Archive for the ‘Sketching Holiness’ Category


I painted this in 2009 with egg tempra on paper. It was another ‘practice icon’ as I was still painting on my own with no direction. At the time Fr. John was very keen on the writings of St. Philaret and so that is why I painted him. I will say after years of painting with acrylic the vibrancy of egg tempra paint far surpasses what I consider the “flatness” of acrylic paint. However, it’s nearly impossible for me to get supplies here so I have continued with the lesser quality but more accessible acrylic paints.

(Source) Saint Philaret (Drozdov) was born on December 26, 1782 in Kolomna, a suburb of Moscow, and was named Basil in Baptism. His father was a deacon (who later became a priest).

The young Basil studied at the Kolomna seminary, where courses were taught in Latin. He was small in stature, and far from robust, but his talents set him apart from his classmates.

In 1808, while he was a student at the Moscow Theological Academy at Holy Trinity Lavra, Basil received monastic tonsure and was named Philaret after Saint Philaret the Merciful (December 1). Not long after this, he was ordained a deacon.

In 1809, he went to teach at the Theological Academy in Petersburg, which had been reopened only a short time before. Hierodeacon Philaret felt ill at ease in Petersburg, but he was a very good teacher who tried to make theology intelligible to all. Therefore, he worked to have classes taught in Russian rather than in Latin.

Philaret was consecrated as bishop in 1817, and was appointed to serve as a vicar in the diocese of Petersburg. He soon rose to the rank of archbishop, serving in Tver, Yaroslavl, and Moscow. In 1826, he was made Metropolitan of Moscow, and remained in that position until his death.

The Metropolitan believed that it was his duty to educate and enlighten his flock about the Church’s teachings and traditions. Therefore, he preached and wrote about how to live a Christian life, basing his words on the wisdom of the Holy Fathers. His 1823 CATECHISM has been an influential book in Russia and in other countries for nearly two hundred years.

The reforms of Tsar Peter the Great had abolished the patriarchate and severely restricted the Church, placing many aspects of its life under governmental control. Metropolitan Philaret tried to regain some of the Church’s freedom to administer its own affairs, regarding Church and State as two separate entities working in harmony. Not everyone shared his views, and he certainly made his share of enemies. Still, he did achieve some degree of success in effecting changes.

One day, Archimandrite Anthony (Medvedev), a disciple of Saint Seraphim of Sarov (January 2), paid a call on his diocesan hierarch. During their conversation, Father Anthony spoke of the patristic teaching on unceasing prayer, and he may have told the Metropolitan something of Saint Seraphim. Saint Philaret felt a deep spiritual kinship with Father Anthony, who soon became his Elder. He made no important decision concerning diocesan affairs, or his own spiritual life, without consulting Father Anthony. Saint Seraphim once told Father Anthony that he would become the igumen of a great monastery, and gave him advice on how to conduct himself. It was Saint Philaret who appointed him as igumen of Holy Trinity Lavra.

Metropolitan Philaret wanted to have the Holy Scriptures translated into modern Russian, so that people could read and understand them. Father Anthony, however, criticized the unorthodox ethos of the Russian Bible Society, which was popular during the reign of Alexander I. In his eagerness to have the Bible translated into modern Russian, Saint Philaret at first supported the Bible Society without realizing how dangerous some of its ideas were. The first Russian translation of the Bible was printed during the reign of Tsar Alexander II.

Under the direction of his Elder, Metropolitan Philaret made great progress in the spiritual life. He also received the gifts of unceasing prayer, clairvoyance, and healing. It is no exaggeration to suggest that Saint Philaret himself was one of the forces behind the spiritual revival in nineteenth century Russia. He defended the Elders of Optina Monastery when they were misunderstood and attacked by many. He protected the nuns of Saint Seraphim’s Diveyevo Convent, and supported the publication of patristic texts by Optina Monastery.

Metropolitan Philaret was asked to dedicate the new Triumphal Gate in Moscow, and Tsar Nicholas I was also present. Seeing statues of pagan gods on the Gate, the Metropolitan refused to bless it. The Tsar became angry, and many people criticized the saint’s refusal to participate. He felt that he had followed his conscience in this matter, but still felt disturbed by it, and so he prayed until he finally dropped off to sleep. He was awakened around 5 A.M. by the sound of someone opening the door which he usually kept locked. The Metropolitan sat up and saw Saint Sergius of Radonezh (September 25) leaning over his bed. “Don’t worry,” he said, “it will all pass.” Then he disappeared.

Two months before his death, Saint Philaret saw his father in a dream, warning him about the 19th day of the month. On November 19, 1867, he served the Divine Liturgy for the last time. At two in the afternoon, they went to his cell and found his body. He was buried at Holy Trinity Lavra.

Saint Philaret was glorified by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1995.

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I painted this in 2010 (I believe) while still trying to teach myself how to paint icons. It was done with egg tempra on paper (as it was just for practice). The words around the border are from a poem written by St. Nikolai Velimirovich, here it is in full:

O all-praised Euphemia, holy virgin,

an unblemished offering, pure before the Lord.

Neither did she cry out nor sigh, nor did she sorrow,

but gave warm thanks to God for her tortures.

Angels then appeared to her standing in the flame,

and extinguished the embers with refreshing rain.

O such is our golden faith: invincible;

O such is the love for God: unquenchable.

O wise virgin Euphemia, virgin of Christ,

He gave you the Kingdom for your suffering.

You have boldness before the Lord and the Mother of God,

and you help them in their work by your holy prayers.

O all-blessed Euphemia, pray for sinners,

and convert them, O holy one, to repentance.

O all-praised Euphemia, holy virgin,

an unblemished offering, pure before the Lord.

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This is the first post in a new version of my “Sketching Holiness” series. I enjoyed posting my pencil sketches of holy elders and eldresses so much I thought I’d continue the series by posting icons I’ve painted over the last 12 years.


This is the very first icon I ever painted (in 2009). If memory serves this icon of Jesus Christ is based on a prototype painted by Theophanes the Cretan. I used egg tempra. Fr. John’s godfather was visiting us in Greece that summer. He gessoed the board, applied the gold-leaf and showed me how to put the outline of the image on the board. Then he showed me how to make the egg tempra mixture and I set to work.   

Disciples of the New Testament and partakers of the mysteries of Christ, as yet by calling only, but ere long by grace also, make you a new heart and a new spirit Ezekiel 18:31, that there may be gladness among the inhabitants of heaven: for if over one sinner that repents there is joy, according to the Gospel Luke 15:7, how much more shall the salvation of so many souls move the inhabitants of heaven to gladness. As you have entered upon a good and most glorious path, run with reverence the race of godliness. For the Only-begotten Son of God is present here most ready to redeem you, saying, Come unto Me all that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28 You that are clothed with the rough garment of your offenses, who are holden with the cords of your own sins, hear the voice of the Prophet saying, Wash you, make you clean, put away your iniquities from before My eyes Isaiah 1:16: that the choir of Angels may chant over you, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. You who have just lighted the torches of faith , guard them carefully in your hands unquenched; that He, who erewhile on this all-holy Golgotha opened Paradise to the robber on account of his faith, may grant to you to sing the bridal song.

-St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 1


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(Source) Saints Sergius and Herman of Valaam

Saint Sergius of Valaam founded Valaam Monastery together with Saint Herman of Valaam.

In tradition it is told that the founder, the Greek Sergius arrived from Byzantium to the north of Lake Ladoga. Initially he stayed at the island of Riekkala, close to the town of Sortavala, from where he moved to the island of Valaam. The island was an old pagan location and home to a site for sacrifice where many wise elders and local wizards lived.

Sergius settled to live in caves and a cave named Vaga became the Saint’s main habitation at the island of Valaam. From there he, without weapons and in the midst of violent pagans, preached the gospel and baptized the inhabitants of the island. Slowly a monastery grew on the premises and later it was to there the Karelian born Herman came and continued (not necessarily at the same time as Sergius) the work of Sergius. Herman is said to have been from the area close to Sortavala.

In some information it is said that the monastery was initially named Holy Trinity Monastery as opposed to the later name, Transfiguration Monastery. According to tradition the monastery was said to have been founded in the year 992, however, it’s a disputed date. The founding could have been in the 1100s or even as late as in the 1300s according to tradition. So any set date for the founding is not available. All dates are more or less a guess which the researchers are still arguing about.

According to tradition the relics of the Saints were moved to safety from Valaam to Novgorod in 1163 where they remained until 1180. At that point they were transferred in a festive procession back to Valaam and that date September 24/11 is still celebrated in the Orthodox Church of Finland as the day for return of the relics. The Announciation of the Theotokos chapel was later built out of stone on the location where the relics were received back to the island.

The Orthodox Church of Finland honors both of the founders of the monastery Saints Sergius and Herman of Valaam as Enlighteners of Karelia as well as Saints. Their day of memory is celebrated yearly on June 28. The day of memory of All Enlighteners of Karelia is celebrated on the Saturday between the last day of October and November 6th.

Translation: Jennie McElroy

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From Elder Paisios of Mount Athos by Hieromonk Isaac, p. 424

Regarding injustice, he said, “There’s a charity or foundation for everyone – the orphans, the ill, the elderly. But there’s no foundation for poor injustice. Everyone puts it on someone else’s back, because people think it’s harsh and unpleasant. But there’s nothing as sweet as being treated unjustly. The most beautiful moments in my life have been times I suffered injustice. Anyone who accepts injustice accepts into his heart Christ, Who was treated unjustly. People start arguing because everyone thinks of himself as more justified than he really is. But someone with a lot of love takes injustice for himself and leaves justice for other people.”

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From Elder Arsenios the Cave-Dweller, pp. 38-39

[Elder Arsenios’] like-minded sister, Parthena. was also tonsured a rassofore nun at the yong age of 16, at the Holy Monastery of the Protection of God at Pontos, and renamed Efpraxia…

[She] was not lacking in zeal or virtue. From many amazing incidents, I will mention only one from her first steps in monasticism.

As her parents were from Pontos, they mainly spoke Turkish and knew a little Pontian. When they migrated to Russia, Parthena [Abbess Efpraxia] could only speak Turkish well. As we said, it wasn’t long before she followed the example of her brother. So she went to the Holy Monastery of the Protection of God at Pontos.

There, however, she couldn’t speak Greek nor even understand anything from the church services. This made her very upset. One night, she saw someone in her dream who asked: “Why, my child, are you so upset?”

“You see, Elder, I don’t know how to speak, nor to read, nor to write, nor to chant.”

“Don’t worry, my child. I will give you medicine for it.”

He opened her mouth and put inside something like a lolly. She ate it and woke up. Well, from that moment, her mind was enlightened. She learned to speak, and to read, and to chant, and to understand, indeed very clearly, the meanings in the liturgical books.

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This sketch is based on a photograph that I saw in a book on St. Mary Magdalene. I gave that book away some years ago so, unfortunately, I don’t remember the details except that photograph said this was located in (if memory serves) Gera.

If someone knows where this is please share.

UPDATE: It is in Gera! A reader emailed me pictures of the book I had used to draw this image. The book is called Saint Magdalene written by Mother Suprerior Eugenia Kleidara (of the Holy Monastery of Saint Raphael).

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You can read about this elder in Everyday Saints

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From Athonite Fathers and Athonite Matters by St. Paisios of Mount Athos, pp.34-35

Fr. Tychon was born in Russia in Novaya Mikhalovka in 1884. His parents, Paul and Helen, were God-fearing people and it was only natural for the fruit of their union – Timothy [later Fr. Tychon], as he was called in the world – to inherit their piety and love of God and want to devote himself to God since his early childhood.

…Once somebody had sent him a cheque from America. As he was getting it from the post office, however, a layman saw him and was overcome by the temptation of avarice. So he went to the elder’s cell at night to rob that the elder had already given the money he had been sent to Mr. Theodoros, the grocer, to buy bread for the poor. After he had tormented the elder a good deal – he had him tied by the neck with a rope – he ascertained that there really was no money there and so he was ready to leave. Fr. Tychon said to him: “God forgive you, my child.”

The malefactor then went to another elder with the same intention, but the police caught up with him there and he confessed of his own accord that he had also been to Father Tychon’s. The policeman sent a colleague and asked the elder to answer questions, since there would be a trial for the thief. The elder was deeply upset and told the policeman: “But, my child, I forgave the thief with all my heart.”

The officer paid absolutely no attention to the words of the elder, since he was carrying out orders from above and he tugged at him and said: “Come along quickly, elder! There is no ‘I forgive’ and ‘Forgive me’ here.”

In the end, the police chief took pity and let him go back to his cell from Hierissos [a port situated outside the Athonite peninsula] because he was crying like a little child at the thought that he would be to blame for the thief being punished.

Whenever he remembered this case, he could never get it out of his mind and would say to me: “My child, those lay people who are in the world have completely different habits! There is no such thing as ‘Bless’ or ‘God forgive you’!”

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“Our thoughts determine our whole life. If our thoughts are destructive, we will have no peace. If they are quiet, meek, and simple, our life will be the same, and we will have peace within us. It will radiate from us and influence all beings around us.”

-Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica

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