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Archive for the ‘Art and Iconography’ Category

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St. Maximos the Greek Russian Orthodox Chapel, Seoul, South Korea

I was recently contacted by an American reader of my books who wrote to tell me of a lovely coincidence. While reading my second book she was surprised to read the story of the epitaphios icon found the rubble of the destroyed Orthodox church in South Korea as she is personally acquainted with the persons who were responsible for returning it to its rightful owners. I talk about this event in The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and Victory as we use to attend services in the Russian Orthodox chapel of St. Maximos the Greek in Seoul where the icon currently resides. (We lived there from July 2006 to August 2007).

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The Seattle Times wrote an article about this significant event which took place during Holy Week in April, 1997:

Saturday, April 26, 1997

Missing Icon Home At Last — Seattle Man Helps Church Find Relic

By Sally Macdonald

Seattle Times Religion Reporter

Air Force Staff Sgt. Jack Kudla knew exactly what to look for as he patrolled the ruins of a Russian Orthodox church in Seoul: a sacred, embroidered icon showing a crucified Christ.

It was during the Korean War and he was sure if the tapestry wasn’t already

destroyed, it eventually would be. Kudla found his way to a spot behind the altar and there, in a wooden cabinet, was the church’s plashtschanitsa [epitaphios], a precious representation of Christ used only on Good Friday.

Kudla, a devout member of the Russian Orthodox Church, rescued the icon and now, four decades later, thanks to help from a Seattle man, it has been returned to its grateful owners.

Clifford Argue, a vice president of Alaska Airlines in Seattle, helped the church find the missing relic recently and escorted it back to Seoul in time for Good Friday services yesterday. Orthodox Christians calculate the date of Easter differently from other denominations, and tomorrow they will celebrate Easter.

Icons like the one found in the ruins of Seoul’s St. Nicholas Cathedral have been used for 1,500 years to drape the shoulders of Russian Orthodox priests during Good Friday services.

By 1951, when Kudla found the relic, Seoul had changed hands four times in less than two years, falling to the North Korean and Chinese Communist armies and being recaptured each time by United Nations forces. The city was subjected to heavy shelling and bombing in each invasion.

Kudla feared for the safety of the icon because the interior of the church already had been vandalized and burned during the war, likely by North Korean soldiers. Red paint was splashed around the building, and the pews were broken apart. He was sure that the Communists would destroy the icon if they found it.

Kudla mailed the purple and gold tapestry to his suburban Pittsburgh church for safekeeping. There it was used for several years and then stored away.

The cathedral was rebuilt after the war, but the tapestry was never completely forgotten.

Argue, who was stationed near Seoul in 1968 as an Air Force civil engineer and attended the cathedral, helped relocate the relic after seeing a posting on the Internet by an Orthodox discussion group that said the congregation was looking for its missing icon.

Word gets out

Argue, a member of the board of directors of the U.S. Orthodox Christian Mission and active member of Seattle’s St. Demetrios Church, spread the word to other church groups and related organizations by computer.

The posting was seen by the Rev. Stephen Kachur. Now retired and living in Arizona, Kachur had been a pastor at Kudla’s church in Rankin, Pa., and remembered the relic well.

Kudla, now a 69-year-old retired foreman at a tool factory, recently traveled from his home in Detroit to Rankin, to watch members of his old church pack up the relic to return it.

He told church members it had bothered him for 46 years that he had taken something from a church and that the icon might be missed by its owners.

The relic is about 4 feet long by 2 feet wide and weighs about 15 pounds. Such artifacts are used only during Good Friday services, after which they are placed in flower-covered boxes representing Christ’s tomb. Then they are placed on the altar for 42 days, when the Ascension, the day Christians believe Jesus rose into heaven, is celebrated.

The St. Nicholas tapestry was woven in 1874 at a monastery in St. Petersburg,

Russia, then taken to Seoul at the turn of the century by missionaries there to try to convert their Korean neighbors.

Argue went to Pennsylvania to pick up the relic and then on to Korea to take it home. There he joined members of the cathedral, who celebrated its return with a prayer service led by Greek Orthodox Bishop Sotirios Trambas.

“It’s like we read about so many times,” Argue said after returning to Seattle earlier this week. “Artworks that get misplaced in wartime are slowly being returned to their rightful owners. They’re not just art, but precious pieces for the church. It reminded the people of that time when the church was almost destroyed and they were scattered.

“I wanted to return it personally because they were good to me during the war and this was a way to give some of their history back.”

*Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.

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While the quality of photos in this post are great, at least they give you the idea of what the icon and chapel look like.

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While working on these icons of St. Athanasius, St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil and St. Gregory I’ve been listening to these and similar podcasts/ homilies. I thought you might enjoy a listen as well.

Part One: Join Illumined Heart co-host Kevin Allen on his pilgrimage to Saint Herman of Alaska Monastery, Platina, California to talk with its Abbot Fr. Gerasim and Fr. Seraphim Rose legacy-keeper and biographer Monk Damascene. September 2nd [2007] marks the 25th anniversary of the repose of Fr. Seraphim Rose. In part 1 of this 3 part series, Kevin is in the cell constructed by Fr. Seraphim and now occupied by Monk Damascene where he talks with the monk about his spiritual father. For more information about the books published and distributed by the monastery, visit their website.

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Part Two: Enter once again into the rustic cell of Fr. Seraphim Rose with Kevin Allen as he talks with Fr. Damascene, the biographer and spiritual child of Fr. Seraphim. This is part 2 of a 3 part series and provides a unique glimpse into the life of a man who many say will someday be venerated as a Saint.

Part Three: In the conclusion of our 3 part series commemorating the 25th anniversary of the repose of Fr Seraphim (Rose), Kevin Allen is seated on a wooden bench overlooking a panoranmic view of Mt. Yolla Bolly with the Abbot of St. Herman of Alaska Monastery, Fr. Gerasim. Listen for valuable lessons (as well as birds chirping!) on the spiritual disciplines of prayer and fasting from a spiritual child of this venerated American monk and writer.

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St. Alexander the Solider of Eygpt

Years ago a family asked me to paint an icon of St. Alexander the Solider of Egypt (4th century). Their son was born around his feast day and so they named him Alexander and chose the saint as his patron. They were never able to find an icon of the saint and so they asked if I could make one. Of course it’s one thing to paint an icon of a saint and it’s quite another to paint an icon of saint with no prototype. I searched high and low for an icon of him, in English, in Greek. I even had a parishioner search in Arabic. But I couldn’t find an icon of the saint to use as my model.

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So, years passed and in a last ditch effort to have someone more capable than myself come up with an image of the saint I wrote my iconography teacher and asked if he would be willing to draw a prototype. He wrote back and said, “Paint him as a  young soldier.” Lovely. He gave me an answer, but not the one I wanted. Finally with great trepidation I decided I would try to form a likeness for the holy martyr with the help of God.

I first read as many versions of the saint’s life that I could find. Then I referenced Photios Kontaglou’s books “Expressions of Orthodox Iconography” (a two volume set in Greek) on how to paint soldiers and martyrs. I knew to have him wear a red cloak and hold a cross as he was a martyr but I had no idea what he looked like as a person. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI tried to pray a lot and asked St. Alexander’s help. After looking at various icons of soldier saints I began trying to piece his likeness together. I based his torso on an icon I had seen of St. Demetrios and the rest I prayed my way through. I wanted his skin to be darker as he was Egyptian and I decided to make his eyes green, his hair dark, and his nose somewhat large. (In the below photo of me holding the icon you can sort of see the various drawings I did of the saint’s likeness taped to the wall.) Then I painted and prayed, painted and prayed; and finally he came to life.

I now feel very close to St. Alexander and am very happy he can now be venerated through an icon of his likeness. I didn’t tell the family I had finally painted their son’s saint; I just gave it to them once it was finished. Their surprise and joy was a great gift to me. May he intercede for us!

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(Source) Saint Alexander suffered with the hosiomartyrs Patermuthius and Copres, during the reign of the emperor Julian the Apostate (361-363). He was a soldier who witnessed the torture of Saint Copres, and believed in Christ. He was burned alive. St. Alexander’s feast day is July 9.

 

 

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Happy feast of St. Paisios the Athonite!

A short Prologue: As shown in the photos, I recently finished a canvas I painted to be put on the wooden candle stand that was kindly donated to our community last summer. The monasteries always have beautiful flowers and vines painted on candlesticks with gold backgrounds so I was excited to have an excuse to do likewise. I truly believe art is the one talent God gave me completely for free and it is really important to me to make sure I at least try to pay back the Master with interest. I’m deeply grateful that I get to use my talent to beautify our small, domestic Orthodox temple.

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One of the nicest elements of an Orthodox monastery is not only the cultivation of virtue but the opportunity one has to offer her talent for the good of the community and to the glory of God.

When Sister P. first became a novice she was so excited to learn embroidery and iconography – all the beautiful handicrafts one hears about nuns doing. She was a little surprised when her time was occupied with more mundane tasks. Of course this is understandable in the beginning but the nuns taught me that all things done in a monastery are done in honour of the saint and for God’s glory, no matter the task. We ought to offer all the talents we have to the glory of God.

Sister N. told me when she was a child visiting her older sister at the monastery she heard the abbess say that every deed done in the monastery was recorded by the monastery’s saint and shown to Christ on the day of judgment. After this she would rush around looking for things she could do, any scrap of garbage she could dispose of.

We should never underestimate the value of what we can offer to the Lord since He Himself greatly valued the widow’s two mites. I’m happy to say that now when Sister P. writes me letters she even mentions her duties washing the monastery’s vehicles. I often observed how the sisters lent their talent “to the One Who gave it” in a variety of ways.

That is how our parishes should be. One sings, another cleans, and still another figures out how to adhere the canvas Matushka painted to the wooden candle stand for the domestic chapel :).

I would really encourage you to seriously think about all the different talents, great and small, you have to offer and then seek opportunities to “give them to the poor” (ie. to the Church, to your parish community, a nearby monastery) for the glory of God.

Gerontissa M. used to instruct our Byzantine chant class to help out with chanting if we could be of assistance. She would say, “Why should the chanting be done poorly. If you can help and you have a good voice, help.”

So, if you can sing, sing. If you can bake, bake. If you can clean, clean. If you can visit the sick, do so. If you can make prayer ropes, give them out. If you love to pray, commit to saying an extra service (the Paraclesis or an Akathist) once a week for the benefit of your parish. Whatever you have to give, give it. Do anything you can to lend the talent the Lord gave you to Him Who gave it through “spending” it at your parish for the benefit of your church community.

I’m certain the saint of your parish will do as the monastery patron and show Christ your good deeds on the Day of Judgment.

Behold how to you, my soul, the Master has entrusted the talent, with fear accept the gift of the Lord. Lend it to the One Who gave, distribute it to the poor and earn the friendship of the Lord Himself. So that you may stand on His right when He comes in His glory.  (A portion of the Aposticha of Great and Holy Tuesday).

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(More to come on the painted candle stick)

The icon stands and Proskimidi table my father made for us last September have finally been sanded, stained, and varnished twice (although my father assures me they need at least one more coat).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy the grace of God Fr. John and I spent many, many hours last weekend finishing the church furniture so that they would be ready for the vigil of the feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul we held on Wednesday.

I’m very happy with how they turned out. You can see them unfinished here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe are still furnishing our home chapel. We have some more ideas of how to make it more beautiful, but we’re taking it one step at a time.

“The Lord loves those who love the splendor of His house and will not leave them without His great mercies and rich generosity.” (Amen; I hope so!)

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Christ is risen!

The following excerpt is from the second book of a two-book series on the person and spiritual children of Father Arseny. The book is called Father Arseny: Cloud of Witnesses, p. 148. In this passage Fr. Arseny speaks of his friend and fellow prisoner Fr. Seraphim, a holy hiermonk.

I saw Father Seraphim as a restorer of souls who had been covered with dirt. Yes, he was a true restorer. Carefully, just like those who restore icons by removing layers of dried oil and dirt with a scalpel, taking care not to harm the original, Father Seraphim would carefully, gently approach a man and remove layers of sin from his soul, revealing first a small window of purity and then making this window bigger and bigger, and then finally clean up his whole soul. How careful you must be, how spiritually attentive to the injured soul not to harm it in trying to direct the man to the path of light. You must not hurt his pride, you must not show him how sinful he is–you could end up pushing him away so that he might think, ‘I am such a sinner that I cannot be saved!’

I believe this image is pertinent not only for priests but for all Christians. Each of us in our own way ought to strive not only to cleanse our own souls from the dirt and mire of sin and the passions, but hopefully (through the grace of God!) serve as restorers of the purity of souls of those around us, to help direct others to the path of light.

Through the prayers of the holy God-pleasing sufferers, Fathers Arseny and Seraphim may we also treat other human beings with the spiritual care and attention an icon restorer treats holy objects!

 

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Orthodox Handicrafts

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As you can tell from the photographs, I like to keep my fingers busy with a little handicraft. About a year ago I finished the large cross stitch I was working on of the Three Holy Hierarchs (I wrote about this here). That was a pattern with the design already printed on the burlap. All I had to do was follow the colour scheme already in place. It took me about four years to finish it but it was a really nice craft. My stepmother bought me the pattern when she was visiting us in Greece. Shops in Greece had neat patterns for cross stitch, including a few icons.

byz_crossesOnce I finished the Three Holy Hierarchs I wanted to try to do create my own cross stitch patterns. Somehow I got the idea to try and do a small onion dome pattern as a book mark and before I knew it I had made many of them, in different colours and designs. Actually, now that I stop to think of it, my onion dome designs were initially inspired by photos of onion dome cookies.

I then moved on to various cross patterns: Byzantine crosses (the three-barred cross) as well as a modified version of a cross pattern (depicted below) that was cross stitched on a small bag I have – done by the mother of one of the nuns I was close to in Greece. In fact, I keep my cross stitch materials in that little bag (I should have added a photo of it).

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These cross stitches I have done are all relatively small. The onion domes and Byzantine crosses were designed as bookmarks, as I said above. I’ve thought of making the square shaped crosses into magnets.

When I figure out what I’m going to do with the surplus of bookmarks and magnets I now have, I’ll let you know. Perhaps we’ll start selling them at Lumination Press.

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In the meantime, I’ll keep stitching.

“My son, if you want to make progress stay in your cell and pay attention to yourself and your manual work” -Abba Serapion (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, p. 51).

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