The crucial moment has come. I am putting the finish coat on Jesus Blesses the Children. This final coat consists of the traditional olifa, a mix of warm oil poured onto the painted board. The oil seeps into the pigments, making the colors rich and deep and glowing. Picture a small dull-colored stone, which upon being tossed into water, reveals nuances and brilliant color that were not evident before. The oil will reveal the many layers of the paint, making them permanently brilliant, in much the same way the pebble becomes more beautiful to the eye. The terror part is this: sometimes the paint has not yet cured (hardened off) or was improperly mixed, and it lifts with the application of oil. There is no warning if this might happen. And this is the final step, after months of painting and work. It can all be ruined at the last moment.
I took a deep breath, whispered a fervent prayer–and poured on the oil. Everything looks stable. So far, so good. The oil is thick, almost 1/4 inch of it. I rub it in with my fingers. It soaked for about 6 hours, under a sheet of saran wrap to keep dust and dirt out. I begin to carefully wipe off the excess olifa with my hand. Extra oil is rubbed in to any dry spots. Ahh. All of the pigments are holding. The colors shine like jewels, and all details are preserved. Praise God for this small blessing! Once all areas have been smoothly oiled, excess olifa is again wiped off, until only a thin sheen remains. Then the board is put into a lidded box to dry, again protected from dust. It will dry in 4 to 6 weeks, and the protection afforded by the olifa is permanent. The icon will be waterproof, and safe to touch and venerate.