“It is the task of the iconographer to open our eyes to the actual presence of the Kingdom in the world, and to remind us that though we see nothing of its splendid liturgy, we are, if we believe in Christ the Redeemer, in fact living and worshipping as “fellow citizens of the angels and saints, built upon the chief cornerstone with Christ.” -Thomas Merton
We finished hosting several iconography workshops here last month at OQ as a unique opportunity for the interested to study with two preeminent European iconographers of our day, Anton and Ekaterina Daineko (www.ikona-skiniya.com) of Belarus. It was a blessing to be part of an international gathering of Christian artists — both Orthodox, Protestant and Catholic — and to hear stories of our collective creative calling, affirming the icon as a unique means to initiate people into the eternal and divine realities of our common faith.
These experiences were not only an encouragement to the students who came, but a critical witness to the greater evolution of artistic progress in the underserved arena of iconography in the United States. It gave opportunity to explore and understand the icon through its creative process as a sacramental tool of prayer meant to aid us on our spiritual journey. Icons bear the ability to hold a special place in the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church — and present a timeless contemplative beauty that endures as a spiritual compass gently reminding and pointing us home.
Iconography needs an opportunity to be skillfully re-introduced to contemporary artists of faith, as well as become more familiar as a tool of prayer to Christians unfamiliar with its original intentions. The slow and deliberate process allows one the time and space to be present with the subject matter, and is a spiritual gift in and of itself.
“He is the image [Greek: ikon] of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” – Col 1:15
The icon can allow us unique contemplative manifestations of spiritual growth, providing a perfect counterbalance to the fast-paced and over-sensory modern lives we lead. Training both artists and non-artists (indeed we welcomed many who had never held a brush in their hand) in the process of writing an icon is a valuable experience that reinforces the importance of this unique prayerful experience in our contemporary lives and culture, something that we shouldn’t overlook or undervalue.
A good icon should always be a work of beauty, as beauty itself bears witness to God. They are works of theology written in line, images and color, and aim to transform the viewer, pointing always towards the recovery of wholeness…of oneness with God.
I’m convinced that with the current shift and stretch of the times into new technological frontiers, we need the peace and purity of the icon now more than ever.
(Of course, I say this as an emerging Catholic iconographer who both deeply hopes to affirm the value of learning this practicum while also heralding the re-introduction and artful education of the icon — not as simply something ancient for our Orthodox brothers and sisters, but for us as collective Christians to boldly claim as our rightful inheritance).
I believe all who came to the workshops were blessed to to have been able to immerse fully in the making of beauty, refining or learning for the first time the ability to skillfully open and make the beautiful manifest. This time at OQ was a rare dedicated time spent equipping artists of faith to excel in their creative and spiritual callings — a time graced with helping us pave the way towards reclaiming the icon and the importance of contemplative spiritual pursuit.
Here below are some of the human “icons” with their icons created during the workshops (the most beautiful reflection of the joy of the experience!):
“Imprint Christ onto your heart, where he already dwells. Whether you read about him in the Gospels, or behold him in an icon, may he inspire your thoughts, as you come to know him twofold through the twofold experiences of your senses. Thus you will see through your eyes what you have learned through the words you have heard. He who in this way hears and sees will fill his entire being with the praise of God.” –St. Theodore the Studite
With days spent in quality hours with the Dainekos, they were able to share their artistic gifts as modern day iconography masters, and give valuable opportunity to glean critical techniques and theology from these gifted teachers. We need more creative and high quality teaching in this field to evolve the living tradition and allow it to more readily enter into the mainstream of our daily lives. Without a doubt, through time spent learning this distinct spiritual artistic practice we can affirm the importance of a prayerful life and address the need for inspiring and accessible contemplative opportunities in our busy lives. Herein lies the timely value of icons — drawing us into critical stillness and slowness in our lives so we can hear the voice of God, rendering us vulnerable to the very heart of the message of the gospel.
Stay tuned for 2017 workshops!