I am participating in an icon workshop this week. Lectures, slides, and the slow process of learning how icons are painted, by painting one yourself under the guidance of an accomplished master. My experience is that you very quickly see that here you can only be pupil (at least at this stage of my life).
A small but interesting point worth sharing this evening, is in the process of writing or painting the icon itself (both terms are used – some stages are far more like writing, indeed). It is the quiet instruction that as you work, pray, but also remember to pray to the saint or to Christ – whomever you are painting – asking for help. There is a relationship that is going on as part of the acting of painting itself.
I am working on an icon of St. Gregory Palamas, a 14th century saint, of tremendous importance theologically. He was given to me to paint, because the model I’m working on has primarily the face – and I’m simply not ready to learn much else. It is a good place to start.
I find myself praying (as directed) and also apologizing frequently for my mistakes. And thinking often of both the theology St. Gregory taught, but also about the history of my encounter with him and his writings. They go back to the first Orthodox book I ever read. Thus it is not ironic, but simply proper that the first saint whose writings played a role in my life and my conversion is also the first to teach me how to present him to the world in the medium of iconography. Slowly I find that painting is like cleaning a window – removing what prohibits me from seeing the icon – but with an increasing awareness that the icon sees me.
I have found prayer with icons, through the years, to have much of this same experience. I simply have gotten to know the saint in the icon as they have become part of my prayer world. These are the people I pray with, like other parishioners in my parish – only they pray for me always – and I find that there is nothing I can do for them – other than to let them be who are what they are – saints in the midst of us.
I have to return to my work. May God bless.