Icons, and words from my teacher

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.

Resurrection icon written by Mary Katsilometes

Resurrection icon written by Mary Katsilometes

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.

unfinished icon of Pentecost, written by Mary Katsilometes

unfinished icon of Pentecost, written by Mary Katsilometes

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. . . “

Resurrection church with icons

Resurrection church with icons

You can see more of Mary Katsilometes’ iconography here.

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About reinkat

I am an iconographer, and have been studying Russian/Greek icons since 1995. I'm married with 3 children. I love hiking, camping, animals, my family and church--and icons.
This entry was posted in art, Catholic icons, Catholicism, Icon, Iconography and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Icons, and words from my teacher

  1. SR says:

    This took my “breath” away. I am speechless, for a change. 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing all of this and I will be back later to read all the articles. This is amazingly beautiful to me! God Bless, SR

  2. When I read one of your posts, I notice that when talking about the making of the icon, you use the word “write” whereas someone not knowledgeable in icons might use the words “draw” or “paint’. The word “write” teaches me that through the symbolism in the icon, an iconographer is creating a prayer. I didn’t know that until I started following your blog.

    • reinkat says:

      The word “write” is used also because an icon is the Gospel told in line&color rather than words. The doctrines and truths taught through the icon are considered to be the equivalent to the Gospels, in Orthodox beliefs. Hence the lack of artist’s interpretation and subjectivity in the images.
      thanks so much for the comment

  3. Very beautiful work, thank you for sharing this and for the link to her site.

  4. SR says:

    I went to Mary’s Gallery and viewed some of her icons. I think the Transfiguration was my favorite. How I had to stare at that one! Why do you not start a “gallery” on your blog! I think that would be great! Of course in me saying that I am not the one who is doing it. 🙂 It was awesome, as all of yours are! God Bless, SR

  5. Stunning! So beautiful. Just wondering where the Tabernacle is located in this church?

  6. lilyboat says:

    The icon is beautiful and the church is beautiful. What a blessing to have witnessed the blessing of such beautiful works!

  7. geloruma says:

    Gorgeous work,
    I was with her until I read this though…
    “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…
    This is an inherent propaganda that the West cannot produce Icons that have an authentic religiosity or excellence. It is helps to maintain a cultural barrier between the churches. That kind of thinking drives me nuts! No one has the monopoly on God.
    The secular world looks at any religious art, (even that of the west) in this way, that the artists didn’t know how to draw…( i.e. illuminated manuscript such as the book of Kells)
    Religious artists, and those with an appreciation for history on the other hand, usually have some kind of understanding of symbolism and use of conceptual perspective within religious art.
    The following image is one I thought a bit chocolate boxy, but it is apparently Miraculous…isn’t this symbolic – after all who can float on a cloud? http://immaculata.ch/index_2006_05_25.htm
    Here endeth my rant!

  8. reinkat says:

    Hey geloruma, thanks for this really thought-provoking comment. There is so much to respond to, and to think about (including the fact that since I took excerpts from a longer article I might have put some of this out of context). I think I would prefer to respond via another post, exploring this idea further, with illustrations to help clarify what is meant by her statement as I understand it. Please give a bit of time to collect my thoughts and collect some visuals, and thanks again for taking time to dialog about this statement.

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