I was fortunate to attend Archbishop Vlazny’s blessing of two large icons–the Annunciation and the Anastasis (Resurrection)– at Resurrection Catholic Church in Tualatin several weeks ago.
The icons are the second and third of a series of five icons created for this beautiful church, the first being the large crucifix, with icons of Our Lady and St. John to the side. They were written by one of my teachers, Mary Katsilometes. Now she has begun one of the Feast of Pentecost. The new icon is huge: 12 x 17 feet, if I remember correctly. I hope to have the opportunity to join her one day soon to observe, pray, learn and perhaps help out in some small way with this project.
There was an article about the project in our archdiocesan newspaper, the Catholic Sentinel. I want to share with you some excerpts from this article:
Mary Katsilometes climbs the scaffold in the vestibule of Resurrection Church four mornings a week, just as she has for the past four years. For her, every day is Lent and a prayerful preparation for the raising up of a completed icon. It is also a step forward in the revival of an ancient art form.
” The theology of the icon is being reclaimed by the western church worldwide,” said Katsilometes. “You always find icons in Eastern Orthodox churches, of course, but to find one done on a 16-foot panel in egg tempera for a Latin Rite church is quite unusual. Usually you see depictions this large in fresco.” . . .
The fourth (icon), depicting Pentecost, sits unfinished on a gigantic easel in the vestiblue, where Katsilometes writes the icon according to a canon of ancient artistic techniques. The entire icon must be meticulously drawn to scale before the first brush stroke is applied. She mixes her own egg tempera, a combination of natural pigments, egg yolk, and vinegar. Katsilometes is in the forefront of efforts to revive authentic iconography. Traditional iconography began to wane in the Eastern church in the 17th century with the reign of Peter the Great, who was enamored of all things western. Looking to the west for inspiration, artists all but abandoned the spiritual and aesthetic discipline of writing icons . . . The Russian Revolution drove Russian artists to Paris, where they sought to revive the ancient art form–an effort that continues today.
“In the West there is often the assumption that the icons were produced by people who just didn’t know how to draw,” she mused. “They see the icons through western eyes, not realizing that every detail of an icon follows strict guidelines and has symbolic meaning. . . . The icon is coming back into both Catholic and Protestant churches, but the western eye is not trained to look for authenticity,” she said.
The icon is rooted in the dogma of the Incarnation, of God made man, Katsilometes says, and the true author of the icon is the Holy Spirit. “That’s why the icon is not signed on the front. My job is to show up with my time and talent, and surrender to the prayer made visible in the icon. This is not just my prayer but the prayer of the community. . . “
You can see more of Mary Katsilometes’ iconography here.