scientific publication

The image of the sacred stone in Christianity

Article by Dmitry Ostroumov, head of the studio Prohram
Published in the annual scientific journal "Theological Bulletin of the Smolensk Orthodox Theological Seminary", No. 3,
Smolensk, 2021 - p. 142.
This article presents an analysis of the origins of understanding the image of the sacred stone. It proceeds from the beginnings of the Abrahamic religions to the interpretation of this image in Christianity. We trace a historical tendency of changing meaning in understanding the image of a stone. It passes from a symbol denoting a sacred place to a symbol of the Church as a whole. The ancient image of the "unhewn stone" turns into the New Testament interpretation of the symbol of the processed and precious stone. This precious stone stands at the foundation of the Church and has the image of Christ in it. We also analyze the interrelation of cubic and spherical volumes in the image of a temple as a concept of the union of Heavenly and Material. It finds its expression in planning concepts, arching and dome systems. We present the image of the temple as a symbol of the Church based on the Stone-Christ. We analyze it as a single dominant image that includes the entire sphere of Christian metaphoric symbolism. The article reveals the interrelation between the images of the Stone-Christ and the Word. This interrelation gives a new understanding of the reality of the temple – this is the Word that sounds and is expressed in the body of the temple. Such theoretical research methods as analysis and synthesis are used in this article.

"I was running to lay hold on God, and thus I went up into the Mount, and drew aside the curtain of the Cloud, and entered away from matter and material things, and as far as I could I withdrew within myself. And then when I looked up, I scarce saw the back parts of God; Exodus 33:23 although I was sheltered by the Rock, the Word that was made flesh for us. And when I looked a little closer, I saw, not the First and unmingled Nature, known to Itself — to the Trinity, I mean; not That which abides within the first veil, and is hidden by the Cherubim; but only that Nature, which at last even reaches to us. And that is, as far as I can learn, the Majesty, or as holy David calls it, the Glory which is manifested among the creatures, which It has produced and governs" [5, с.38].

Dmitry Ostroumov
Head of the studio, master of theology
A religious idea, a theological concept in Christianity is expressed in an image. The synthesis of an idea and an image is a symbol. "The Word became flesh" (John 1:14, NIV for all Biblical quotations). The heavenly finds embodiment in the earthly, the spiritual in the material, the spherical in the cubic. And it is the stone that becomes the first symbol of this "unconfused and indivisible" connection of the sacred and the profane. the symbol of the Divine presence. But to become a symbol, a stone, as a rule, must be consecrated. Otherwise, it does not have obvious features of a symbol. A symbol belongs to the visible world by its matter and to the spiritual world by its meaning. It needs a certain rite, sacred action or prayer. Without it, even endowed with some meaning, it will be only a sign, denoting something.

In Semitic culture, the first consecration of a stone and endowing it with a symbolic meaning is in the story of Jacob's dream. After witnessing the theophany, Jacob "took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel" (Genesis 28:18-19). The pouring of oil is in this case the consecration of the stone. Also, naming a place has some connection with ontology. According to traditional ideas, the thing that has a name also has being. It is worth saying that later the Arabs worshiped stones. Saint Clement of Alexandria reproached them for this [4, p. 46], as many Old Testament prophets long before him. But in those ancient times, the Semites named certain stones by the term of Semitic origin meaning "house of God" - baytili. Those stones were not revered as stones only, they signified some kind of divine presence in a given place. Later in the popular consciousness such reverence turned into worship of a certain "god" Bethel. The monotheistic religion waged a stubborn struggle with this cult, as Jeremiah recalls (cf. Jeremiah 48:13). But it should be borne in mind that in any case the stone was a symbol of theophany, however distorted. The genuine theophany could be replaced, for example, by the appearance of the natural elements. In any case, let us note the fact that the stone marked the presence of the spiritual in a given place.

For simple natives, Semitic peasants or Arabs, such a sign was a deity in stone. But for the monotheistic elite, it was a symbol of the divine presence perceived as a link and the meeting of Heaven and Earth. Joshua placed stones as symbols of the divine presence to "witness" the conclusion of the covenant between God and His people (cf. Joshua 24:26-27). Laban did the same as a sign of his friendly union with Jacob (Genesis 31:44 ). But, unfortunately, the process of confusing the sign and the Divine went too far among the people. This distorted the original religious meaning . To avoid such confusion, the elite faithful to the Mosaic law destroyed any stone statues or modified their meaning (Ark of the Covenant) [13, pp. 203-204].

In this context it is interesting to trace the development of the image of the sacred stone. At the beginning of gradual God's revelation to man, the stone is rough. Such is the altar of Moses made of unhewn stones, the stone of Jacob. Later it acquires a more processed look. The cube is the dominant geometric shape of Solomon's temple. The stones are hewn outside the construction site (cf. 1 Kings 5:17–18). The Second Temple is also cubic in shape (cf. Ezra 6:3), this is also true for Ezekiel's vision of the heavenly temple. By the time of Christ's incarnation there is already an image of a processed and precious stone. It is a hewn and faceted relic stone, a stone-Christ, the highest, tested and hard won. This is expressed in the cubic forms of the decorated altars of Christian churches. There is also the image of a hidden gem - the stone-Christ, the pearl of the heart and the hidden Kingdom, which "is within you" (Luke 17:21). Thus, we can see a gradual historical transformation or the symbol. The primordial unhewn stone untouched by human hands gives way to a precious and decorated stone.

The sphere and the celestial vault are symbols of the highest Heaven, Paradise, Divine reality. The cube is a symbol of the earth. Gradually in history this highest reality, Heaven, finds its expression in earthly realities. This restores the unity lost after the fall, up to the point when "God will be all in all" (1 Cor 15:28) in eschatological perspective. The spherical expresses itself in the cubic, while the cube has the potential of the sphere. In the Old Testament, we can only see the path to the fullness of this expression. All Abrahamic religions inherited it - we can recall, for example, the Kaaba in Mecca. But in Christianity the revelation of the union of the heavenly and the earthly has found its greatest and clearest expression. First of all, of course, in Christ, the incarnate Word, who Himself united Heaven and Earth. The image of the Christian temple also carries this expression, retaining the prototypes. There is the stone, the cube, the numerological constant of cubic volume - the number four. These symbols transform into the appearance of a precious faceted stone, that is, a decorated temple building. After all, "everything that can be affirmed or denied in relation to Christ can equally be affirmed or denied in relation to the Church. The Church is a divine-human organism, or, more precisely, created nature, inseparably united with God in the hypostasis of the Son. It is a certain being (un être), which, like Him, has two natures, two wills, two actions – inseparable and at the same time different" [5, p. 218]. This means that the same can be affirmed or denied in relation to the temple as a symbol of both the Church and Christ. This is possible given that the Christian symbol itself has an ontological nature.

Theological ideas can be expressed in space and time and in the material categories. Stones, icons or any other temple symbols were endowed with the qualities of God's presence. They symbolized this presence. In other words, they "clothed themselves in Christ" (cf. Gal 3:27). In the Old Testament they were the place of the presence of the Logos that had not yet become a man. They were prototypes of Christ Himself and of His Church, the temple of His body. Filled with ontological meaning, matter was no longer thought of as matter only and a sign only. It had qualities different from ordinary matter. In other words, the matter was consecrated, or, to put it differently, became a truly sacred place. The highest theological concept itself found its expression in the matter. In Christianity the matter was consecrated, and with certain reservations one can say even more. The matter was honored with deification in likeness to Christ through contact with Him, but was not itself deified. Through expression in visible matter, the logos of a spiritual thing acquired its corporeality, passed from pure idea to form. The highest unifying archetype was the image of a cubic temple in the form of the Heavenly City, seen by Apostle John (Revelation 21:16). This is the temple containing the entire transformed cosmos, or, in other words, the entire cosmos that has become a temple. That is, the meaning is not the formation of theological ideas, because the highest being is inherent in them from the very beginning. The meaning is their acquisition of form by expression in matter. It can happen through human creativity, sanctification by the Church or theophany through nature.
Thus, church creativity, the construction of temples, icon painting are by essence the work to transform the world. It is the creation of the future Heavenly City. Its idea is unchanging and exists in the Pre-eternal Council of the Holy Trinity. But its fullness finds its realization through time and space, taking shape. Higher archetypes find their expression in matter, taking shape in the categories of our visible Universe. This way, by the grace of the Holy Spirit present in the symbols of the Church, they bring this very Universe to transfiguration. This affirms the theological concepts, with all their ontological components, as anchors of the spiritual world. They become the portals of unconfused and inseparable connection of spiritual and material. This concerns the matter striving to become a transfigured cosmos. After all, naked "flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God" (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:50). But this concerns Man himself, who also receives sanctification and union with God through the Church. The Church teaches that Man's resurrection happens with the body in eschatological perspective . It will happen in the likeness of the resurrected Christ, who raised human nature to the life of the Trinity. To some extent, the same can be said about the entire cosmos, which has to be transformed. The earth, cursed because of people, will be cleansed again [11, p. 215]. That is, the earth (the visible cosmos with its substance) will once again inherit the state of a transformed paradise, or temple.

For many Russian philosophers, such an idea was the fundamental task of the existence of both man and the Universe. Vladimir Solovyov discussed the transfiguration of the entire cosmos. For him it was the main idea of philosophy, more important than social problems. Nikolai Fedorov developed the "philosophy of the common cause". Lev Karsavin's doctrine of creatures states that God's presence can be seen everywhere. For him, the world in its fullness is called to take part in absolute unity with God. Other authors addressed these questions too. Nikolai Berdyaev wrote beautifully about the transfiguration of the cosmos as a creative task. "My salvation and transfiguration are connected not only to the salvation and transfiguration of other people. They are also connected to the salvation and transfiguration of animals, plants, minerals and every blade of grass. It is connected to their introduction into the Kingdom of God. And it depends on my creative efforts" [1, p. 314]. In principle, this point of view follows the entire Eastern tradition. According to Pavel Evdokimov, such an attitude coincides with the tradition of the Greek Church Fathers. "For the Western consciousness, the world is real, while God is something illusory, hypothetical. The proof for God's existence needs to be developed. For the East, the world is illusory. The only confirmation of its reality is the self-evident existence of God" [15]. In other words, in the Eastern worldview of the Orthodox Church, the world exists thanks to God's presence in it. This presence is called to come to complete unity with God and transfiguration. Consecrated matter is the beginning of this transfiguration. Only through Christ does matter receive a true ontology. Christ gives ontology to spiritual symbols, expressed in objects of art. Such objects are a temple, an icon, a cubic stone symbolically uniting all matter (earth) in its image. In the Semitic spiritual tradition, in the Abrahamic religions, in Christianity, this image of the cube has something of a sphere in it. Our temples are rectangular at the base, and often in their total volume. But inside there are always vaults representing celestial spheres opening to the earth. There is also a dome as the focus of all the architectural spheres of the building. It can be said that the multitude of churches are the "many hypostases" of a single image, expressed in plurality. This image is the Heavenly City of the Church, one with Christ who dwells in it. In the same way, the ecclesial gathering of all humanity presents many hypostases of a single image of God. This image is a man and Christ who assumed this image. He is the Head of this catholic humanity with a multitude of hypostases.

Thus, behind the temple, behind every person, and behind any appearance, the religious mind sees the "reverse side of matter". The highest meaning and archetype of the matter ascends to the single archetype, the one uniting everything in itself. The founder of this is Christ, who united humanity and Divinity in the temple of His body. In the Old Testament and in other cultures, the Deity, revealed in theophany, sanctifies the place of this appearance. People mark these places and, as we were able to trace, usually such a sure mark is a stone. And it was the image of the stone, first unworked, then hewn and, finally, precious, that passed into the image of the temple. Without touching on the development of this image in other cultures, let's point out that at first it was an image of the Old Testament temple. After the incarnation of Christ, "the stone the builders rejected" (Psalm 118:22), it became the image of the New Testament temple. As Paul writes, "In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit" (Ephesians 2:22).

So, the whole basis of the revelation about the temple is given to man from above. At first, the entire visible cosmos is a temple, then the temple "passes into a human dwelling." Already after the Fall, the images of the temple are certain stone signs, places of a special Divine presence. It can be said that Noah's ark was also a temple. But first of all the image of the temple is the earthly representation of the model of the higher world.

It is believed that this sacramental understanding of the temple as a special place and time goes back to the ancient tradition of Israel. Yahweh gave the archetype of this image to Moses: "Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you" (Exodus 25:8-9). "See that you make them according to the pattern shown you on the mountain" (Exodus 25:40). The device of the tabernacle is described in the Bible in the most detailed way - described and shown. But only a description has come down to us. Perhaps it was in the tabernacle that God revealed Himself through the word (tablets of the Covenant). He also reveals Himself through architecture (the space of the Holy of Holies full of divine presence). The design of this building was given to Moses at Mount Sinai with all the details. Thus, one important conclusion can be drawn - there is a certain common archetype of the structure of the temple in the spiritual world. It was revealed to Moses as a tabernacle. Later it was seen by the prophet Ezekiel and the Apostle John the Theologian. But their visions had slightly different figurative expressions. Since there is no movement of time in eternity, this Heavenly archetype of the temple's project is always relevant. Every temple of the One God contains the prototype of the tabernacle. Thus, the tabernacle itself is not a model, but only the first of the incarnations of this higher archetype. Also, altars as special places of God's presence were indicated from above. Jacob sets up a stone and pours oil on it, as a symbol of the holiness of the place of the theophany. He gives the name to that place. Moses, and later Joshua, build altars to God from unhewn stones. During the arrangement of the tabernacle as a place containing the Holy of Holies, an image of a cube, a perfect form, is given. In the visions of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 48) and the Apostle John (Revelation 21), the City also has a cubic equilateral shape. In the tabernacle of a cubic form (10x10x10 cubits) there was a part called the Holy of Holies. It was a room where the tablets of the covenant were kept, and this was the most holy, innermost place of the tent. Thus, the tabernacle was the first embodied image of the temple and the place of the constant presence of the Most High. It was the place where His transcendence became immanent to the greatest extent, that is, where it was revealed. In the places with no relics (such as the Ark of the Covenant in the tabernacle), where God's presence was not so obvious, the form was natural, primordial. At the symbolic level, the indescribable apophatic nature of God and His apophatic qualities were preserved. Thus, only unhewn stones were used.

Further on, David gives to Solomon the plan of the temple, the ark and all the utensils. David says: "All this I have in writing as a result of the Lord's hand on me, and he enabled me to understand all the details of the plan" (1 Chronicles 28:19). Solomon himself confirms this: "Thou hast commanded me to build a temple upon thy holy mount, and an altar in the city wherein thou dwellest, a resemblance of the holy tabernacle, which thou hast prepared from the beginning" (Wisdom 9:8). Here again the structure of the temple is God's revelation. The temple itself repeated the form of the tabernacle. Once again the Holy of Holies becomes cubic in shape - the perfect form of God's presence. In the building work of Solomon, for the first time, a clear materialization of the highest archetype of the temple takes place. While the tabernacle was collapsible, the temple of Solomon already had a solid foundation on the ground. The stones were delivered directly from the quarry and processed there. Their processing was actually a consequence of this materialization of the highest idea. This action is given special importance in temple theology. Nakedness of stones and other natural materials was preferred to their decoration - they were carved and polished. But the carving itself still imitated the natural motifs [12, p. 101].
The primordial nakedness of God's Revelation in nature is overcome by the fact that man arranges a House for God, according to God's own plan. And since man participates in this, he also creates the decoration and fining by his hands. The primordial nakedness of matter is adorned, among other things, with diverse fabrics and veils. They are designed to hide a mystery that has not yet been revealed to the world. This mystery was revealed in the Old Testament only figuratively. The temple itself becomes a more obvious image of the future temple of the incarnate Word. This means that the stone as a symbol of the Word acquires a more cultivated, decorated look, but, but is not yet precious. The Holy of Holies remains the cubic space of God's presence, containing only relics. It is not yet the space of the incarnate Christ.

There is an interesting fact described by the doctor of art history Sharif Shukurov. He references Henry Corbin, the French philosopher and Islamic scholar, researcher of Iranian Sufi mysticism and Shiite Gnosticism. According to Corbin, while building the Second Temple, Ezra put a carefully processed cubic stone into its base. He carved special inserts in it. They had alchemical significance, since they contained salt, mercury and sulfur. Thus, the stone started to symbolize the Great Work [14], "magnum opus" of alchemists. "Magnum opus" is the process of obtaining the philosopher's stone, "lapis philosophorum". In the legends of medieval alchemists, it is a certain reagent necessary for turning metals into gold. The philosopher's stone can also be used to create the elixir of life. That is, first of all, for the liberation of the will and the disclosure of all human abilities. Thus, the temple itself became a potential "likeness of spiritual gold, the only goal of alchemical transmutation" [12, p. 405]. There is another possible interpretation. By themselves mercury and sulfur are poisonous. But being transformed, they produce precious gold. The same way the fallen nature of man, being transfigured in Christ, receives a spirit. The Old Testament temple was still made of inanimate matter. But it was waiting for the coming of the Messiah, the Logos, to become gold. By the way, the salt itself can be interpreted as the Logos, salting the earth (cf. Mt 5:13). By this salt the poison becomes an elixir. At this stage it is impossible to verify the accuracy of information about the stone laid by Ezra. We will limit ourselves to referring to the sources of Corbin and Shukurov.

The goal of any alchemical manipulations was gold. It was understood both as a substance and as internal perfection. But it was not gold that was laid at the foundation of the Second Temple. It was a stone, which, as we have seen, had only the potency of gold. The elements only indicated the process of its appearance. This can be compared to the fact that although the stone was a symbol of the temple of God and Christ, Christ had not yet appeared to people at that time. It was only a preparation, the Messiah had not yet come. The temple was built as the House of God. But there was no gold, which could symbolize Christ's presence in the flesh. There were only elements containing the potential of His appearance. Thus, if the above data is reliable, in the Second Temple in the form of an alchemical stone there were the prototypes of the New Testament - genuine gold.

It is interesting that during the construction of both the tabernacle and the temple, these structures were called the House of God. They were seen as the place where the Lord always dwells with His people. The place of this permanent presence was located in a cubic space (Holy of Holies). Back to Jacob's dream, when he laid an unhewn stone and poured oil on it, as a sign of the theophany that was here. He called that place not only the House of God, but also the gates of heaven (Genesis 28:17). That is, the place connecting Heaven and the earth, where the Lord "descends" to a person by the "Heavenly Ladder". This presence is not always obvious, but often contemplative, it symbolizes the primordial nature of matter. In the form of a consecrated cube, the Lord is always present. This is no longer the gate of Heaven, but the place of His permanent residence.
Based on what was already said, we can consider the unhewn stone the symbol of the still unknown, unrevealed God. This is the God who did not become a man, the transcendent, unrevealed Word. This reflects the primordial and unrefined concepts of the Divine. Indeed, even in the tabernacle and in the temple of Solomon, we see only a cubic space. It is the place of dwelling for God, but, apart from different relics, it is empty, unlike the Christian temple. In a Christian temple, there is always a decorated throne in the altar as the most precious treasure.

The very adorning of the temple, as we have pointed out, has the significance of a more explicit idea of God, gradually revealing Himself to man. Back in the Old Testament period, the First and Second temples were already decorated, their stones were processed. This stone-carving represents a kind of wisdom of gradual knowledge of God and approaching the vision of God, possible in Christ. It is not for nothing that Solomon says: "Wisdom has built her house, she has set up its seven pillars" (Proverbs 9:1). He also says: "By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established" (Proverbs 24:3). So, starting from Solomon, temple building is enriched with interrelated concepts of wisdom and worked stone. This clearly influenced the Christian theology of the temple [12, p. 103]. And the Mother of God became an obvious House of Wisdom. Receiving God in Herself, She became the living First Temple of Christianity. Thus, all Christian churches become true houses of Wisdom.

Let's note that in general for ancient people precious stones were the embodiment of light. They believed that the stone contained a particle of light. It is not for nothing that the stone became a symbol of Christ, the incarnate Divine Word and Light. The same is true for pearls. People believed that when lightning penetrates the depths of the sea, one pearl is born in one shell - another embodiment of light. That is why the most sacred places were richly decorated with precious stones. In ciboria over rulers who were considered to have divine functions, or over sacred places, open shells were often carved from stone. This was to show that there was a pearl under them. The same symbolism passed into Christianity.

Let's note that in general for ancient people precious stones were the embodiment of light. They believed that the stone contained a particle of light. It is not for nothing that the stone became a symbol of Christ, the incarnate Divine Word and Light. The same is true for pearls. People believed that when lightning penetrates the depths of the sea, one pearl is born in one shell - another embodiment of light. That is why the most sacred places were richly decorated with precious stones. In ciboria over rulers who were considered to have divine functions, or over sacred places, open shells were often carved from stone. This was to show that there was a pearl under them. The same symbolism passed into Christianity.

The cubic shape of a cut precious stone also has a hidden meaning of the person's spiritual development in Christ. In the feat of the Christian life the intuitive and primordial faith is refined. It is tested and improved, like the perfect Word, it takes the form of a precious equilateral and integral stone.

The perfection of the cubic form is evidenced not only by Revelation (see Ezekiel 40:43, Revelation 21), but by the very numerical value of the four. There are similar origins of the symbolism of the four in many traditional cultures. This is the fullness of directions from one point. This is the potency of the circle, that is, the fullness in the square. This is the image of static integrity, an ideally stable structure. This is the unity of the year, based on four points - two equinoxes and two solstices. These are the four rivers of Paradise, and the four sides of the Cross. In general, the square is a very common basis for ritual architectural structures of various cultures. Thus, in India and China, for example, a square denotes the earth and a sacramental building is built on its basis. We see the same thing in the Abrahamic religions. "For the four is the ten in possibility, inasmuch as it progressively develops from the one. But the four is also the one. When gathered together, it embraces the good. It reveals the simplicity and indivisibility of the Divine energy, indivisibly divided in it" [7, p. 164], writes St. Maximus the Confessor.

It is appropriate to mention here the famous society of Freemasons. According to the legends, it appeared during the construction of Solomon's Temple. The Freemasons consider themselves the keepers of certain knowledge on stone processing. Their philosophy and rituals use architectural images. This processing of stones, that is, giving the structure a look for the presence of God, is their "secret knowledge". They consider themselves mystical architects, rebuilding Solomon's Temple. They give their architectural structures a refined appearance and endow it with certain symbols. The Freemasons believe that this way they prepare a contemplative temple, which should reappear on Mount Moriah in the end. Each new member of the lodge is considered an "unworked stone", ignorant of wisdom. Ascending to a higher grade, a member is more and more "processed" and thus worthy of more serious deeds in building a symbolic temple. The religious affiliation of the adept is unimportant, the main thing is to recognize the One God. The whole world is likened to a huge building. The work on its arrangement in the image of the Temple of Solomon, that is, the temple of God, is considered the main one [3, p. 181]. So, often in Masonic temples, an image of the plan of Solomon's temple is made on the floor. Two stones are located by the altar - unhewn and hewn. The first is an image of "philosophical salt" as a sign of movement towards perfection. The second is associated with ideas about the primordial immature nature [12, p. 107]. A person is called to adorn this nature with wisdom and build up to the image of a perfect temple.

The first prophecy about a precious stone, showing the true faith in God, is by the prophet Isaiah. "So this is what the Sovereign Lord says: See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who relies on it will never be stricken with panic." (Isaiah 28:16). Russian Biblical scholar Alexander Lopukhin gives the following interpretation of this passage: "What did the prophet mean by the cornerstone? It must be a stone supporting all that is true and right. Therefore, this is not Zion, as some interpreters believe, not the house of David, not Hezekiah, not the temple, not the law. It would be quite correct to see in this stone the Messiah, the Son of God, the only mediator between God and people, who was to be born from the lineage of David (cf. Isaiah 8:8). The New Testament confirms this idea. It calls Christ the cornerstone on which the community of the saved, or the Church, is built (Eph 2:20, Acts 4:11 and 1 Pet 2:6-7). The stone is called tested, i.e. completely reliable. Since we are talking about the Messiah, here we can see a sign of the trials that Christ the Savior was subjected to during His earthly life. A cornerstone does not only support a building, it also links its walls at two converging corners. The specially strong stones are used for this, square in shape" [10, p. 169]. Thus, the processed stone, decorated and consecrated by the Church, symbolizes the incarnate Word. It is the Wisdom of God, revealed to people. This is why the Christian temple is always decorated. In particular, the cubic-shaped altar is decorated as the main relic of the temple. In the Christian temple, the Word and the stone are connected. The higher being, designated as a sphere (in the likeness of the sky) is connected to the earthly existence, the matter. The Word sounds in the stone, the theological concept "sounds" in the image of the temple. Their "unconfused and indivisible" combination creates a symbol with multifaceted meanings. But the highest archetype of the temple is the Heavenly City of the Church. It is the transfigured cosmos where Christ reigns, uniting in Himself all and everything in this City.

The foundation of the Christian temple is the "precious stone" Christ. But since this stone is expressed in an image, then, covered with matter, it conceals a rich symbolism, befitting Christ Himself. Having united the divine and the human in Himself, Christ reconciled Heaven and earth. According to Saint John Geometres (10th century), the Christian temple "removes the contradiction between the spiritual and the material, Heaven and earth". This is why the symbolism of the temple is strengthened [2, p. 163]. The Lord is the highest Beauty. Thus, if there is a connection between the symbol of the precious Stone-Christ and the temple, it means that the temple itself must be decorated. According to Saint Symeon of Thessalonica, "the beauty of the temple means that He who came to us is beautiful with kindness. He is a wondrous bridegroom, and the Church is His beautiful bride" [9, p. 217].
In Christianity, the image of a stone is personified in the image of Christ. "Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, "The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone," and, "A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall." They stumble because they disobey the message - which is also what they were destined for" (1 Peter 2:7-8). Such personification is a unique phenomenon. It reveals all the prototypical meanings of the image of the stone in previous eras. Three realities combine here. First, there is Jesus Christ as the "living cornerstone". Second, there is the Church as His mystical body. Finally, there is the temple as a symbol of the incarnated image of the Church.

In this context the stone is a symbol of Christ. Then its meaning also implies the Word of God, against which those who do not believe in Him "stumble". Believers themselves are likened to precious stones. This is also true for the best manifestations of their aesthetic feelings and the high expressions of their faith. Following the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 3:11-12), Saint Macarius of Egypt develops this idea. "Having leveled the space, He lays His rock as a foundation in our hearts. Bringing other stones (the natural thoughts), He constructs the building as high as heavens. He likens it to the holy body of Christ and unites it with the building of the holy apostles (Ephesians 2:21 ; 4:16). The divine dispensation is made up of two actions. First, Christ introduces the inner man into the building of His Body, full of angels and bright spirits. Then He descends from the highest down to the earthly and settles there. He strengthens our abode with Himself, and, having chosen a place for Himself, remains" [6, p. 24-25]. Further, Saint Macarius clarifies: "And what are these stones? Pure and good thoughts of Adam's nature. For they are like the heavenly Stone and are built in proportion to Its measure…" [6, p. 24-25]. Here is a quote from another Christian ascetic and thinker, Saint Symeon the New Theologian. He reveals the image of Christ as the Stone and the Architect of the Church: "First, put a stone as the foundation, for a building is not built upon the air. Fulfill the commandments of Christ the Stone, the Builder of the Divine Church, for new people - imaginative sheep. Do and say, building on this Stone, or rather, build yourself on the Stone. May He be for you a shepherd, an architect, and the foundation of life" [8, p. 274].

Thus, the conjugation of the image of the Stone-Christ and the Word gives a new understanding of the reality of the temple. The temple is the Word resounding in the stone. And by analogy with Christ, one can say in a certain sense, that the temple as an image of the body of Christ is the Word become stone (cf. John 1:14). It found its expression in matter through the symbol of the temple.

Here it is appropriate to say about the proper perception of the spiritual essence of the temple as such. The theological description and mental comprehension are important. But the vision of the highest essence of the image of the temple is impossible without faith. The ontological being of the archetype of the temple is seen through earthly symbols as "through a glass darkly" (1 Corinthians 13:12, KJV). But it is through this figurative and verbal symbolism the faith and the pure heart can know the Existence. Only the pure in heart will see God (Matthew 5:8). Everything that is true for Christ (two natures, etc.) is also true for the Church [5, p. 218]. Therefore, on a symbolic level, it is also true for the temple as a symbol of the Church. Being a symbol of the Church, the temple also has two natures - material and spiritual. In the temple there is an "unconfused and indivisible" combination of the matter and the Word. It combines the object and the ontological meaning that inspires it.

It is also worth noting here that in the New Testament the division of the world into the sacred and the profane is no longer radical. This is because Christ began the transfiguration of the entire cosmos, of all nature. Thus, in Christ everything became sacred. But the temple as the dominant of Christian figurative symbolism and worship in it are still sacred. They reflect precisely the fullness of the image of the transfigured world and person. Any temple is materially "carved out" of the surrounding space, separated from it by its walls. But it can be said that at the same time it "contains" the entire surrounding world, being its bodily symbol. Thus, even without the radical division between sacred and profane, despite the fact that everything becomes spiritualized, there are still sacred spaces in Christianity. They are full of Christian symbolism, revealed in the images and sacred rites of divine services. This is probably why there can be many churches, each of them equal to the fullness of the entire universe. This is different from the Old Testament single temple of the One God. In fact, many Christian churches are "many hypostases" of the single image of the Church. The same way the people in the Church are a multi-hypostatic single humanity, each of them being an image of the One God. Thus, the problem of the division between sacred and profane correlates with the main Christian antinomy. The Church is in this world, but not of this world. Everything is sacred, but this sacred does not mix with the profane. The dominant center of the symbolism of the Church and of the sacred is the temple. It is "woven" from the profane, but spiritualized by the divine energies of matter. Relatively speaking, the profane is the flesh of the temple, the sacred is the Word and the Spirit of God living in it. The temple is always called to carry this idea in its architecture. It has to be in this world, but it has to present an image of the Heavenly world. And this is done not only due to the presence of the Holy Gifts, the altar and the icon painting. This is also due to the symbolic image of the temple, the tectonics of its architecture, which people see in the first place.

1. Berdyaev N. O naznachenii cheloveka [On the purpose of Man], Paris, 1931. 320 p.
2. Vagner G. K. Byzantine temple as the image of the world. Vizantiyskiy vremennik [Byzantine annals], 1986. № 47. p. 163.
3. Kavtaradze S. Anatomiya arkhitektury. Sem knig o logike, forme i smysle. [Anatomy of Architecture. Seven Books on Logic, Form and Meaning], Moscow, 2015. 472 p.
4. Saint Clement of Alexandria. Stromaty [Stromata]. In three volumes. Volume 2. Book 4. Saint Petersburg, Oleg Abyshko Publishing, 2003. 336 p.
5. Lossky V. N. Ocherk misticheskogo bogosloviya Vostochnoy Tserkvi. Dogmaticheskoe bogoslovie [The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. Dogmatic Theology]. Translated from French by V. A. Reshchikova. Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius, 2010. 448 p.
6. Saint Macarius of Egypt. Novye dukhovnye besedy [New Spiritual Conversations], Moscow, 1990. 172 p.
7. Saint Maximus the Confessor. Tvoreniya. Kniga I. Bogoslovskie i asketicheskie traktaty [Works. Book One. Theological and ascetic treatises]. Translated from Ancient Greek and commented by A. I. Sidorova. Moscow, 1993. 354 p.
8. Saint Symeon the New Theologian. Tvoreniya. [Works]. Vol. 3. Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius, 1993. 393 p.
9. Saint Symeon of Thessalonica. Premudrost nashego spaseniya [Wisdom of Our Salvation]. Moscow, 2009. 640 p.
10. Tolkovaya Bibliya, ili Kommentarii na vse knigi Sv. Pisaniya Vetkhogo i Novogo Zaveta pod redaktsiey A. P. Lopukhina. V 7 tomakh. Т. IV: Prorocheskiye knigi [Explanatory Bible, or Commentaries on all the books of the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, edited by Alexander Lopukhin. In 7 volumes. Vol. IV: Prophetic books.]. Moscow, 2009. 1168 p.
11. Fr Tomáš Špidlík. Russkaya ideya: inoe videnie cheloveka [Russian Idea: Another Vision of Man]. Moscow, Saint Petersburg, 2014. 464 p.
12. Shukurov Sh. M. Obraz khrama [The Image of the Temple]. Moscow, 2002. 496 p.
13. Eliade М. Traktat po istorii religiy [Treatise on the history of religions]. Translated from French by A. A. Vasilyeva. Moscow, 2015. 394 p.
14. Corbin H. Temple et contemplation. Essais sur L`Islam iranien. Paris, 1980 // Шукуров Ш.М. Образ храма. М., 2002. С. 405.
15. Evdokimov P. L'amour fou de Dieu. Paris, p. 130–131. Quoted in: Fr Tomáš Špidlík. Russkaya ideya: inoe videnie cheloveka [Russian Idea: Another Vision of Man]. Moscow, Saint Petersburg, 2014. p. 209.
Abstract: This article presents an analysis of the origins of understanding the image of the sacred stone that proceeds from the beginnings of the Abrahamic religions to the interpretation of this image in Christianity. There is a historical tendency of changing meaning traced – the tendency in understanding the image of a stone from a symbol denoting a sacred place to a symbol of the Church at large. This tendency is based on the understanding by the ancients of the image of the "rough stone" to the New Testament interpretation of the symbol of the processed and precious stone that stands at the foundation of the Church and has the image of Christ in it. The interrelation of cubic and spherical volumes in the image of a temple as a concept of the union of Celestial and Material is considered. It finds its expression in planning concepts, arching and dome systems. The image of the temple is presented as a symbol of the Church based on the Stone-Christ and as a single dominant image that includes the entire sphere of Christian metaphoric symbolism. The article reveals the collaboration of the image of the Stone-Christ and the Word, which gives a new understanding of the temple realia – this is the Word that sounds and is expressed in the body of the temple. Some theoretical research methods as analysis and synthesis are used in this article.
+7 925 905 37 08 (WhatsApp)
+375 29 327 29 95 (Viber)