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Archive for the ‘Sketching Holiness’ Category

agios panteleimon

I started painting this icon of the Greatmartyr and Healer St. Panteleimon in 2011 with egg tempra. Circumstances were such that Fr. John and I were given hospitality at a women’s monastery for a number of weeks that summer. Although I had been painting icons for years (having initially started with egg tempra) I mostly painted with acrylic. Gerontissa suggested I practice with egg tempra while I was with the nuns who could help instruct me.

Fast-forward to 2020 and I finally finished the icon. However, lacking the necessary supplies, instead of finishing it with egg tempra I used the acrylic paint I had on hand. He was always intended to be a present for my mum (a nurse); it just took nine years for me to finish his icon to give him to her.

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I painted this icon in 2019 with acrylic. This icon’s design was based on a few different mosaics that still exist of St. Perpetua, a 2nd century martyr from Carthage in northern Africa. Like St. Alexander the Solider I sketched an image of her and then painted the icon. This time, however, I at least could find mosaics of her to base my icon on.

From the Passion of St. Perpetua:

The young catechumens, Revocatus and his fellow-servant Felicitas, Saturninus and Secundulus, were apprehended. And among them also was Vivia Perpetua, respectably born, liberally educated, a married matron, having a father and mother and two brothers, one of whom, like herself, was a catechumen, and a son an infant at the breast. She herself was about twenty-two years of age. From this point onward she shall herself narrate the whole course of her martyrdom, as she left it described by her own hand and with her own mind.

While says she, we were still with the persecutors, and my father, for the sake of his affection for me, was persisting in seeking to turn me away, and to cast me down from the faith —’Father,’ said I, ‘do you see, let us say, this vessel lying here to be a little pitcher, or something else?’ And he said, ‘I see it to be so.’ And I replied to him, ‘Can it be called by any other name than what it is?’ And he said, ‘No.’ ‘Neither can I call myself anything else than what I am, a Christian.’ Then my father, provoked at this saying, threw himself upon me, as if he would tear my eyes out. But he only distressed me, and went away overcome by the devil’s arguments. Then, in a few days after I had been without my father, I gave thanks to the Lord; and his absence became a source of consolation to me. In that same interval of a few days we were baptized, and to me the Spirit prescribed that in the water of baptism nothing else was to be sought for bodily endurance.

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my st. anthony icon

I painted this icon of St. Anthony in 2018 with acrylic. The fun part about this icon is: 1.) It’s a replica of the icon of St. Anthony on the wall of our parish church in Thessaloniki (named in honour of St. Anthony the Great), and 2.) The hard canvas it’s painted on (I don’t know it’s proper name) was an early Christmas present from our friends in West Virginia. I painted St. Anthony on it rather quickly to give it to them for their Christmas (Old Style) the same year – the best kind of “re-gifting”. Of all the icons I’ve ever painted I think he may be my favourite.

A friend once asked the reason I paint some icons with blue backgrounds. This is because tyhografies (wall-paintings) in churches in Greece are painted on blue backgrounds and so if the prototype I am copying from has a blue background I usually paint a blue background as well.

Three Fathers used to go and visit blessed Anthony every year and two of them used to discuss their thoughts and the salvation of their souls with him, but the third always remained silent and did not ask him anything. After a long time, Abba Anthony said to him, ‘You often come here to see me, but you never ask me anything,’ and the other replied, ‘It is enough for me to see you, Father.’

 

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St. Gregory the Theologian, painted with acrylic on canvas. Of the four hierarchs I painted, St. Gregory is my favourite. I like how his vestments turned out and especially his expression. I find he conveys a look of reverent compassion.

(Source) Gregory was born in Nazianzus of a Greek father (who later became a Christian and a bishop) and a Christian mother. Before his baptism, he studied in Athens with Basil the Great and Julian the Apostate. Gregory often prophesied that Julian would become an apostate and a persecutor of the Church, and this actually happened. Gregory’s good mother, Nonna, had an especially great influence on him. When he had completed his studies Gregory was baptized. St. Basil consecrated him as Bishop of Sasima, and Emperor Theodosius the Great summoned him to fill the vacant archiepiscopal throne of Constantinople. He wrote numerous works, the most famous of which are those on theology, for which he is called the Theologian. Especially known, because of its depth, is his work Homilies on the Holy Trinity. Gregory wrote against the heretic Macedonius, who erroneously taught that the Holy Spirit is a creation of God. He also wrote against Apollinarius, who erroneously taught that Christ did not have a human soul, but that His divinity was in lieu of His soul. Additionally, Gregory wrote against Emperor Julian the Apostate, his one-time fellow student. In 381, when a debate began regarding his election as archbishop, he withdrew on his own and issued a statement: “Those who deprive us of our archiepiscopal throne cannot deprive us of God.” Afterward he left Constantinople and went to Nazianzus, and there he lived a life of solitude and prayer, writing beneficial books. Although he was in poor health throughout his entire life, Gregory nevertheless lived to be eighty years old. His relics were later transferred to Rome. A reliquary containing his head reposes in the Cathedral of the Dormition in Moscow. He was, and remains, a great and wonderful light of the Orthodox Church, as much by his meekness and purity of character as by the unsurpassable depth of his mind. He reposed in the Lord in the year 390.

 

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Also completed in 2018, St. John’s vestments were painted in orange and blue to go with St. Gregory the Theologian who I painted with the same colours but different parts of the vestments so the saints both compliment and contrast one another. As I said before, I wanted the icons of the Hierarchs to look like a set but also have distinct qualities for each.

I really enjoyed painting these icons. This was the first time I painted a set; it’s why it took me one year to complete them, because there are four.

Here is a quotation from St. John’s Third Homily on the Acts of the Apostles. It highlights why we ought to frequently pray for our Bishops, the Shepherds of our Church, for their burden is great:

Did you but know that a Bishop is bound to belong to all, to bear the burden of all; that others, if they are angry, are pardoned, but he never; that others, if they sin, have excuses made for them, he has none… So it is, the Bishop is exposed to the tongues of all, to the criticism of all, whether they be wise or fools. He is harassed with cares every day, nay, every night. He has many to hate him, many to envy him. …The soul of a Bishop is for all the world like a vessel in a storm: lashed from every side, by friends, by foes, by one’s own people, by strangers. Do you not see what a number of qualifications the Bishop must have? To be apt to teach, patient, holding fast the faithful word in doctrine… What trouble and pains does this require!

 

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Started in 2017 and finished in 2018, along with the three other Hierarchs (Ss. John, Gregory and Athanasius), this icon was painted with acrylic on canvas. He was initially painted to hang on the wall of the altar in our domestic chapel but was then placed on the altar wall of Holy Lady of Vladimir Mission during the 1+ year the Mission rented a townhouse and transformed the very large living room into a chapel.

As I previously stated, I really like a lot of colour, so rather than paint the four Hierarchs simply in opposite blues and reds (as seen here) I paired them in red and green as well as orange and blue. St. Basil’s vestments were painted predominately in green with red as an accent colour and St. Athanasius’ vestments are predominately red with green as an accent colour. Ss. Gregory and John’s vestments were painted in orange and blue: St. Gregory is predominately in blue with orange as an accent colour and St. John was painted predominately in orange with blue as an accent colour.  I am happy with the way they turned out and since they were initially intended for our private chapel I was happy to adorn the Holy Hierarchs with such vibrant vestments – each alike but distinct, just like the four saints depicted.

A letter from St. Basil the Great to his friend and companion St. Gregory the Theologian, Letter 2:

I recognised your letter, as one recognises one’s friends’ children from their obvious likeness to their parents. Your saying that to describe the kind of place I live in, before letting you hear anything about how I live, would not go far towards persuading you to share my life, was just like you; it was worthy of a soul like yours, which makes nothing of all that concerns this life here, in comparison with the blessedness which is promised us hereafter. What I do myself, day and night, in this remote spot, I am ashamed to write. I have abandoned my life in town, as one sure to lead to countless ills; but I have not yet been able to get quit of myself. I am like travellers at sea, who have never gone a voyage before, and are distressed and seasick, who quarrel with the ship because it is so big and makes such a tossing, and, when they get out of it into the pinnace or dingey, are everywhere and always seasick and distressed. Wherever they go their nausea and misery go with them. My state is something like this. I carry my own troubles with me, and so everywhere I am in the midst of similar discomforts. So in the end I have not got much good out of my solitude. What I ought to have done; what would have enabled me to keep close to the footprints of Him who has led the way to salvation— for He says, If any one will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow meMatthew 16:24 — is this.

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St. Alexander the Solider of Egypt, painted in 2017. One of the boys in our parish is named for this saint but the family never managed to find an icon of him. I did research, read as many versions of his life as I could find, and consulted my iconography teacher about how to go about painting an icon with no prototype to follow. With much prayer and trepidation I sketched an image of the saint and painted this icon of him.

I’m happy with the way he turned out. However, I think the proportions are slightly off. I hope the saint doesn’t mind too much I may have made his torso a little too long  and his hands a little too small. Then again, who knows, maybe he had small hands and a long torso.

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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Painted in 2014 or 2015, with acrylic on canvas. St. John’s hair and beard are my favourite of all the hair and beards I’ve painted.

The style of St. John’s vestments is called polistavroi. In the post about St. Gregory Palamas’ icon I talked about this technique (which I didn’t know back then). My iconography teacher taught me how to do it in 2012 when I painted Christ the High Priest (a portion of his garments were done with this same technique). I fell in love with this technique and have since used it multiple times. 

To accomplish a cohesive look (so the folds of the garments flow as if it’s one piece of fabric) you must first paint the garment in one solid colour from start to finish – here I did it in blue. I used four shades of blue (darkest to lightest) and on top of each little section that was to become a red cross I applied the corresponding red shade (darkest red on the darkest blue part, and so on.) Perhaps my explanation is confusing but that’s how you do it.  Polistavroi is a pattern on vestments often seen in Byzantine icons.

Sanctity is not just a virtue. It is an attainment of such spiritual heights, that the abundance of God’s grace which fills the saint overflows on all who associate with him. Great is the saint’s state of bliss in which they dwell contemplating the Glory of God. Being filled with love for God and man, they are responsive to man’s needs, interceding before God and helping those who turn to them. -St. John Maximovitch

What I love most about that quotation is St. John describes the effect he himself has on others as a result of his own sanctity!

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I painted this icon in 2015 with acrylic on canvas. St. John’s face is my favourite face I’ve painted. I see now that I could have done more with the beard, but I love his face. I sent a picture of this icon to my teacher in Greece and he told me, “I see you kept something of my style in the eyes.”

This icon was a present for Fr. John for Christmas that year as St. John the Theologian is his patron saint.

Fun fact: Greeks who are named Ioannis (John) almost universally celebrate their names’ day on the feast of St. John the Forerunner. It was very common to have friends call to wish Fr. John ‘Many Years’ on January 7. But, his name’s day is in fact September 26, the primary feast of the St. John the Evangelist/ Theologian.    

This is my favourite story of St. John the Theologian:

(Source) Somewhere in Asia Minor, Saint John the Evangelist had baptized a young man who’d been a pagan, and he confided him to the care of the local see while John himself went off to preach. But in John’s absence, the young man went to the bad: he started drinking and stealing; he became a member of a gang of robbers who had a lair in the woods, attacked people and robbed them of all they had. When John returned shortly afterwards, the bishop told him what had happened to the young man. Without wasting any time, the apostle found a horse and guide and set off for the forest where he would encounter the robbers.

After a search, the saint found them and came face to face with the leader of the gang. No sooner did the young man recognize John than he ran off to hide. Despite his advanced years, John chased after him and managed to catch him. The young man fell at the feet of the saint, covered in shame and unable to look him in the eyes. John embraced him and kissed him, as a shepherd would a lost sheep. The saint brought him back into the town, confirmed him again in the faith and strengthened him in a life of virtue. Having become pleasing to God, after a time the man went to his rest in the Lord.

Saint John the Theologian was more than one hundred years old when he departed to the Lord. When his disciples opened his grave, they found no body. On May 8 every year, a fine, fragrant dust with powers of healing rose from the grave.

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St. John the Dwarf (also known as Abba John), painted in 2014 with acrylic on canvas. A friend named in honour of the saint commissioned this icon. I was unable to find a prototype icon to base my painting on. However, I did find a black and white sketch by Photios Kontoglou (a renowned Byzantine iconographer) – you can find it below. For this reason I found it a challenge to paint the saint since the prototype  I was working from was not in colour. I did my best. I also tried using a new gold leaf product. It was awful and I never used it again after this. Despite those challenges it was special to paint a saint many have been influenced by but few have seen depicted in icons.

Abba John the Dwarf: small of stature, spiritual giant. You can read all about him in a volume of the Desert Fathers posted online HERE

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From The Desert Fathers:

V.xi. 15. There was an old man in Scete who had great physical stamina, but was not very good at remembering anything. He went to abba John the Dwarf and asked him about forgetfulness, listened to what he had to say, went back to his cell and couldn’t remember a thing of what abba John had said. He went back and asked again, listened and likewise returned, and still couldn’t remember a thing once he had got back to his cell. He did this several times, but still could not master his forgetfulness. At last he came again and said, “Do you know, father, I have forgotten again what it was you said to me. I don’t want to be a nuisance to you. I won’t come again.” Abba John replied, “Come, light this lantern (or ‘candle’) for me.”  And he did so. “Bring another lantern,” he said, “and light it from this one.”  And he did so. “Is the light of the first lantern any the less,” he asked, “because you have lit another lantern from it?”  “No”, was the reply.  “Nor is John any the less,” said John, “even if all of Scete came to me. Nor could that separate me from the love of God. So come whenever you like, don’t hesitate.” And so by their mutual forbearance, God did take away the old man’s forgetfulness. But this was the way they carried on in Scete, encouraging those who were beset by any kind of passion whatsoever and making demands on each other to their mutual advantage.

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