Jesus Our Savior – A Sacred Image in the Iconographic Tradition

I have the happy service of presenting a new workshop to interested adults from Massachusetts and Rhode Island beginning on Saturday February 14th, 2015.

In an attempt to give everyone individual attention the class is currently filled at a limit of ten people. We will be pursuing our studies of painting sacred images in the Latin iconographic tradition. I hope to make the artists aware of the importance of studying the Latin and Byzantine origins of sacred images and its inevitable blossoming within the Greek and Russian civilizations.

The workshop will run over a five-week period, for a total of twenty hours of class time. While they will not be painting the sacred image that is found below of Jesus Our Savior, the technique that I used to paint this image will be taught to the artists. Note that the image is painted using acrylic paints; however, I have developed a different approach in manipulating the layers of the paints. This approach evolved out of studying the work of the 12th century Benedictine monk, Theophilus the Presbyter (whom I have written about in previous essays on this blog), and my own experiments over the past few years of working with egg tempera and acrylic paints.

I specialize in painting personal prayer images (9 by 12 inches, or 12 by 16 inches) rather than images that would be found in large church or chapel applications. The image found below (95% finished) is typical of my approach. It is an image that the person in prayer can relate to, yet, it also carries a sense of transcendence. This approach will be taught in the upcoming workshop. I attempt to teach simplicity in both technique and spirituality. I  avoid flourishes and excessive naturalism in facial or garment representation. In this way I have ignored the typical approach of many Latin Rite sacred artists from the mid 14th century onward. I am attempting to rediscover, or reestablish, the Latin Rite techniques of painting sacred icons. This endeavor is a work in progress!

In the upcoming workshop the students will be studying my technique and actually paint an image of St. Michael the Archangel. Upon completion of that sacred image, they will eventually move on to painting an image of the Holy Theotokos, the Blessed Mother, and then complete the sequence in studying and painting a sacred image of Jesus Christ. In upcoming posts I will be blogging about their experience and the steps that they will take in completing the sacred image of St. Michael.

My approach to the painting of sacred images in the iconographic tradition owes a debt of gratitude to my many teachers in the Byzantine and secular artistic traditions. I also owe a profound thank you to the Holy Spirit, whose grace has enabled my hands to paint sacred images. I pray that my sacred art has not offended Him. The image below appears slightly brighter than it actually is as a result of the flash.

Jesus Our Savior by Deacon Paul O. Iacono, Fra Angelico Institute for the Sacred Arts, Copyright © 2011- 2015 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

 

 

Copyright © 2011- 2015 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

The Gospel of John 1:35-42 – An Invitation to Follow Jesus

In our Gospel today we hear John the Baptist proclaim “Behold the Lamb of God.”

We see in our mind’s eye, Andrew and another disciple, probably St. John, listening to the Baptist say those words.

Immediately after Jesus walks by they look at one another and, without saying a word, begin to follow Jesus.

Jesus, sensing their presence, turns and seeing them says,

“What are you looking for?”

They say: “Rabbi where do you live?”

They didn’t presume to say, “Rabbi we want to be your companions – we want to learn from you.” Rather they instinctually knew that this man, whom John the Baptist had proclaimed “The Lamb of God,” was the Lamb of God – the promised Messiah; and they wanted to be with Him.

In what must have been an astonishing moment for them, Jesus in turn says, “Come, and you will see.”

What did they see in those three years they spent with Him? That is what John believed he had to write down.

Those three years, and then the following years of John’s own ministry, had to be written down.

Two thousand years later we experience his excitement in the short clips of his memory as we read the significant facts and unique moments of what he experienced.

For in those facts and moments are contained the unique vision of John’s Gospel and Epistles.

They proclaim his experience of the truth that the Word of God – the Mind of God – was incarnated into the man Jesus, the Son of God.

This was done so that the Father could fully express the meaning of His love and His desire to share that love with His creation.

“Rabbi, where do you live?”

“Come and you will see.”

But this is the 21st century; and many of us do not hear the call of God to “Come and see.”

Maybe Jesus is calling to us and we are too distracted, or hurt, or swallowed up by life’s events; or maybe we don’t know how to see or listen to His message, or are just not listening at all.

But the message of this Gospel is that Jesus’ call – His invitation – is always open.

He invites us, like Andrew and John, to join Him for the afternoon and share a simple meal of bread and wine.

He invites us to be baptised into His family so we can receive the many gifts He desires to give us.

He invites us to know His laughter and joy; and He invites us to suffer with Him by knowing loneliness, sickness, heartache, and loss.

“Rabbi, where do you live?”

“Come and you will see.”

Our imagination can visualize a small Hebrew home, with a low doorway so large animals would not wander in.

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We can imagine that this is where Jesus lived: in a small but adequate house on a simple Hebrew street.

Jesus, and any visitors, would have to bend down to get through the door.

We are asked to bend down, too.

We are to lower ourselves in humility, patience, reconciliation, and love.

For how are we to live with the Creator of the Universe if we are unwilling to honestly look at our own souls in the light of the One who loves us?

Ultimately, we respond to Jesus’ call by inviting Him into our heart. For that is where He truly wants to live, and rest, and share a simple meal of bread and wine.

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The above post is my homily for the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time. Year B. I delivered this homily at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Wakefield, Rhode Island on January 18. 2015 at the 8 AM and 10 AM Masses.  Copyright © 2011- 2015  Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved  Thanks to the blog Clerical Whispers for the photograph of a typical Hebrew street scene. Their site can be located at: http://clericalwhispers.blogspot.com/2012/05/exhibition-recreates-gospel-village-for.html

 

Christ in the Wilderness, a Russian Artist, and a Challenge

In the late 19th century a Russian painter, the noted portraitist, draughtsman, and teacher Ivan Kramskoi painted a haunting image of Jesus alone in the desert. It is a painting which expresses the internal struggle of the flesh versus the spirit. It portrays Jesus, in the early morning hours and the cold air of the dawn, with the sun rising over His back.

He is surrounded by small boulders and sits on a rock, hands in front of him, eyes filled with anguish and pain. This portrait of Christ in the desert is not one of victory; looking closely at His face you recognize the seriousness of the struggle and the irrefutable fact of Jesus’ humanity.

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Observe Christ’s clenched hands, gaze deeply into His eyes, and you will see the artist’s portrayal of a Savior that is already at the beginning of His ministry aware of the viciousness of the tempter and the burden of our sins that will weigh upon Him.

Kramskoi’s painting is so powerful because it shows not the physical tearing that was to come in the scourging and crucifixion, but the sensual, psychological, and spiritual battles that would challenge the mission and authority of Jesus Christ.

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Jesus had to confront, in that very first desert assault, whether or not He was going to be faithful to His mission; was He going to be faithful to the anointing that He received from the Father and the Spirit at His baptism?

The Gospel challenges us with the same questions: are we faithful to our Baptismal promises? Are we faithful to the Commandments? Are we faithful to the call that we received at our Confirmation to live and practice the truths that He taught us, not just when we feel like it, but everyday – even in the most difficult of circumstances?

As disciples of Christ we are on a daily basis constantly revolving around the axis of temptation and sin – faith and grace. We understand that temptation, in and of itself, is a test – it is not sin. It is only sin when we willfully place ourselves in its power, when we give into its power to overwhelm our body and soul, – a deadly power that obtains its animus and energy from the original tempter – Satan himself.

Christ lived blamelessly in the face of evil, but you say, I am not Christ, I am a weak man or woman, boy or girl. I say true, we all are, but by virtue of our faithful reception of the Sacraments we have the power of Christ’s grace within us.

Unlike Christ we don’t enter the wilderness of our own temptations alone. When we do face the anguish of our own sin, our own desolation in the face of Satan’s onslaughts, when we peer over the edge of the pit of sin – Christ’s witness tells us “Do not despair. Do not dwell in the pit. Do not accept the pit of sin as being permanent.” Jesus Christ tells us that He has instituted a Church that, with all its human sins and imperfections, still exists – in purity – to convey through its clergy the grace of God.

One of the first things that you notice about Christ in this portrait is that here, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, the artist has Jesus’ hands clasped together. Yet, when you walk into a Catholic or Orthodox Church, and look at the crucifix or an icon of one, you see Jesus as He ends His ministry on the Cross, with His hands unclasped, and stretched out, stretched out for each one of us.

This Lenten season we need to reach out our hands to the One, who 2000 years ago, stretched out His hands for our Redemption – and who still reaches out for us today. Reach out to Him in prayer and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and through Jesus, reach out to those around you who are suffering in the same way, and lead them back to the love of Christ.

Copyright © 2011- 2014 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Evgeny Baranov’s Miniature Icons and Rashid and Inessa Azbuhanov Icon Carvings

My sincere thanks to Jonathan Pageau at the Orthodox Arts Journal,  http://www.orthodoxartsjournal.org/, for permission to repost his wonderful presentation of the sacred icon miniatures of Russian artist Evgeny Baranov and the spectacular icon wood carvings by Rashid and Inessa Azbuhanov.

We must take care when we paint/”write” large icons, yet, to complete an icon miniature or a wood carving, with such grace and spiritual truth, demands in my humble opinion, even more skill and patience! Enjoy, and be filled with astonishment!

To see all of Baranov’s miniatures please visit their site:www.orthodoxartsjournal.org/miniature-icons-by-evgeny-baranov/ .

To see the lovely icon wood carvings of the Asbuhanov’s please take a look at the last two images in this post, if you would like to see all of their work please visit this site: /www.orthodoxartsjournal.org/the-russian-master-icon-carvers/

Miniature Icons by Evgeny Baranov and Russian Master Icon Carvers

April 9th and 10th, 2013

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Here are some of the most astounding miniature icons I have seen.  They are made by a Russian artisan named Evgeny Baranov who is also a very good goldsmith as you will see below.   These pictures were taken from his facebook page.  I have been trying to get a short interview with some more details, and my lack of Russian seems to stand in the way…  but really, the work stands on its own.

Rashid and Inessa Azbuhanov are a Russian couple who are leading the rediscovery of icon carving in the Russian Church.  Their works grace the collections of Russian politicians from Gorbachev to Putin, European royal families and church authorities from the Russian Patriarch to the Pope of Rome. 

Their works are often large and highly detailed, like wooden lace as they include much chip carving into the patterns of clothing, backgrounds and frames.   There is a certain folk aspect to their work, especially in some of the faces which do not follow the more usual formal tradition of icon carving but are often effective nonetheless.  They recently had a show of their work in Moscow and so I thought it a good opportunity to put up some of their icons.

Despite their great success, they are warm and quite generous, just like their carvings.

More pictures can be found on their website:  http://www.azbuhanov.ru/

Here  also is a detailed article on their recent Moscow show.

[The first five images below are the work of Evgeny Baranov and the last two wood carvings are the work of Rashid and Inessa Azbuhanov.]

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The Meaning of Lent: Repentance and Renewal

The following is a homily that was delivered at St. Francis of Assisi Church and St. Romuald Chapel in Wakefield, Rhode Island USA by Deacon Paul O. Iacono on the weekend of the 5th Sunday of Lent –  March 16/17, 2013.

Last week’s Gospel related the story of the prodigal son; this week the prodigal daughter stands before us.

These two people start with dissent against authority and its commands. Their actions led to life altering, almost near death experiences. They end their self-destructive journey with a conversion that speaks to all repentant sinners of the availability of the astonishing love, mercy, and forgiveness of God.

In last week’s Gospel, the merciful father pardons his prodigal son; today, God’s merciful Son pardons the sinful daughter.

Last week, the oldest son questioned the father’s reasoning; today, the Jewish elders question Jesus’ reasoning, and He responds to this challenge with questions of His own.

Jesus’ first challenge is to the mob: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

This inquisitive command forces even the most proud and dogmatic of them into uncomfortable moments of self-reflection, and to see in that mirror their own sins – which results in their silently walking away.

Then Jesus turns, and looks at the woman – twenty-four hours earlier she was beautiful and appealing. What does He see now?  A woman whose feet were bloodied from running in panic through the streets, clothes torn, hair askew, mind and heart filled with panic at her impending death.

Her defiance of the 6th Commandment was gone; as she was running for her life defiance gave way to abject terror and remorse, and when finally caught, her grief gave way to despair.

In lust’s name, she had betrayed married love – publicly humiliated and publicly condemned – she stood surrounded by the mob – waiting for the first rock to be thrown – staring alternately at Jesus and the ground.

But, Jesus’ second challenge is to the woman herself. His challenge doesn’t wound her, rather, she comes into full contact with Jesus’ Sacred Heart. His words, spoken from His heart – caresses her heart; and as their eyes meet He says:    “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more.”

Stunned with disbelief she must have stood there for a few moments, staring into Jesus’ eyes, the realization of His forgiveness washing over her – her heart filled with a new sense of hope and an overwhelming awareness of the invitation to live in His love and mercy.

The woman caught in adultery was blinded by her own lust, caught in the web of darkness she was unable to hear and speak to God, yet, what does Jesus do?

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He opens her eyes and ears; He gives her interior light; He covers her nakedness with a mantle of love and mercy and renews her ability to live a life that respects the laws of God.

At that moment Jesus blessed the adulterous woman with all the graces that are available to us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation

In the stories of the prodigal son and daughter, we have a new awareness that in our own ways, we too, are prodigals; and relief – relief in the knowledge that when we do Sacramentally repent, and attempt to sin no more, we receive extraordinary graces and the invitation to live in the love of divine mercy.

This is the meaning of Lent my brothers and sisters. For it teaches us that we have no reason to fear Christ – no reason to fear reconciliation with Him – for He freely offers us His Sacramental strength so that we may walk in His freedom, be renewed, and become more like Him.

Like the prodigal son and daughter, let us put aside our sinful ways, and grasp the hand of our merciful God in Sacramental Confession. Let us trust in Him; for Jesus’ love is vast and the waters of His mercy, to those who repent, continually refresh and satisfy our deepest longings to rest in Him.

Copyright © 2011- 2013 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. Notes on painting: The above artwork is a preliminary sketch by Rembrandt for his finished painting on Christ and the  Woman Taken in Adultery (1644). I thank art historian Gary Schwartz for providing an image of that sketch at his website: www.garyschwartzarthistorian.nl/. Rembrandt’s finished painting is now displayed at the National Gallery in London, England.  

Saints Pontian and Hippolytus and Our Call to Duty

Today we celebrate the martyrdom of Saint Pontian, who was the lawfully elected successor pope to St. Callistus during the early 3rd century. St. Pontian was considered a criminal by the emperor Maximinius and banished to the silver mines in Sardinia – an exile which meant certain death. We also celebrate today a saint by the name of Hippolytus, who was a priest in the Church of Rome at this same moment in time.

Saint Hippolytus is recognized because of his brilliance and profound scholarship. He is considered to be one of the finest theologians of the 3rd century, and is the source of the 2nd Eucharistic Prayer recited at Mass. Hippolytus’ most important work is a treatise known as The Apostolic Tradition; and scholars such as Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio, (at http://www.crossroadsinitiative.com) tell us that it provides “an enlightening and extensive glimpse into the liturgical and devotional life of Roman Christians around the year 200.” The statue found below is of Roman origin, found in the mid 16th century. It has the name Hippolytus carved into it as well as references to works of other Apostolic Fathers. The image is presented through the courtesy of Dr. D’Ambrosio.

Controversy, however, erupted when St. Callistus, was elected to the papacy. St. Hippolytus considered Callistus to be a liberal since Callistus extended absolution to new converts who had committed mortal sins such as adultery and murder. Hippolytus contested the election, violently disagreed when Callistus was affirmed, and then made history by declaring himself pope, thus becoming the first anti-pope in the history of the Church!

As a result of his action he divorced himself from full communion with the Church. When Pope Callistus was martyred, in the year 222, Hippolytus began disagreeing with his successors – the last being Pope Pontian.  Hippolytus’ theological differences and self-imposed actions didn’t mean anything to the Romans for they arrested him, too, and exiled him off to Sardinia; and there, St. Hippolytus – the anti-pope met St Pontian, the true pope and lawful successor to Pope Callistus.

In the silver mines of Sardinia, Pope Pontian abdicated his office, making way for a lawful successor to be elected, and Hippolytus renounced his anti-papacy and was absolved of his sins by Pontian. Fully reconciled they died together for the faith in the year 235.

So, what does this have to do with us?!

Our Gospel today (Matt 17: 22 – 27) provides the answer, for in it our Lord and the Apostles were confronted with the arrogance of the officials who implied they were evading the local taxes.  Jesus attempts to clarify His position not only for St. Peter but for the officials as well.

Jesus is basically saying that, yes, they must pay the tax; the reason being they must not do anything to put a stumbling block in the way of people understanding His ministry and message. Again we see Christ not getting political. He is not ranting about the just or unjust qualities of the Temple tax, or Roman occupation. He is beyond that, and demands that the Apostles, as His successors, not give a bad example to the people.

This is a lesson that St. Hippolytus, for all of his brilliance never learned. He did give bad example to the Church of Rome in declaring himself an anti-pope. His dissension and attacks were not productive or helpful in a highly charged environment which constantly witnessed Roman persecution.

Yet, St. Hippolytus ultimately saw his sin, repented of it, and along with Pope St. Pontian, did his duty and defended the true faith with his life. We must always do the same, and whatever our calling or ministry may be, we must never become a stumbling block that prevents others from seeing and believing in Jesus and His Church.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved   Images of all the popes are found in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome, Italy. The custom of having a mosaic of a deceased pope put on display was started by Pope Leo the Great.

St. Peter Chrysologus’ Appeal By Christ To Be Transformed

Today is the memorial of Saint Peter Chrysologus.

Peter was born in the late 4th century in northern Italy. In 424, after serving as a deacon and priest in Emilia, he became bishop of the Italian city of Ravenna. Little reliable information about St. Peter’s life survives, except that he successfully drove heresy and the remnants of Roman paganism from his diocese by doing two things: providing exceptional pastoral care to the people and by giving practical yet passionate sermons. St. Peter’s brief sermons were so inspiring that he was given the title “Chrysologus” which means “of golden speech.”

He was declared a Doctor of the Church in the 18th century. In order to be called a Doctor of the Church the Pope and Cardinals must agree that the individual possessed three main characteristics during his or her life: truly outstanding holiness; a depth of doctrinal insight; and a body of writings which the Church recommends to people as authentic and life giving. These three qualities contributed to Peter’s success in ministering to the people of his diocese.

Our Gospel today speaks of the tiny mustard seed growing into a large bush, or the tiny yeast germ enabling the flour to rise. This theme of transformation is at the center of the story of the Incarnation. In a homily on this theme, St. Peter beautifully describes how Jesus is able, through His two natures, to touch and transform us. Christ meets us on a daily basis in prayer, and especially through the Scriptures and His real presence in the Holy Eucharist.

By means of these two marvelous gifts St Peter explains that we are able to identify with Jesus and be converted like the mustard seed and yeast germ, into something so much greater –  we are transformed and divinized into the life of Christ Himself. In one of his homilies, he has the Lord speaking and appealing to His people. He says,

“Listen to the Lord’s appeal: In me, [your Lord] I want you to see your own body, your members, your heart, your bones, your blood. You may fear what is divine, but why not love what is human? You may run away from me as the Lord, but why not run to me as your father? Perhaps you are filled with shame for causing my bitter passion. Do not be afraid. This cross inflicts a mortal injury, not on me, but on death.

These nails no longer pain me, but only deepen your love for me. I do not cry out because of these wounds, but through them I draw you into my heart. My body was stretched on the cross as an icon, not of how much I suffered, but of my all-embracing love. I count it no less to shed my blood: it is the price I have paid for your ransom. Come, then, return to me and learn to know me as your father, who repays good for evil, love for injury, and boundless charity for piercing wounds.”

May the Lord continue to raise up men and women with St. Peter Chyrsologus’ gifts to feed and care for His people.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved.

Image of St. Peter Chrysologus courtesy of info@crossroadsinitiative.com