Noah, righteous man

Publish date 10-05-2022

by Chiara Dal Corso

Part of the artistic treasures of the numerous Orthodox monasteries of Mount Athos, a series of marvelous frescoes attributed to one of the best known and most appreciated Byzantine authors, of remarkable skill and artistic sensitivity, Manuel Panselinos, of the Macedonian school.
Really rare are the iconographers known by name, and he is one of them. Inside the church of Protaton, in Karyes, we find a succession of images that surprisingly depict the episodes and protagonists of the history of salvation. We find scenes from the childhood of Mary, the nativity and childhood of Jesus, several episodes of the gospel, among which the representations of the passion are very remarkable, from the last supper to the crucifixion composed in an original way, therefore a splendid Christ enthroned, and much else. Truly a refined way of working, in the composition, in the choice of colors, in the harmony of proportions and shapes, which possess an uncommon elegance, and at the same time an unusual dynamism for the iconographic language.
In fact, especially in the episodes of the Gospel, the figures interact a lot with each other, with the expressiveness of the faces, the gestures and the "fast" movements, the freer arrangement than the usual solemnity, while maintaining the solemnity of the situations and the profound meaning. , eternal and liturgical, which the episodes represent. We will certainly return to these works.

On the columns of the church, along the arches, and in the highest areas of the walls, we find, according to tradition, the inevitable saints (best known in this area) and figures of the old and new testament, which we know are portrayed precisely as an invocation, a calling to the liturgy of all the inhabitants of the heavenly Jerusalem. In addition to the evangelists, the prophets, we also find, which is particularly rare, some figures from Genesis, such as Noah, Enoch, Melchizedek, Jacob… recognizable by their name and by the characteristics with which they are represented.

Let's take an image of Noah, depicted as a great, old and wise man, who has a club like Jesus himself, the apostles, the angels, as he too is an "envoy" of God. In his hand he holds the ark, with which the Lord God asked him to save mankind and all animals from the universal flood.
And his figure, imposing and dignified, serious and alert, now much larger than the same ark he had built for himself, really seems to represent the "thickness" of this man who was found by God the "just" man, the only whole in among a corrupt and violent population, which had "perverted its conduct" (cf. Gen chap. 6-9). A man who "walks with God", even when all those who are around they go in the opposite direction, which preserves the silence of prayer (he almost never speaks) and of the relationship with God, who speaks with him. A man who "finds grace" in the eyes of God, as will be said of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

But what makes Noah so special to God? If we reread the chapters that concern him, we immediately notice that he, unlike other patriarchs, does not "argue" with God. He does not oppose, he does not doubt, not suspicious, but silent, he does what the Lord asks of him. He obeys. He shows great trust in him, and responds to his grace, to the gifts that God gives him, with complete docility, because he has understood that what God asks of him, however strange and difficult at first, is for his own good, and not only for him but for his family, for the survival of mankind, for the life of nature. He understood that the true center of God's will is this, our good. And he does everything he tells him, also in this similar to Mary, who continues to tell us: "Whatever he tells you, do it" (Jn 2,5).
It seems to me that the figure of Noah can still speak a lot, even today, in our time, in our life. Happy New Year.

Chiara Dal Corso
NP January 2022

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