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Archive for the ‘Art and Iconography’ Category

 

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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

Update on comments: It was just brought to my attention that comments on this post were disabled. It seems that my posts for quite some time have had comments disabled. Comments should be open now on most recent posts.

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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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While our Orthodox Mission, Holy Lady of Vladimir, still holds weekend services at Queen’s College, this post is about our domestic chapel of St. Nektarios.

I’m not a great photographer, but I wanted to show you how the domestic chapel of St. Nektarios looks now. I had written about our house chapel last year, but, to my great joy, we’ve made some additions.

My father is a very accomplished carpenter and I had been telling him how I wanted him to make us an iconostasis for our domestic chapel. Because we didn’t have proper church furniture the icons I painted of Christ, the Mother of God and St. Nektarios were relegated to the side of the chapel instead of in front of the altar. So, I was in a hurry to have something made.

The original plan was for my father to take measurements when he and his wife visited us in the Fall (of 2016). However, we ended up deciding on the spur of the moment, two days before dad was to leave, to build stands instead. Off we went to the hardware store to rent a table saw and buy supplies.

While dad started on making icon stands from scratch with no pattern, his wife Angela and I went to the fabric store. She’s a talented seamstress and equally as enthusiastic about fun projects as my dad and me and so she thought she may be able to sew some coverings on my sewing machine while dad built the stands.

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I regret that there is no photo evidence of the state of my backyard while dad and I assembled the stands together: he sawing and hammering, me sanding and crack filling. (Fr. John would have been there to help but he got called away on a pastoral matter). It was a ton of fun and I was more than ecstatic about the way the chapel would look once we were finished.

In short order the icon stands and the Proskimidi table were ready, the coverings were also ready. All Fr. John and I had to do was varnish/ stain the wood (which we’ll do in the summer – when we can do it outdoors), hang the coverings, and acquire gold crosses to be attached to the fabric. We were able to get the crosses during our trip to the mainland in October; we attached them with fabric glue, but we have yet to attach the large cross to the altar covering.

There is still more to be done. I would like to buy three oil lamps to hang from the ceiling above Christ, Panagia and St. Nektarios. But, I’m trying to not be rash in furnishing the chapel, one thing at a time. I also plan to cover the large wooden candle stand with painted canvas like I’ve marveled at in Orthodox monasteries. (You can sort of see an example of a canvas-covered candle here; it’s to the right, in the middle of the smaller candles).

This particular candle stand (shown below before the “Royal Doors” – or where Royal Doors would be) represents the fiery sword that prohibited entrance to Eden after the Fall. That is why it is placed here in front of the Royal Doors during the Divine Liturgy, after the consecration, while the priest communes.

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You can see all the snow outside the window. This photo was taken at Christmas

Words can’t express how grateful I am to have a chapel in my own home (something I always wanted). My gratitude is doubled by the fact that Fr. John has an Orthodox chapel in which to hold daily Morning and Evening Prayer, not to mention vigils.

I’m a vain sort, but I’ll be honest and say that ever since my father built the icon stands and the chapel took on more of “chapel” look I try and make sure I never miss a Vespers service (I’m unable to attend Matins because of work). It’s a comfort to stand in the oil-lamp lit space and pray in front of icons that we have collected during our travels, and moreso in front of icons that I had the honour to paint.

The icons I painted – pictured in the below collage – are as follows: (Top left corner) St. Gregory Palamas (he is to Christ’s right in the photo). Below that is an icon of St. Demetrios (this is a copy of an icon I painted – my godson has the original); Christ the High Priest and St. Nektarios (as well as the Mother of God depicted elsewhere); St. John Maximovitch (bottom left) – which I just finished last week; and St. John the Theologian (bottom right).

It comes as a great consolation to me to have the icons I painted – icons that took me countless hours to paint – in our chapel. I can’t speak for other iconographers, but for me, when I paint an icon I don’t feel ownership over it. I may be a bit more critical of my own work than I would be of others, but at some point the icons I paint stop being my work and become the countenances of the persons depicted. And yet, I know each inch of the icons in intimate detail, they are so personal and yet so distinctly their own. It’s hard to explain, perhaps I’m just babbling. So, I’ll suffice it to say I’m deeply humbled that images I painted with my own unworthy hand now adorn an Orthodox chapel. I thank God for my talent and hope He accepts my offering.

Lastly, I want to say while I love our domestic chapel, my joy would more than quadruple if our parish were able to establish a proper Orthodox church here on the island of Newfoundland. Amen, so be it.

Please keep us in your holy prayers!

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In hopes of giving the children in our parish encouragement in their little prayer lives and a visible reminder of the beauty of Orthodoxy, these handmade prayer books were made with love. They’re inspired by illuminated manuscripts, just as the prayer books I make for myself are (you can view them here and here).

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Each one contains prayers to the Holy Trinity, the Mother of God, the Creed, the Jesus Prayer and are customized to include the child’s patron saint and troparion (a prayer specific to that saint).

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While I drew all the letters and the decorative border found on the last page, I wanted the children to participate in making their personal prayer books more beautiful. So, I included black and white icons for them to colour (I didn’t draw the icons – unfortunately, I didn’t leave myself enough time).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI also left a blank space in the prayer “Through the prayers of [insert name of patron saint], Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me” so they could write the saint’s name in their own handwritten script.

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Then I uploaded all the images I drew and spent far too long trying to format the little booklet on my computer. Once I had them all printed I wrote the name of the saint under the icons I had lamented and inserted in each child’s prayer book.

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The finishing touch was attaching a gold ribbon to each prayer book that my (beloved) husband cut and dipped in beeswax so they wouldn’t fray.

Here’s a picture of all the prayer books with the various patron saints’ icons and troparia:

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Then I wrapped them all up and watched with delight as the children cautiously opened them after Divine Liturgy on Christmas morning. They were genuinely happy and a few of them didn’t even want to put them down while we broke the Fast with our annual Christmas brunch.

I really enjoyed making the prayer books, and I hope and pray the children enjoy them too.

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“It is of great significance if there is a person who truly prays in a family. Prayer attracts God’s Grace and all the members of the family feel it, even those whose hearts have grown cold. Pray always.”

-Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica, Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives: The Life and Teachings of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica

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