply that icons have absolutely always been used, especially within the earliest Jewish-Christian communities.  It seems even more strange that church tradition claims that both of these icons were written by St. Luke the Evangelist and Apostle, when they are so very stylistically different:





Luke was supposed to be around the same age as the Lord, correct?  So would he not have been an infant himself when the "portrait" scene is purported to have happened?

A lot of these issue do not make sense to me.
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« Reply #1 on: April 03, 2009, 03:33:38 AM »

From what I understand, we are to believe that all of the practices and beliefs of the Orthodox Church have always been just as they are now. 
Actually, I don't know who told you this, but this just is not true.  Our beliefs have developed and become more articulate over time, but without undergoing any fundamental change.  However, our practices have very much changed over time.
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« Reply #2 on: April 03, 2009, 03:49:15 AM »

Actually, I don't know who told you this, but this just is not true.  Our beliefs have developed and become more articulate over time, but without undergoing any fundamental change.  However, our practices have very much changed over time.

OK, then let me reframe my question.  Would you consider it a fundamental change to go from "no creating and bowing before images" to "creating and bowing before images"?  I just do not think that there is any way that this would have been done by first century Christians.  I understand the theology behind iconographic veneration and think that it is outstanding and very good work, but I do not think that it in anyway shows that images have always been created and bowed before by Christians (again pointing to the Assyrian example).  If it had always been done, then all of the ancient churches would be doing it.
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« Reply #3 on: April 03, 2009, 04:13:07 AM »


Not exactly sure what that is.

Quote
I am wondering if I can get some feedback surround what the Orthodox Church teaches about iconography.  From what I understand, we are to believe that all of the practices and beliefs of the Orthodox Church have always been just as they are now.  However, many of the eastern churches (Armenian, Assyrian, et cetera) lack their own historical iconographic practices, because iconography had never been a part of their churches.


None. The Assyrians are the only ones who do not have them, but it can be shown that they did in the past.

Quote
So how can we really be expected to believe that iconography has always been a part of the Church, and that icon veneration has always been a catholic practice?

It just seems naive to imply that icons have absolutely always been used, especially within the earliest Jewish-Christian communities.

Protestants used to argue that because of the Second Commandment, and the absence of images amonst the Jews of today, that the earliest Christians didn't have them (ignoring the obvious evidence of the catacombs).

But then archeologists started digging up old synagogues (and churches), and found them covered in images (e.g. Dura Europas).

 
Quote
It seems even more strange that church tradition claims that both of these icons were written by St. Luke the Evangelist and Apostle, when they are so very stylistically different:

So the guy who painted this

http://www.iran-goftogoo.com/forums/uploads/post-10-1152296557.jpg

didn't paint this?

http://www.arthistoryarchive.com/arthistory/cubism/images/PabloPicasso-Women-of-Algiers-after-Delacroix-1955.jpg

It might be a problem if the theology of the icon depended on our Lady of Czestochowa and being painted by St. Luke. It doesn't.

Quote
Luke was supposed to be around the same age as the Lord, correct?  So would he not have been an infant himself when the "portrait" scene is purported to have happened?

No.

That's just it: icon's aren't portraits, just like this is an icon:

http://www.sprint.net.au/%7Ecorners/Nov98/StNectarios.gif

but this

http://orthodoxwiki.org/images/f/f2/Saint_nektarios.jpg
http://orthodoxwiki.org/Image:Saint_nektarios.jpg

is not.

btw, to see this dramatized, see
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gy5ZPaNbNLc
where the photo is flipped to the icon.  It also has some nice footage of Patriarch St. Tikhon and St. Luke Voyno-Yasenetsky(the Orthodox bishop who confounded the Soviets by winning the Lenin Prize).  And the sound track isn't bad either.


Quote
A lot of these issue do not make sense to me.
Expand.  What exactly?
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« Reply #4 on: April 03, 2009, 04:33:08 AM »

Actually, I don't know who told you this, but this just is not true.  Our beliefs have developed and become more articulate over time, but without undergoing any fundamental change.  However, our practices have very much changed over time.

OK, then let me reframe my question.  Would you consider it a fundamental change to go from "no creating and bowing before images" to "creating and bowing before images"?  I just do not think that there is any way that this would have been done by first century Christians. 
And you base this on what?
Quote
I understand the theology behind iconographic veneration and think that it is outstanding and very good work, but I do not think that it in anyway shows that images have always been created and bowed before by Christians (again pointing to the Assyrian example).
Again, you are pointing to the modern Assyrian practice, not the ancient.
http://www.reference-global.com/doi/abs/10.1515/9783110204155.3.324
(also has an article by Sydney Griffith on the rise of Islamic iconoclasm.  Yes, Muslims had icons too, for the first half century).

Quote
If it had always been done, then all of the ancient churches would be doing it.
Only if they remain faithful to their ancient teaching.
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« Reply #5 on: April 03, 2009, 05:31:21 AM »

Regarding the notion that the Jews of the pre-Christian period did not allow the veneration of images or objects, this can easily be refuted. The Temple at Jerusalem was full of holy images, of cherubim, in particular. Also, to this day, pious Jews kiss in veneration various holy items, such as the scrolls of the Torah, their prayer shawls, the tallenin before binding them to their heads, etc. The "graven images" prohibition is against worshipping idols as gods, not in preventing proper veneration (giving honour) to icons or other objects deemed to be holy because of what or who they represent (i.e. God, Christ, the saints and righteous ones, etc). A Gospel or Bible is but paper, cardboard and ink, yet I dare even the most Calvinist iconoclast to stand back in indifference should someone spit on such a book, or trample it underfoot.

Let's not forget that the very first icon ever produced was the "Not Made by Hands", the miraculous imprint of the face of Christ onto a cloth, which cured King Abgar of Edessa.
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« Reply #6 on: April 03, 2009, 09:37:40 AM »

It's been established that Jewish synagogues have been decorated with images and that to this day certain religious objects are kissed in veneration, but has Jewish tradition ever condoned actually kissing and bowing before pictures/images??
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« Reply #7 on: April 03, 2009, 11:03:49 AM »

Again, you are pointing to the modern Assyrian practice, not the ancient.
http://www.reference-global.com/doi/abs/10.1515/9783110204155.3.324
(also has an article by Sydney Griffith on the rise of Islamic iconoclasm.  Yes, Muslims had icons too, for the first half century).

This article looks fantastic, but I cannot gain access to it even after registering.  The site demands some sort of access code for this kind of content.  Can you help me out on this one?

Also, what about the other ancient churches who do not reject icons and have incorporated them, but of which there is not evidence that I have encountered that they have their own iconographic tradition from antiquity (such as the Armenians and the Indian Orthodox)?
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« Reply #8 on: April 03, 2009, 11:26:29 AM »

Again, you are pointing to the modern Assyrian practice, not the ancient.
http://www.reference-global.com/doi/abs/10.1515/9783110204155.3.324
(also has an article by Sydney Griffith on the rise of Islamic iconoclasm.  Yes, Muslims had icons too, for the first half century).

This article looks fantastic, but I cannot gain access to it even after registering.  The site demands some sort of access code for this kind of content.  Can you help me out on this one?
No.  I don't have access either.  I had seen a hard copy elsewhere.

Quote
Also, what about the other ancient churches who do not reject icons and have incorporated them, but of which there is not evidence that I have encountered that they have their own iconographic tradition from antiquity (such as the Armenians and the Indian Orthodox)?
Nothing much remains of the antiquity of the Indian Orthodox (climate sees to that, and remoteness).  As for the Armenians, only bits and pieces remains before the wholescale conversion by St. Gregory the Illiminator, by which time we have plenty of physical evidence existing of the use of icons in Syria, which is where the earliest traditions of Armenia come from.

The
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« Reply #9 on: April 03, 2009, 12:32:37 PM »

And what of the Western Roman use of images as decoration, but no clear indication that actual kissing, bowing, et cetera ever took place in the early West?  Even today Catholics have gotten to the point where they might kneel in front of a statue or image and pray, and it is obvious that Western Rome approved of the seventh oecumenical council's decrees, but said approval doesn't imply their implementation in the West at any point.
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« Reply #10 on: April 03, 2009, 12:44:48 PM »

And what of the Western Roman use of images as decoration, but no clear indication that actual kissing, bowing, et cetera ever took place in the early West?  Even today Catholics have gotten to the point where they might kneel in front of a statue or image and pray, and it is obvious that Western Rome approved of the seventh oecumenical council's decrees, but said approval doesn't imply their implementation in the West at any point.

I'd advise for you to take a good look at the foot of any statute that is close enough to be touched.  Chances are it will looked highly polished due to the kissing of a hand and touching the foot of the statute before, during, or after praying in front of it.

I would also suggest that modern American Catholic praxis, which largely descends from the very sparse and basic Irish Catholic praxis, is not to be taken as indicative of Catholic praxis as a whole.  Take a look at some of the feast day parades in Poland and Italy and you'll see all sorts of veneration of statutes.
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« Reply #11 on: April 03, 2009, 10:30:25 PM »

I actually saw a video of a statue of St. George fall and shatter during a procession.  The screams of the people were chilling.  The whole video really creeped me out, because I didn't know if I was bothered by the saint's image being defiled, or by the fanatical wails of the people that seemed to border on idolatry.  If you want to see the video, PM me and I'll send you a link.  I won't post it here because it is pretty offensive.

I was raised half Roman Catholic, and out of my 10 or so years in the church during my youth I never kissed or bowed to anything.  There were statues of the Holy Family in the sanctuary, but we never interacted with them.
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« Reply #12 on: April 03, 2009, 11:44:01 PM »



I would also suggest that modern American Catholic praxis, which largely descends from the very sparse and basic Irish Catholic praxis,...
The reason Irish Catholicism may be 'sparse and basic' can be found here.
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« Reply #13 on: April 03, 2009, 11:51:58 PM »



I would also suggest that modern American Catholic praxis, which largely descends from the very sparse and basic Irish Catholic praxis,...
The reason Irish Catholicism may be 'sparse and basic' can be found here.

Oh, I know full well the whys and hows Irish Catholicism is the way it is.  I was just trying to juxtapose what passes as "American Catholicism" with the more, shall we say, "festive" varieties Smiley
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« Reply #14 on: April 03, 2009, 11:59:22 PM »

I actually saw a video of a statue of St. George fall and shatter during a procession.  The screams of the people were chilling.  The whole video really creeped me out, because I didn't know if I was bothered by the saint's image being defiled, or by the fanatical wails of the people that seemed to border on idolatry.  If you want to see the video, PM me and I'll send you a link.  I won't post it here because it is pretty offensive.

I can only imagine what would happen if an important church icon slipped and fell during a procession and was damaged or, God forbid, split.  I dare you to try to tell me that the babas in the parish wouldn't freak out at that much like the older folk in that particular Catholic church did when their patron saint statue fell and shattered.  It has nothing to do with idolatry any more than venerating an icon does.

Quote
I was raised half Roman Catholic, and out of my 10 or so years in the church during my youth I never kissed or bowed to anything.  There were statues of the Holy Family in the sanctuary, but we never interacted with them.

That was your experience, but countless modern day Catholics "interact" with the sacred statuary in their parish churches.  The statues in the Basilica of the Assumption in Washington, DC almost all have one or both of their feet "polished", as it were.  I still managed to kiss and touch any statue of a saint I come across that I can touch.  Growing up, the few statues we had in our parish were high up and inaccessible to interaction, but that didn't stop me from learning and knowing how to "interact" with them.

IMHO, I think you're reading into things a bit too much and bringing some anti-Catholic/western bias into your interpretation of how Catholics utilize their sacred art.
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« Reply #15 on: April 04, 2009, 12:11:52 AM »

It's been established that Jewish synagogues have been decorated with images and that to this day certain religious objects are kissed in veneration, but has Jewish tradition ever condoned actually kissing and bowing before pictures/images??

(crickets...)
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« Reply #16 on: April 04, 2009, 12:15:11 AM »

IMHO, I think you're reading into things a bit too much and bringing some anti-Catholic/western bias into your interpretation of how Catholics utilize their sacred art.

No, no, no.  I really do not think that it was idolatry.  I just always have to contend with those pesky Protestant notions.  I was just pointing out that the mix of my remaining hesitance surrounding statuary/image veneration and the horror of the people in the video made the whole thing disturbing on several levels for me.
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« Reply #17 on: April 04, 2009, 01:48:23 AM »

It's been established that Jewish synagogues have been decorated with images and that to this day certain religious objects are kissed in veneration, but has Jewish tradition ever condoned actually kissing and bowing before pictures/images??

(crickets...)
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« Reply #18 on: April 04, 2009, 12:37:07 PM »

IMHO, I think you're reading into things a bit too much and bringing some anti-Catholic/western bias into your interpretation of how Catholics utilize their sacred art.

No, no, no.  I really do not think that it was idolatry.  I just always have to contend with those pesky Protestant notions.  I was just pointing out that the mix of my remaining hesitance surrounding statuary/image veneration and the horror of the people in the video made the whole thing disturbing on several levels for me.

Fair enough.  But you have to look at what happened from their point of view.  That statute was a well loved item of sacred art in their church.  It became destroyed during the context of a procession during a Mass.

That's a pretty distressing thing to witness, period.  It is a disturbing thing to watch.

I feel the most sorry for the one man who obviously lost his grip and caused the whole mess to happen.
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« Reply #19 on: April 04, 2009, 01:58:36 PM »

IMHO, I think you're reading into things a bit too much and bringing some anti-Catholic/western bias into your interpretation of how Catholics utilize their sacred art.

No, no, no.  I really do not think that it was idolatry.  I just always have to contend with those pesky Protestant notions.  I was just pointing out that the mix of my remaining hesitance surrounding statuary/image veneration and the horror of the people in the video made the whole thing disturbing on several levels for me.

Get the same feeling about the fuss over the "desecration" of the American flag?
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« Reply #20 on: April 04, 2009, 08:26:10 PM »

I was under the impression that first century iconography was very simplistic in symbols, like the Jesus fish, the Cross, and fruits, as well as biblical stories and parables.

Didn't they also find a church in Jerusalem around the same era?

I found this really interesting website on some very early iconography:

http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/history/dfg/jesu/topic%205.htm

Does anyone have any pictures of other first century iconography?
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« Reply #21 on: April 09, 2009, 06:45:02 PM »

We do not have much of first century christian architecture or paintings. In the second century we find a group of gnostics who venerate an image of Christ claimed to have been made by Pilate and were in existence in the first century. Clement of Alexandria wrote most extensively against these 'disciples' of Carpocrates.
The house church of Dura Europos is the earliest christian house of worship accurately dated to 231 a.d. and it is decorated with images:

http://people.vanderbilt.edu/~james.p.burns/chroma/baptism/dura2.html

The bathtub shaped section is an early baptistry and one can make out the faded remains of an icon over it.

Veneration was allowed for the ark of the covenant and the relics it contained. Likewise the jews faced and kneeled toward the golden cherub in their temple worship, as they prayed.

This pattern would be continued by the early christians (if they had the resources to from the beginning), but just as the offering of incense' it did not happen right away. The OT actually makes a prophecy that the gentiles will offer incense to the God of Israel (Mal 1.11). Bit this didnt start to happened till the 3-4th century, the use of incense in pagan ritual meant the Church had to refrain from it, even though it was central to jewish temple worship and even in the worship of heaven as revealed in the Apocalypse. Likewise with icons, but as christianity advanced and paganism diminished their proper place in the Church appeared.

Its also true that assyrians did indeed have images and these even influenced tibetan bhuddism:
http://www.edessa.com/history/monument.htm

The oldest christian monastery in China from the assyrians has an image of the Virgin Mary built in 630 a.D.:

http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fv20010724a1.html
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« Reply #22 on: October 27, 2009, 04:24:17 AM »

Quote
In the second century we find a group of gnostics who venerate an image of Christ claimed to have been made by Pilate and were in existence in the first century. Clement of Alexandria wrote most extensively against these 'disciples' of Carpocrates.

Here is the relevant passage on the usage of icons by the mid-2nd century Carpocratians:

"They also possess images, some of them painted, and others formed from different kinds of material; while they maintain that a likeness of Christ was made by Pilate at that time when Jesus lived among them. They crown these images, and set them up along with the images of the philosophers of the world that is to say, with the images of Pythagoras, and Plato, and Aristotle, and the rest. They have also other modes of honouring these images, after the same manner of the Gentiles." - St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1, 25, 6

Besides St. Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria, Hippolytus of Rome and Eusebius also mention Carpocrates.
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« Reply #23 on: October 27, 2009, 09:04:46 AM »

I actually saw a video of a statue of St. George fall and shatter during a procession.  The screams of the people were chilling.  The whole video really creeped me out, because I didn't know if I was bothered by the saint's image being defiled, or by the fanatical wails of the people that seemed to border on idolatry.  If you want to see the video, PM me and I'll send you a link.  I won't post it here because it is pretty offensive.

I was raised half Roman Catholic, and out of my 10 or so years in the church during my youth I never kissed or bowed to anything.  There were statues of the Holy Family in the sanctuary, but we never interacted with them.
This is a problem in some non-Catholic countries exclusively but not in Western Europe (except GB and France) and in South America, I guess. In my country (i.e. Italy) it is of common use for Catholics to bow and cross oneself in front of statues, and I can witness personally of a statue of Pope John XXIII in Sotto il Monte (the locality where he was born, some 10-15 km away from my home) being completely ruined by time everywhere but on his hands, whom the faithful continuously kiss and touch in veneration. The same happens every day also in a sanctuary 5 km from my home, in Ghiaie di Bonate, where a series of apparitions of the Virgin to a little girl occured during WW2. The statue of Crucified Jesus is continuously revered by the faithful with kisses on his feet and signs of the cross, exactly the same kind of piety the Orthodox pay to their icons. Anyway, to RCs statue veneration seems kind of being more limited to the miraculous statues and, for instance, to the statues held in sanctuaries, as they come to convey a "supernatural" contact with God. More in general, there is plenty of little statues depicting the Virgin in private homes where the family lits candles (I have one myself in my home due to my mother's devotion to the Mother of God), and many devout Catholics have printed images of saints in their pockets, named santini or immaginette, especially of saints such as st. Benedict of Nursia, Pio of Pietralcina, st. Antonio of Padova etc.

If you want my opinion, I think that the early Catholics/Orthodox just didn't pay much attention to iconography not because they saw it as a form of idol worship, but because Christianity was a persecuted religion not only in the Roman Empire, but also in the East, and having a picture or statue representing a Christian context might have been enough to spend the last minutes in company of ferocious lions, if you know what I mean.
"Pure" iconography was almost restricted to the catacombs (and in this case, kissing a picture over a tomb would have sounded at least "strange"), and the only pictures with a sacred value were highly symbolic, such as the Fish (the Greek word for fish is an acronym for "Jesus Christ son of God, the Saviour"), the Lamb or the Shepherd. The veneration of these symbolic images was correctly prohibited, as the 7th Ecumenical Council repeats, as they don't portray Jesus, but only represent him in symbols. Also, I think that many Christians were afraid of pagan contaminations. Jewish iconography, while certainly present as others have consistently demonstrated before me, was limited and purism was necessary. The developping synthesis of the Judeo-Christian witness of faith with the historical cultural inheritance of Greco-Roman and Coptic art was seen as a compromise and a fall apart from the Jewish roots of Christendom but, as many choices of the Church Fathers showed (such as the 25th december Nativity date) have proved that "pre-Christian" doesn't mean "anti-Christian" since a little seed of light was present in the symbologies of other religions which well adapted to widespread the Gospel to the Gentiles.
When Christianity finally became the official religion of the Empire, Christians could finally do what was impossible to do under persecution, including supporting and enriching their religious piety with iconography. This is also the time when the Mandylion showed for the first time the true face of Jesus (when the relic was brought from Edessa to Constantinople) changing Christ's representation as a beardless youngster (typical imagery of the Greco-Roman religious system) with the double-bearded long-haired Christ of the Holy Mandylion (cfr. the Shroud of Turin).
The tradition of st. Luke depicting the Virgin, st. Paul and st. Peter, is possibly symbolic but doesn't diminish its value. In his Gospel and in the Acts, Luke was able to "depict in words" the real essence of these characters while the other Gospels concentrated almost exclusively on Jesus himself. The three models of the Virgin attributed to Luke are, so to say, the "fruit" of the iconographic description of the Virgin:
- As the prototype of a loving mother (Mother of God of the Tenderness), showed in the episode of Mary perplexed and suffering for the prophecy of her Son's future destiny announced by the prophet in the temple;
- As the greatest prophetess and first disciple of her Son (Mother of God of the Way), showed in the Magnificat episode;
- In her Divine Motherhood (Mother of God of the Sign), showed in the Infancy Gospel section.
Of st. Peter and st. Paul, Luke gives good portraits in the Acts of the Apostles and, as Peter is concerned, in the "Tu es Petrus" episode particularly.

Hope this helps

In Christ,    Alex
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« Reply #24 on: October 27, 2009, 09:38:08 AM »

Again, you are pointing to the modern Assyrian practice, not the ancient.
http://www.reference-global.com/doi/abs/10.1515/9783110204155.3.324
(also has an article by Sydney Griffith on the rise of Islamic iconoclasm.  Yes, Muslims had icons too, for the first half century).

This article looks fantastic, but I cannot gain access to it even after registering.  The site demands some sort of access code for this kind of content.  Can you help me out on this one?

Also, what about the other ancient churches who do not reject icons and have incorporated them, but of which there is not evidence that I have encountered that they have their own iconographic tradition from antiquity (such as the Armenians and the Indian Orthodox)?

The Indian Orthodox went back and forth from being non-Chalcedonian, to Nestorian for a few centuries (when they no longer had access to their Bisohp, and were taken under the wing of the Nestorian bishop), then back to being non-Chalcedonian.   It was during the Nestorian period they lost all their iconographic tradition. 
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