The Black Mass at Harvard – Is It A Hate Crime?

News reports have been circulating the story that Harvard University’s Memorial Hall will be the site of a Satanic Black Mass on Monday evening May 12, 2014. The Satanic Mass, by its very nature, is a spiritual crime against the truth, goodness, and beauty of the Catholic Mass and everything that it stands for – specifically the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the real presence of the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

The Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club is hosting this despicable event. Its promoters and supporters know exactly what they are doing and why they are doing it, and the attempt to sugar coat this blasphemy by saying that it is an attempt to promote cultural understanding is preposterous and vile.

Reports from the Catholic News Agency (http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/priest-sees-deluge-of-support-against-harvard-black-mass/) state that “Early media reports included confirmation from Priya Dua, a spokesperson for The Satanic Temple, which is staging the event, that a consecrated host would be used. However, updates to the initial reports said that Dua later retracted her statement, saying that there had been a miscommunication and no consecrated host would be used.”

It is my belief, and the belief of over one billion other Christians in the Latin, Greek, and Russian Rites, that a consecrated host is the most sacred and precious object on earth and the “source and summit” of our faith. I do not understand, how is it not a crime if the original intent is to show a ritual that promoted the desecration of the Mass in its Word and Matter?

If a person or organization desecrates a Koran, or promotes racism or sexism would we not vociferously object and demand justice?

Would Harvard University allow a reenactment to occur in Memorial Hall in which students were shown how to desecrate a Koran, or stone  a woman because she desired an education, or bullwhip a racial or sexual minority for their culture or personal views. What’s next, a symposium on teaching the elite student body of Harvard how to tie a correct knot for a lynching?

We are not taking about an avant garde theatrical performance in which the boundaries of good taste can be obliterated and the right of free speech can be stretched. We are talking about a Satanic ritual that has for many years had the express purpose of spewing hate and ridicule against the specific liturgical and spiritual meaning and reality of the Catholic and Orthodox Mass.

Catholics in the Harvard and MIT communities and the Archdiocese of Boston are wisely protesting and engaging in prayer and witness to this affront to all Christians.

Allow me to pose two questions: What is the definition of a hate crime, and, is Harvard University, by allowing this event to take place in Memorial Hall, condoning a hate crime?

Laws.com states that a hate crime is “an intentional, deliberate, and methodically-charged crime executed in order to cause harm or damage with regard to a specific victim chosen as a result of prejudice, racism, bias, and unlawful resentment.” It goes on to say, “The following are commonly associated with charges of a Hate Crime:

a. Prejudice: Unfounded opinions that are preconceived in nature.

b. Bias: Favoritism that is not based on empirical or pragmatic reasoning.

c. Aggravated Felony: A classification of an intentional, premeditated crime that is severe in nature.

d. Defamation: The slandering or unjust conveying of libelous sentiment.

e. Ethnicity: The country or nation of origin belonging to an individual or entity.

f. Racism: Preconceived prejudice resulting from bias with regard to race.

g. Religion: The process of spiritual belief latent in an individual.

h. Sexual Orientation: The nature and particularity of the sexual attraction latent in an individual.

i. Unalienable Rights: The right of every citizen to ‘Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness’.

j. First Amendment: The right of every citizen to the Freedom of Speech.” (http://criminal.laws.com/hate-crimes)

Don’t some of the above ten articles apply to this situation?

Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants believe that the Holy Trinity is the repository of all truth, goodness, and beauty. In the Trinity’s love and mercy for humanity they have shared themselves with us through word, grace, and sacrament. The ministry, suffering, and death of Jesus Christ won for us the opportunity to be fully participating members of God’s family. Christ’s resurrection is the proof of His victory over sin and Satan. With this in mind we should not be afraid, but we do need to be prudent.

Jesus warned us that Satan, and his minions, still prowl the earth searching for souls to devour. We must be as innocent as doves but as clear eyed as the eagle. Let us pray this afternoon and evening for the Harvard Catholic Community that they may have the strength to witness, in a non-violent Christ-like manner, against Satanic hate.

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

 

Beautiful Russian Sacred Icons at the New Haven Knights of Columbus Museum

If you are in the vicinity of New Haven, Connecticut within the next two weeks take the opportunity to stop by the Knights of Columbus Museum for their magnificent exhibit entitled “Windows into Heaven – Russian Icons and Treasures.”

The Museum is located at One State Street, New Haven, and offers free admission and parking. They are open from 10 to 5 pm.

For the past year it has hosted a private collection of spectacular Russian sacred icons and liturgical artifacts. It is the finest collection of Russian sacred icons that I have observed in the Northeast owing to the fact that each of the icons and treasures are in excellent condition.

You will enjoy artifacts such as a 7th century Byzantine Reliquary (bronze, traces of gold plate, and blue enamel) and three rooms of sacred icons encompassing the portrayal of Jesus Christ, His Mother – the Blessed Theotokos, much loved saints, and angels.

Their website,  www.kofcmuseum.org/en/index.html provides a wonderful overview of the 225 pieces that are on exhibit. They mention that “few customs or traditions have endured for longer than a millennium, but the use of icons in Russia is among them. In this exhibition, the Knights of Columbus Museum is pleased to share more than examples of Russian Orthodox iconography, along with other liturgical and devotional items.

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Icons are often called windows into heaven because they are said to give the viewer a glimpse of the eternal realm. Many of the items are more than 100 years old, predating the Bolshevik Revolution (1917).

In AD 988 Prince Vladimir of Kiev converted to Orthodox Christianity, and he persuaded his countrymen and women to do the same. Thus, iconography was introduced as a means of fostering religious understanding and devotion among all the people of Kievan Rus (present day Ukraine, Belarus and northwest Russia).

The artistic traditon followed the strict models and formulas of the Byzantine Greek Orthodox tradition (these artistic practices developed in Constantinople and Greece and spread both East and West). Ultimately, the Russian sacred art tradition developed its own distinctive styles within each major city of Russia.

As a form of sacred art, iconographers historically prayed or fasted before and during the creation of an icon. Traditionally, icons were painted in egg tempera on wood and often accented with gold leaf or covered with ornately gilt metal covers called rizas. Rich in symbolism, they are still used extensively in Orthodox churches and monasteries, and many Russian homes have icons hanging on the wall in a “beautiful” (or prayer) corner.”

“Icons have been synonymous with Christian prayer and practice for centuries,” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. “One of the great traditions of Eastern Christianity, icons are less well known here, and we are pleased that this exhibit will enable residents of the Northeast to grow in their understanding of the history and religious significance of these windows into heaven.” This exhibit concludes on April 27, 2014.

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Viewing this exhibit during Holy Week or the First Week of Easter leading up to Divine Mercy Sunday and the canonization of Pope John 23rd and Pope John Paul 2 on April 27th would be of great assistance in your joyful experience of the reality of the resurrected Christ. My prayers are with you for a prayerful Holy Week and a blessed Easter Season!

Copyright © 2011- 2014 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. The sacred icons shown are taken from the Knights of Columbus website which offers a history of each sacred image or artifact exhibited.

 

 

Aidan Hart’s New Book on Sacred Iconography

The article below is reblogged from the always informative Orthodox Arts Journal. The article is the 9th in a series about sacred iconography that was written by Brother Aidan Hart, a British iconographer. Brother Hart has written extensively on all aspects of sacred iconography and has recently published a very comprehensive book on the subject called Techniques of Icon and Wall Painting. The editor at the Orthodox Arts Journal highly recommends it. Brother Hart’s articles are available at his website and he also offers sacred iconography workshops in Britain. This nine part article is well worth the effort of perusing through all of it. His series contains many gems of information that will add to your knowledge of the sacred arts. Links to his site and the series are provided for you below.

Designing Icons (pt.9): Perspective Systems in Icons [from Orthodox Arts Journal]

April 16, 2013

By 

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 Editorial note:  We have convinced Aidan Hart to post a chapter from his new book. “Techniques of Icon and Wall Painting” which is being hailed as the most comprehensive book to date on practicing the art of Iconography.  At 450 pages, with 460 paintings, 150 drawings and covering everything from theology and design to gilding and varnishing, it is a prized possession for anyone interested in the traditional arts.  The chapter being serialized over the next weeks is called “Designing Icons”.  You will see why Archimandrate Vasileos of Iviron called this book the “Confessio of a man who epitomizes the liturgical beauty of the Orthodox Church”.  More details about the book on Aidan’s website.    

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In this section, Aidan discusses the different perspective systems used in icons.

This is part 9  of a series.  Part 1Part 2 Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8

Inverse perspective.

With inverse perspective the lines of a building do not converge on a point on the horizon, inside the painting, but instead they converge on us, the viewers. This serves to include us in the action depicted. The Orthodox hymns make it plain that a sacred event in the past is still acting on us today: “Today Christ is born”, they say, “Today Christ is risen. Let us join with the angels in praising His third day resurrection!”

The Hospitality of Abraham / "Old Testament Trinity" by Fr. Silouan

An example of inverse perspective.  The Hospitality of Abraham / “Old Testament Trinity” by Fr. Silouan

Inverse perspective also gives us the sense that the persons depicted are looking out at us. It is as though the image is drawn not from our own point of view but theirs, and ultimately, God’s. We have already discussed the meaning of repentance as being a change of seeing. We could also explain it as a change of perspective, where we realize that we are not the centre of the universe, but God.

Inverse perspective also draws our attention to the real space between the image and ourselves. The emphasis is on the grace coming to us through real space, rather than us being drawn into an imaginary world or reconstructed scene within the picture. Iconography is above all a liturgical art, designed to be part of a larger sacred dance that involves the church building, the space within the building, the hymns sung within it, and the liturgical movements during services.  As Gervase Mathews puts it:

In the Renaissance system of perspective the picture is conceived as a window opening on to a space beyond…The Byzantine mosaic or picture opens onto the space before it. The ‘picture space’ of Byzantine art was primarily that of the church or palace room in which it was placed, since art was considered a function of architecture.[1]

Flatness

Icons do not attempt to create a great sense of depth. They do use enough highlighting and perspective to affirm that the material world is real and good and part of the spiritual life. Nevertheless, things are kept somewhat more on a plane than in naturalistic painting. In a group icon, like that of Mid-Pentecost for example, people in the rear will be shown the same size, or sometimes even larger, than those closer. Every person is thus kept intimate with the viewer. The mystery of the person overcomes the limits of physical space and distance.

an example of flatness. Mid Pentecost, by Aidan Hart

an example of flatness. Mid Pentecost, by Aidan Hart

Why else do icons retain this flatness? It helps us to pass through the icon to the persons and the events depicted. The aim of the icon is not to replace the subjects depicted, but to bring us into living relationship with them. This explains why statues are not as a rule used in the icon tradition. Their three dimensionality makes them too self contained. Where sculpture is utilized it is kept to base relief.

Romanesque cross by Aidan Hart

Romanesque cross by Aidan Hart

Flatness can also be seen as a intentional weakness, a deliberate imperfection that constantly reminds us that this image is not the reality but a door to its prototype.

There is also an honesty in this flatness. There no attempt to make the picture plane what it can never be, a three dimensional object, let alone the real thing itself.  Incidentally it is this honesty to the picture plane that inspired the American art movement called colour field painting of the 1940’s and 1950’s.

Planarity also gives much greater freedom to arrange things according to their spiritual importance rather than being limited to their position in three-dimensional space. The figures within the icon of Christ’s birth, for example, are often arranged in three bands to represent the heavenly, earthly and unitary realms, and also in a circle centred on the Christ child

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This symbolic arrangement would not be possible if the event were depicted naturalistically, with figures receding toward the distance.

Multi-view perspective

Sometimes a building is shown as though seen simultaneously from left and right, below and above. This helps us to see things as God sees them, and as they are in themselves and not merely as they appear from our single view-point, limited as this is to one place at a time.

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The same multi-view perspective is sometimes applied to time, where the same person is depicted more than once in the same image, such as with Christ in the Nativity icon. The icon tradition can also place an important person in an event at which they were not historically present, but in which they later came to participate spiritually. Icons show things from the view of divine time (kairos  in Greek) and not merely chronological time (kronos). One example is Saint Paul in the Pentecost icon (fig. PentecostIMG copy.tif). He was not even a believer at the time of Pentecost, but later came to be great among the apostles and a pillar of the Church together with Peter, who is shown opposite him.

Isometry

In this approach the sides and edges of an object are depicted parallel, neither converging nor diverging. This affirms how a thing is in itself, rather than how it appears to us. All things have been called into unity in Christ, and this unity preserves and strengthens the integrity of each thing, rather than reducing it to a numerical one. Unity presupposes relationship which in turn presupposes otherness, though not separateness. Isometry affirms this otherness.

An example of isometry

An example of isometry

Hierarchical perspective

Often a personage who is more important than others will be enlarged. A typical example of this is the Virgin in the Nativity icon (see Nativity icon posted above). Conversely someone might be made particularly small to make a spiritual point. The Christ Child is often depicted thus in Nativity icons, to emphasize God the Word’s humility in becoming man for our sakes.

Vanishing point perspective

Although inverse perspective is more commonly used, we do also find instances where lines converge toward a point in the icon’s distance. This is not pursued in the systematic, mathematical way devised by the Renaissance painter, architect and sculptor Alberti Brunelleschi. In fact when this system is used you are likely to find as many convergence points as there are objects. This in itself transports the viewer out of the static vantage point assumed by mathematical perspective, and presupposes instead a much more dynamic experience – surely something closer to our actual experience of life.


[1] Gervase Mathews, page 30.

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

By 

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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Seeds of Faith and Art

In our Gospel today, from St. Mark Chapter 4: 26-34, we have two important parables concerning the reign of God: the first concerns the farmer’s sowing of seed and the second refers to the growth of the seed.

When we examine the threads running through these parables we hear  Jesus explaining not only the functions that the farmer performs, but the nature of the seed that is sown, as well. This first parable is found only in Mark’s Gospel and explains that through the ministry of Jesus, God’s sovereign and all-powerful rule over mankind is made visible.

This is similar to a passage from the book of Ezekiel, chapter 17: 22-24, where we hear God asserting His sovereignty; the prophet Ezekiel concludes his passage with God saying, “As I, the Lord, have spoken, so will I do.” God is telling the ancient Hebrews that they will see what He can do – He will manifest and make Himself visible to them.

In the first parable the evangelist Mark explains that God is the Divine Sower, the Divine farmer, and that God’s power and fruitfulness appears throughout the history of the Jewish people. Mysteriously, at a time known only to God, His reign would suddenly be made visible and manifest – like a seed which was nestled in the warm soil, suddenly appearing one morning as a young shoot – ready to grow into a fruitful plant.

Jesus is that fruitful plant – that vine – that cedar – that shoot of Jesse that developed out of  the family of King David, and suddenly appeared in ministry to all of Israel.

If we are open to its influence, spiritual and natural growth in the life of Jesus Christ is the process  of entering into the rhythm of God’s beating Sacred Heart; with every beat there is growth. We may be unaware of it – but it occurs – it goes on all around us – it sustains us in our very being –  it sustains the very existence  of the universe.

In the second parable from this passage from Mark’s Gospel, we again hear Jesus speak of a growing plant and tell His disciples that the Kingdom of God works like the natural growth process of a typical mustard seed.

Jesus is emphasizing that the growth of the Kingdom of God, and the reign of God in our individual hearts through faith in Him, is exactly like a natural process. A mustard seed is small but when it matures it becomes a large shrub – and the same is true with faith.

When I was younger, my wife and I enjoyed planting a  large garden. we quickly learned that in order to have a successful garden, we needed to thoroughly pastor the soil, sow the seed in a specific way to allow it to germinate, and then water and feed the plants when they sprouted.

I mention this because the Divine Sower must also pastor the seed of faith in order for it to grow. St. Mark explains that Jesus tells His disciples that the Kingdom of God will sprout and  grow in their hearts. Like a garden, their hearts, as well as  ours – must be tilled, warmed, and watered, to receive the seed of His Son who is Sower, Servant  and Savior. Once that is done, the people of the Kingdom of God – the Church – will grow into a mighty plant, a mighty tree, one in which there will be many branches. That tree, as Ezekiel tells us, will be fed and watered with God’s graces.

So, how does this Gospel challenge us – especially those of us who are artists?

Our faith is like an unmarked packet of seeds – God sows – we grow; and sometimes we stand in astonishment at what has – or has not – taken root. As the faith of a child grows and receives the good, or, bad food that the family, Church, and society provides, he or she ultimately begins to make choices – choices which may, unbeknownst at the time, have a dramatic impact on whether their faith bears fruit abundantly, moderately, or not at all.

God is the Divine Sower of the seeds of faith. Each seed that He sows is good, each soul that receives it is good – and we, as pastors of that seed, must do all that we can to assist God in its growth in our own hearts and the hearts of those around us. If you are Christian, you may have been taught to believe that we must never tire of carefully tending the vine of faith that has enwrapped our hearts. God the Father’s witness is our model. He continuously gives of Himself to His Son, who in turn, gives of Himself to us through Scripture and Sacrament, and sends the Spirit to shower His Gifts upon our hearts.

But this blog reaches many people throughout the world. As of the last count, people in 65 different nations have stopped by and read some of these posts. I am sure that there may be many people who are not Christian who read this blog for one reason or another, Some artists may be  attracted to it because of a “prompting” within their soul to see and read about the truth, goodness, and beauty of God, others may just be curious, and that’s fine, too.

So as artists, I believe that the promptings that we follow to create something new, to experiment with color, clay, sound or image, are sprouts of the divine vine that blooms within our own soul. Our art, whether we realize it or not, is an expression of the fruitfulness of that seed that Jesus speaks of in His parable. The problem that many of us face is that we want the vine to “fruit” as quickly as possible. The virtue of Patience is an absolute necessity for the successful artist. We are not born with this virtue, it must be developed, and cultivated. How many artists have been frustrated and irritated by the fact that some thing, some person, some event has gotten in their way to start or finish a project or piece – whatever it might be. Yet, many times, it is the artist him or herself, that is the cause of the delay. For we forget that the seed, when planted, is a good seed. The concept, the idea, the score or sculpture, is a good idea – we just have to follow through with it and have confidence in our own abilities, that it will “sprout.”

So if the Lord is the Divine Sower, who has planted and enabled the seed to germinate, sprout, and take root, it is now our job – as His servants, to model His work, and tend the seed, tend the gift of our faith and our art, as well as we can; and then, know when to get out of the way, and trust God to do the rest.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved.     The painting of The Sower is by Harold Copping. Copping was a British artist who was born in 1863 and died in 1932. He was especially known for his Biblical scenes and travelled to the Middle East on a number of occasions to study the people and places of the Bible. Thanks to Bing images and Wikipedia for the reference.

Icons, Icon Painters, and Praying With Sacred Icons: PART 3

My favorite sacred icon of  Our Lord Jesus Christ is the 6th century encaustic icon of Christ Pantocrator (Christ The Almighty One) from St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai Peninsula.

This sacred image was a paradigm shift in the way early Christians viewed and portrayed Jesus Christ. This icon (shown below) is not the thin young  Messiah of the Catacombs, or the Roman nobleman presentation of the first four centuries of Church art (for examples confer Pierre du Bourguet’s book on Early Christian Painting). The Sinai Christ Pantocrator is portrayed as a robust Semitic man, who knows exactly what He is about, what His mission is, and what He expects of His followers in their living out of His Gospel life.

Interestingly, recent research has shown that when the image from the Shroud of Turin is compared to the image of Christ in this icon of Christ Pantocrator there are many points of similarity between the two images; possibly implying that the painter of Christ Pantocrator had seen the facial image found on the Shroud of Turin.

Allow me to suggest that when we are painting a sacred image/icon we must prayerfully enter into conversation with the Heavenly person we are representing, we must research his or her life, and then view what the Traditional forms of their representation has been in the history of sacred iconography.

We should then explore how we could make the truth of the Lord’s or a saint’s holy witness speak – using the language of the palette – to the 21st century. We should learn from the past, and absorb and pass on the beauty that is found within Holy Tradition.

Yet, at the same time, we need to constantly examine the work of some of the fine icon painters in the world today, people like my teachers: Peter Pearson, Marek Czarnecki, Anna Gouriev Pokrovsky, and Dimitri Andreyev. I have recently been influenced by the work of  Ksenia (Xenia) Mikhailovna Pokrovskaya, originally from Moscow, and now living in Massachusetts. Not to be missed is the work of Vladimir Grygorenko from Dallas, Texas. His sacred icons have a richness and luminous quality that is very beautiful and spiritual. We must also become familiar with the work of British iconographers Brother Aidan Hart, and David Clayton; the Norwegian Solrunn Nes, and the Russians: Archimandrite Zinon from the Pskov-Caves Monastery, and Philip Davydov and Olga Shalymova from St. Petersburg, Russia –  all of these people, and many others, prayerfully create beautiful icons that speak to 21st century people who are willing to listen. The wonderful news is that there are many sacred artists and iconographers – known and unknown – that are prayerfully engaging the ancient traditions of Catholic and Orthodox art, and prayer from the heart, throughout the world.

As we enter into our study of sacred art and iconography we need to first start with a survey book which gives us an overview of the sacred artistic tradition of the Eastern Church. We should first examine the great little book Icons and Saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church (ISBN 0-89236-845-4; translated by Stephen Sartarelli and published by the J. Paul-Getty Museum, 2004) and use it as a starting point to observe the styles and techniques of the various regional traditions over the last 1500 years.

We don’t have to “like” all the styles of the images that icon painters, from various cultures, have portrayed down through the centuries. But, we must respect their efforts because, hopefully, they were created in the true spirit of prayer, and each of them can teach us something about technique, color, symbol and theology.

When we begin our studies with a teacher of iconography, and sit down to draw the sacred image and apply the paint and gold-leaf, we must remember that we have a sacred responsibility to the faithful who view our sacred icons and images. These images must be correct from a theological, semantic, and aesthetic point-of-view. Our call, our ministry, is to lead the viewer to prayer and communion with Christ and His Saints, not to a secular admiration for an avant-garde or cavalier attitude toward our Holy Faith, or the people who died witnessing to it.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Part Two: Icons, Icon Painters, and Praying With Sacred Icons

The sacred icon is a visual aid that helps the person enter into a conversation with God, an angel, or a saint. If a sacred icon is to be painted with this purpose in mind then it it is a major responsibility of the sacred artist to construct the icon so that it may serve, rather than interfere with or destroy, that purpose. Thus, it is necessary for the sacred artist to curb the desire for ornateness, since it might detract from the prayer itself by focusing the viewer’s eyes on embellishment versus Person, or saint. 

Of all the physical features in an icon, in my opinion, the most important are the eyes. The eyes of the person represented in the icon – Our Lord, the angels, or the saints – are critical. They normally look out at the viewer. They are painted this way because icons, which should be painted in a spirit of deep prayer, are trying to establish or renew our relationship with the Heavenly person portrayed. So, as in typical conversation, we look at the person and they look at us. Yet, in many cases the eyes of the Blessed Mother, as the greatest of the saints, do not look at us; they are usually looking at her Son, or, are looking away from the viewer, or present us with  a “distant gaze.” These particular types of steady and intense looks of the Blessed Mother may also be seen in statues – especially those of medieval France. Please note the following link to an excellent site which shows some of these gazes in statues of Mother Mary and the Christ Child:

vialucispress.wordpress.com/2012/05/04/the-thrones-of-wisdom-dennis-aubrey/  By the way, I highly recommend Dennis Aubrey and PJ McKey’s site for your subscription.

Sacred icons are the traditional form of artistic expression of the Eastern and Western Rites of  the Catholic Church from approximately the 6th century on. The Western Rite moved away from purely painting sacred icons in approximately the 12th century and moved into the Gothic Period of sacred art. The Eastern Rite continued to develop its devotion to sacred icons with differences being seen within the various cultural areas of Orthodoxy – from Greece, to Serbia, Russia, Crete, etc.

As mentioned above, the use of a sacred icon is of practical spiritual value in that it is an aid in prayer. On an additional note, when we pray with a sacred icon, we are doing the same thing as when we speak to someone that we know and love. We speak to them, we may be in their physical presence, or we may be on a phone or computer connection with them, but we are with them in the sense that we are focusing on them at that moment in time – either physically facing them – or –  on a phone or computer screen. So when we pray to an icon we are looking at it in the same way we would look at someone in a face-to-face conversation; for that is what prayer is: conversation with God, Our Blessed Mother, the angels, or a particular saint.

Some people have a tendency to get themselves upset over the use of the term iconographer (icon writer) versus icon painter. The word graphein in Greek means “to write,” and it also means, “to paint.” A linguist and museum curator by the name of David Coomler informs us that in the Russian language the English word “write” is pisat, and the word “paint” is pisat. So, in Greek and Russian we have a double meaning for one word that represents both “to paint” and “to write;” however, this doesn’t transfer into the English language since in English we obviously have two different words to express graphein and pisat: write and paint.

I have no problem with people saying “I am a sacred icon painter.” The reason being – it is correct English. The term iconographer, however, is used and you see it in numerous books and in conversation in non-Russian or Greek formats. When people ask me how I identify myself – as an icon painter or an icon writer – I respond that I am a simple “sacred artist”!

Yet, we have an obligation to be truthful to our Holy Faith, so, when we paint icons we need to be attentive to and follow Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. In that sense, we are “writing” icons because we are scribing into visual form – using paint rather than just ink – the images from Sacred Scripture and Tradition. I may be breaking a grammatical rule in saying that; yet, I feel that it is appropriate owing to the nature of what we are trying to do in painting sacred icons.

May I suggest that as icon painters we must be conscious of the truth that the images that we copy of Our Lord, Our Blessed Mother, the angels, and the saints (saints prior to the 14th century) were and are built on our human imagination, for we do not have an actual authentic portrait of Our Lord, or Our Blessed Mother. There is consensus that St. Peter had a full head of hair and full beard, while St. Paul had a bald or balding head and full beard. I can say that because recent archaeological discoveries in Rome have continued to show those pictorial images for these two saints.

Still, that being said, we cannot be absolutely sure of this because we have no photographs, or, first century portraits of them; but, we do have a sacred tradition that portrays them that way; but this is not true for many of the saints – unfortunately, we just don’t know what they looked like. So we have to be very careful in our portrayal of saints, and remember, that basic cultural and historic research will help us in painting a quality sacred icon or image.

The above photo shows a recent interesting archaeological discovery that occurred in June 2010: The link below shows the cameraman filming  paintings of some of the earliest known images of the Apostles Peter and Paul (these ceiling paintings date from between AD 350 and 400) in a catacomb located under a modern office building in Rome. The images were uncovered using lasers and were under thick deposits of calcium carbonate. ((AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito)) Click on this link below to see more photos:

http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2010/06/22/ancient-icons-apostles-peter-paul-rome/#ixzz1voqaPpKJ  Thanks to this site for the information.

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