“The Beauty of Thy House”: A guide to the icons of St. Andrew Orthodox Church

The text is mostly written, even without a contract with a publisher. The book will be expensive to produce because its whole purpose is to be a guide to the masterpiece icons of St. Andrew Orthodox Christian Church in Lexington, Kentucky, and therefore will contain more than 50 color images with nearly 100 pages of text.  The initial concept for a brochure-size publication was just a passing notion. There is too much to fit into a handout and adequately describe this monumental work created by Master iconographer Ksenia Pokrovsky and her daughter Anna Gouriev between the years 1992 and 2006.

The text for this guide grew out of the need to educate not only visitors to St. Andrew with little or no acquaintance with Orthodoxy, but also, and perhaps primarily, St. Andrew’s own parishioners who desire a clear explanation for the subject of the icons and the liturgical and theological interplay between them in their placement within the temple.

A period of several months, September 2011 through January 2012, marked a serious effort to photograph these icons.  Many people for many years, awestruck by their beauty and content, have attempted without success to capture and reproduce decent images of the icons. The major obstacle to the task is light, not the lack thereof, but the presence of too much. First, the reflective light created by the large amount of gold covering the surfaces of the icons is extremely difficult to render without “hotspots” in the image and/or blackness.  Added to this difficulty is the blast of natural sunlight coming from the six man-sized windows, three on the North wall and three on the South wall of the nave. Because St. Andrew temple faces East, as do all Orthodox churches, sunlight floods the nave from rising to setting sun, making it impossible to manage image-making consistency.

To overcome this challenge, we engaged the services of the best art photographer in the region, Mary Rezny of MS Rezny Studio & Gallery.  The project was kicked off on September 4, 2011 when a team of three St. Andrew parishioners removed 12 festal icons from the upper tier of the iconostasis, and the large icon of Last Supper above the Royal Doors leading to the altar. The icons were carefully wrapped and transported to Rezny’s studio where she created optimum conditions for art photography.

The remaining and greater part of the project was to photograph the large murals on the North and South walls and the large icons on the lower tier of the iconostasis. The process, carried out on Monday, January 12, 2012, took more than eight hours to complete, which does not count Rezny’s editing time back at her studio, easily another day’s work or more.

Rezny’s plan for attacking the light problem was to overwhelm the light coming from the windows instead of masking it with black material or shooting the icons at night to avoid warring with the sun all together. For this she brought in her big guns, three 1600-watt-seconds lights mounted on extenders tripods that could be moved around the nave. She then built two portable 12 by 12 foot white walls out of giant paper rolls. These were used to block in the area to be photographed in order to concentrate imported light and harness ambient light to her advantage. The trick was to find the balance between the light she could artificially control and the luminescence of all that gold. Each group of murals required re-positioning walls and re-aiming guns.

The team that assisted Rezny (two persons from St. Andrew and one from St. Athanasius in Nicholasville) in moving the powerful light canons and the white walls from set-up to set-up also had to move the liturgical furniture out of picture, so to speak. Besides the baptismal font, bishop’s throne, chanter stands and lampadas, etc., the major pieces obstructing the camera’s eye were the massive oak pews that take up most of the space in the nave, which present another kind of obstacle: a barrier to the fluidity of Orthodox worship. The crew took advantage of the recent carpet replacement in the nave before the pews were bolted to the floor again. Instead of removing and returning each pew to its place, the entire row of pews in both aisles were laid down to provide a clear view to the icons. With the pews rested on their backs came a revelation: nothing is sacred or rather, even the sacred is sometimes approached irreverently. The bottoms of the pews were dotted with globs of gum in various flavor colors. As St. Peter has said, “The same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. (1 Peter 5:9)”

Now begins the task of joining image and text into one presentation.

Excerpt from the introduction to “The Beauty of Thy House”

We enter the temple from the West through a small anteroom called the narthex, which represents the fallen world and corresponds to the outer court, according to the pattern given to Moses on Mount Sinai for the tented-temple in the wilderness.  In the early history of the Church, and even during the persecutions of Christians in Russia and Eastern Europe in the 20th century, the doors of the narthex were guarded to warn of violent intrusion and to prevent curiosity seekers from disrupting the peace of worshipers.

This intimate space is for spiritual preparation to enter the nave, the second and largest unit, which corresponds to the inner court. Immediately upon entering the narthex, the worshiper makes the sign of the Cross in recognition of transfer from worldly surroundings to the abode of heaven on earth actualized within the assembly gathered for worship in the temple structure.

First prayers are said in the narthex and candles lit. Here, the services of exorcism, infant dedications, baptisms, reception of converts, weddings and funerals begin and move reverently forward through the nave to completion before the gates to the altar, the third and final partition, which represents the Holy of Holies where only patriarchs, bishops, priests, deacons and altar servers are permitted because of special service they offer there.

Mary Kathryn Lowell

Laser technology used to analyze fresco art in the catacombs of Rome has made possible the recent discoveries of the earliest known icons of the apostles Peter, Paul, John and Andrew. Our interest in these discoveries was high when the news broke during our workshop at St. Tikhon Orthodox Theological Seminary the week of June 19-26, 2011. The prototypes we offer as instructive examples and make available for students to render during our courses bear an identifiable resemblance to the catacomb provenance, which dates from the second half of the fourth century.

One of the emphases in our teaching of icon writing is that we can depend upon the share of images from the Early Church as a record of physiognomy of certain prominent persons in the gospels and epistles of the New Testament. Our conservative approach to making icons is more than nostalgia for the past; it is historical honesty.  In this regard, artists who adopt the semblance of icons to make cultural statements without interest in the authenticity of their subjects abuse the very nature of icons as witnesses of real events and real persons.

When the Church moved upstairs, so to speak, after it gained legal status with the signing of the Edict of Milan 313 AD, churches erected throughout the Roman Empire, including the Levant, Asia Minor and Egypt were packed with scenes from Christ’s life. Old Testament prophetic and typological foreshadowings of the incarnation of the Messiah were woven into the icon schema.

Throughout the middle ages and reaching into our own times, scenes like the three youths in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3) depicted in the catacombs of Priscilla in Rome were repeated in churches in Russia and Eastern Europe where it is typical to also find the hospitality of Abraham, Jacob’s ladder and many other expressions of  Old Testament archetypes.

Three Hebrew children in the flames Priscilla catacombs-Rome

Yet, the organic bridge between Jewish and Christian iconography is barely explored. The part that illustrative painting played  in the adornment of Jewish synagogues is evidenced by a huge store of examples going back to the Talmudic period that have recently been excavated in Northern Israel. Similarly, excavations of a synagogue (erected circa 245 AD) in the city of Dura-Europos in Syria reveal a worship space filled with depictions of major figures from sacred history such as Moses, Elias (Elijah)and David, as well as lessons from Ezekiel and Daniel. These panels, stylistically influenced by Hellenic and Roman models of mythical heroes, celebrate the encounter of real persons with the presence of God. Clearly, the Christian Church inherited this tradition of artistically populating Her places of worship with images that describe past events as eternally present. In fact, the oldest known Christian paintings are probably those of a house church also found in Dura-Europos.

The objective of both Jewish and Christian art was instructive but also experiential. The Jewish Dura-Europos  murals of the infant Moses rescued from the river, his encounter with the burning bush and the Exodus more than reminded the community of its origins; they built faith and reliance on God for its survival. Beyond this, the text of these images proclaimed the promised appearance of another “Deliverer”, an archetype of Moses who would usher in an everlasting and imperishable kingdom. The same subjects in Christian iconography identify this Deliverer as Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah of Israel.

Moses and the burning bush Dura-Europos Synagogue-Syria

Moses parting the Red Sea, Dura-Europos Synagogue-Syria

The painting of Samuel anointing David as King of Judea also had a messianic dimension for Jews of the Diaspora. Prophesy concerning the youngest son of Jesse, the shepherd poet, encouraged hope for restoration and salvation.

“Now therefore so shalt thou say unto my servant David, Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I took thee from the sheepcote, from following the sheep, to be ruler over my people, over Israel. And I was with thee whithersoever thou wentest, and have cut off all thine enemies out of thy sight, and have made thee a great name, like unto the name of the great men that are in the earth …  And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build an house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever (2 Samuel 7: 8-13).”

Samuel anointing David, Dura-Europos Synagogue-Syria

In response to Peter’s sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2: 40), three thousand Jews embraced Jesus as their Messiah, the Christ (The Anointed One), the fulfillment of the promise.

“Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses (Acts 2: 29-33).”

These first Christians were soon expelled from the temple in Jerusalem and their synagogues as traitors and heretics.

The mural of Ezekiel’s vision of the tombs opened and the dry bones infleshed with life again depicts the general resurrection at the last judgment. The text of the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37) is read annually in Orthodox Christian churches everywhere during the early hours after midnight on Pascha (Easter) morning. The reading is treated as a prophesy of Christ’s decent to Hades to free Adam (mankind) from the prison of death.

Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of the dry bones Dura-Europos Synagogue-Syria

Orthodox Christians churches have more in common with the interiors of third century Jewish synagogues than with most Christian denominational places of worship today, which are mostly devoid of images. Jewish retreat from depicting the human form seems quite rapid, however, after the first few centuries of Christianity. While depictions of animals, cherubim and scenes of nature continued minimally, Jewish iconoclasm for representing persons may have been related to the enthusiasm of the Early Church for artistically proclaiming the revelation of the Word become Flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. Whether reactionary to Christian iconography or a development within Judaism toward pure symbolism and decorative script along the lines of Islam, there was a span of several centuries when the imagery of salvation was common to both Jewish and Christian places of worship.

The murals of Dura-Europos synagogue would be at home in any Orthodox Christian church.

Mary Kathryn Lowell


Catacomb yields early Christian icons of apostles

The significance of the Dura-Europos synagogue

Synagogue architecture and interior design


Something beautiful happened in Maggie Valley, North Carolina last week, September 11-17, 2011, and not just in the upper reaches of the Appalachian Mountains where leaves are beginning to turn gold ocher, burnt sienna and venetian red (pigments familiar to the iconographer’s palette).  During the last session of the Six Days of Creation for this year, 19 students gathered at Living Waters Catholic Reflection Center in Maggie Valley from 11 U.S.  states, Brazil and New Zealand to learn the ancient technique of icon making in the egg-tempera medium.

As usual, our students were a mix of first timers and veterans of Hexaemeron’s Six Days of Creation courses, now in our ninth year of offering the highest quality of instruction available on the North American continent in terms of thoroughness, aesthetic honesty and faithfulness to the tradition. This is not a self-assessment (boastful effusion), but the report of many of the hundreds of students who are grateful to have found the treasure of Ksenia Pokrovsky’s teaching.

True to our motto, “Iconography is Hard Work”, lessons began after sun’s first light at 7:30 A.M. for Morning Prayer and breakfast, and continued until artificial light was switched off in the workshop studio between 8:00 and 9:00 P.M. each day (and on the last day, near midnight).  If you are searching for a workshop that advertises lessons in iconography and are shopping for a bargain, nothing can compare with having access to Team Pokrovsky with Ksenia, her daughter Anna Gouriev and Marek Czarnecki for 10 to 12 hours a day.

Now, I am boasting, but not exaggerating.  Ask anyone who has “survived” Hexaemeron’s icon boot camp where three expert instructors mother every step of the progress students make toward birthing a sacred face on a humble wood board. Ask Fr. Stuart Sellar who traveled 8,500 miles from New Zealand or Dr. Gilberto Safra who has made the 4,600 mile air-trek from Sao Paulo, not once but four times.

Icon boot camp with Hexaemeron is not all hard work; it generates a temporary community that evolves lasting family like relationships among persons who desire to enter into the tradition of the art of the icon. Part of that evolution takes place in the light-hearted comradely enjoyed after work hours in the hospitality room.  For the fifth year in a row, one of our long-time students, Fr. Alexander (Sasha) Lisnichuk, treated us on Thursday night to a concert of traditional Brazilian ballads and Brazilian inspired rhythms of his own, which he plays on his seven-string violão (acoustic guitar). Next year we hope to enjoy some of Fr. Alexander’s music played on the cavaquinho, a four-string ukulele-like instrument brought to Brazil by Portuguese explorers in the 16th century. Dr.  Safra, another member of our Hexaemeron family, presented Fr. Alexander with the beautiful little cavaquinho made in his home country.

Conversation around the hospitality tables sometimes turned philosophical. Discussions about the primitive state of iconography in America sparked many questions and concerns about how the serious student can significantly progress without structures of apprenticeship in place, such as exist under ecclesiastical guidance in Russia, and other predominately Orthodox countries. Even in our seminaries, training in the sacred art of the icon is not included except sporadically and on a very low level.

In such an underdeveloped environment, churches often yield to one of two options: importing iconographers from Russia and Greece or hiring an amateur practitioner.  We have seen many times that clergy sponsor parishioners to go through our icon boot camp in order to use them gratis as resident iconographers.

The reason given for this is that congregations cannot afford the work of professional iconographers and therefore turn to artists within their midst who will “gift” the services of adorning.  This is often the case with mission churches that may not be able to even provide a permanent space for worship. It is troubling, however, that achieving permanency sometimes means priorities favor providing corporeal comfort over spiritual essentials for Orthodox worship. Hence, the proliferation of laminated photographs substituted for icons or iconesque folk-art taking the place of works aesthetically and theologically appropriate. This mentality is so pervasive that it threatens the livelihood of accomplished iconographers and lowers expectations for and recognition of what the icon is. All of which only serves to keep iconography in the primitive state that we see it now.

Our seasoned students understand this catastrophe and genuinely desire to become equipped to meet the needs of their churches for sacred adornment. The quality work they produced in Maggie Valley is a testament to their talent and sobriety of purpose.

Again, as with the workshop held in the remote setting of St. Tikhon Orthodox Theological Seminary, June 19-25, 2011, the fundamental question of Hexaemeron’s mission is raised.  We have never claimed that the workshop model is capable of graduating iconographers. In fact, we have stated such in all our literature and in our classes. We return from a glorious six days, surrounded by the natural beauty of mountain streams and forests, happy to have reconnected with long-time friends and to have made new ones. Yet again, we are aware that we must find a way to help them become fully literate in the language of iconography in which they have invested themselves to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ by means of line and color.

Again, we turn to the Holy Trinity and ask for divine direction on how to establish a permanent shelter for the thorough training of iconographers.  Again, we find ourselves evaluating our mission after wandering these last ten years, pitching our tent where we may to spend six days providing lessons that can hardly be apprehended in six years of close apprenticeship with a master teacher like Ksenia Pokrovsky.  In a completely unforeseen way, we have become a  part of the Izograph Society of Iconographers that Ksenia and her fellow pioneers founded in Russia  in the 1980’s when making icons was a crime on par with trafficking in firearms, pornography and narcotics. Under Ksenia’s uncompromising guidance, we are helping to recover icon writing, not as an indigenous art of America, but as an organic link to the ancient tradition of iconography, a rescuing and resurrection of sublime models upon which to base what comes after us in gratitude for what we have received.

On these shores we are pioneering works of beauty for which an aesthetically and spiritually starved culture desperately yearns, though perhaps unaware. Our students’ work reminds us that God provides beautiful things in the wilderness that may someday change the world. Iconography is hard work, but Our Lord’s burden is easy and His yoke is light.

And, as Dostoevsky has famously said, “Beauty shall save the world.”

Mary Kathryn Lowell

“There is no doubt in my mind that Six Days of Creation is the best icon workshop in the country and, with the help of our Lord, we will be able to improve and expand for the benefit of all involved.”     V. Rev. D. Alexander Atty, D. Min., Dean of St. Tikhon Orthodox Theological Seminary

The Six Days of Creation icon-painting course concluded its fifth year in residence at St. Tikhon on June 25, 2011. Hexaemeron wishes to thank Fr. Alexander Atty, Matushka Olga, Fr. Nilus and the rest of the staff for a wonderful week in the Poconos at South Canaan, Pennsylvania. We are especially grateful for the cooking skills of seminarian Alexis Baldwin who was able to make us enjoy abstaining from “flesh foods” during the Apostles Fast this year (is that a sin?).

It is always a blessing for us to hold this course at St. Tikhon. It feels appropriate bringing students from all over North America there to learn the ancient art of icon painting. Many American saints walked the grounds of St. Tikhon Monastery and Seminary: Saints Tikhon of Moscow,  Nicholai of Zicha, Raphael of Brooklyn, and  Alexis Toth.  I like to believe that these holy persons are praying for us in our mission to provide a traditional Orthodox approach to the icon. At St. Tikhon, our students are able to take part in the daily schedule of Vespers, Vigil, Holy Hours, and Divine Liturgy services in St. Tikhon Monastery church. These services become the prayerful foundation for the temporary community formed by our coming together as students of the icon. The services also provide the context for realizing the meaning and purpose of the icon.  We are thankful to Fr. Nicodemus who annually leads our students on a tour explaining the history of the icons in the monastery church and the collection in the icon museum.

Our students created some amazing panel icons this year. Besides having first-time students, we have many dedicated friends who come back every year to learn from Master Iconographer Ksenia Pokrovsky. Ksenia has been restoring old icons and painting new icons, and teaching iconography for 50 years, first in Russia and now in America. Her store of knowledge and experience is a treasure that seems bottomless. Some of the work produced by students who have been participating in the Six Days of Creation at various locations over the years is breathtaking for its beauty and its spiritual grace.

Marek Czarnecki, who shares in many aspects in guiding our courses, has worked with Ksenia Pokrovsky for more than 12 years.  He has become well known as an iconographer and teacher. The value he adds to the overall success of our program is immeasurable. Ksenia’s daughter, Anna Pokrovsky-Gouirev, is also one of our teachers. Anna has been working alongside her mother for many years on commissions for Orthodox churches. Her icons are deeply moving, and her quiet teaching style communicates that depth of achievement.

This year, more than ever, we desire to begin establishing a fixed residence for our school in order to train iconographers toward certification. We see the great need for authentic training on the one hand, and on the other, the great desire for such a program.  The traveling crash-course workshop model in this country has turned iconology education into a roadside market for spiritual tourists and bargain shoppers. Students who come to us are weary of this largely ineffective method. And so are we.

Hexaemeron Inc, Non Profit Organization

Mary Kathryn Lowell

Recently I became acquainted with a very talented master of the ancient art of ecclesiastical embroidery, Olga Fishchuk.  I was able to meet with Olga and hold some of her treasures during her 2010 visit to the United States. Though I had seen examples of such work on display in museums in Russia, clerical robes, altarpieces and epitaphios, I did not know that this art was still practiced, much less, widespread, as Olga tells us in the article below which she wrote describing this exquisite art.

See more of Olga’s work at: http://helgaembroidery.livejournal.com/

Anyone Can Master the Ancient Art of Queens

(by Olga Fishchuk)

Nowadays there is great interest in ancient ecclesiastical embroidery.  Following icon painting, which is already popular worldwide, the art of ecclesiastical embroidery has begun to experience its own revival.

In Russia there are already several schools and studios devoted to this beautiful art form.  One of the very best, the Pictorial Embroidery Department of the Icon Painting School under the Moscow Orthodox Theological Academy, is located at the Holy Trinity-St.  Sergius Monastery in the town of Sergiev Posad near Moscow.  It is not large, admitting only three or four students each year.  They study and live there for four years.  I am proud to have studied at this school and worked in this studio, which is a real research laboratory of ancient ecclesiastical embroidery.

Apart from embroidery, students at the school study a number of theological disciplines:  church history, catechism, moral theology, basic theology, iconography, the Old and New Testaments, the history of Orthodox art, and others.

There are several reasons why this is the best studio for the study of ecclesiastical embroidery.  First of all, it is located within The Holy Trinity Monastery, which gives it great spiritual support.  In addition, right next to the school is a great museum of ecclesiastical art  – the Vestry of Holy Trinity Monastery.  Apart from other exhibits, it houses a supremely rich collection of ancient ecclesiastical embroidery.  Students are allowed to come and see and research these works of art nearly every day.  Finally, the Pictorial Embroidery Department belongs to one of the foremost icon painting schools, which helps it to get high-quality drawings for embroidery.

All these factors have a very positive effect on the level of mastery, both of teachers and students.  The products of this studio are always high quality, beautiful, and very authentic (resembling their ancient counterparts).  Strict adherence to the traditions of Byzantine and ancient Russian embroidery is the most important principle of this studio.  Another main principle is never to make copies of ancient embroidered objects, but to create new original works in the ancient style, using the ancient technology.

The studio carries out extensive research on works of ancient embroidery not only in the Vestry of Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Monastery, but also in various other museums throughout Russia, where there are a great many works of ancient embroidery, some dating from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.  That period is considered to be the greatest flowering of ancient Russian embroidery.  This is why the embroidery style of the fifteenth – sixteenth centuries is the favorite style of this studio.  Every summer the teachers and students spend a week or two working in some museum famous for its collection of ecclesiastical embroidery, taking pictures and making sketches for use in their subsequent work.  In this way the students have made a good number of discoveries, recovering lost and forgotten techniques and patterns of ancient embroidery.

It is well known that the materials used in embroidery have a strong influence on the final result.  Therefore we try to use natural materials, which were used in ancient times: real silk fabric and only pure silk and metal (or metallic) threads, genuine pearls and colored semiprecious stones.  In ancient times these materials were brought to Europe and to Russia from faraway lands, and they were very expensive.  Therefore, in ancient times, mostly empresses, princesses, and noblewomen practiced the art of ecclesiastical embroidery.  Nowadays, practically anyone can afford all the materials needed for church embroidery.

We often dye or tint the floss ourselves to achieve softer, more natural colors. Floss for faces is always dyed with herbs to get a cool tone for the skin color, as it is depicted on icons.

As with any genre of art, ecclesiastical embroidery has its own special figurative language.  It differs from the figurative language of the icon in that it is simpler and more laconic.  For example, ancient embroiderers most often used only two (three in the very large works) colors of floss for faces and other exposed parts of the body (light and shade).  Sometimes they used only one color for the face, but their works are no less expressive.  On the clothing of embroidered figures there are virtually no highlights.  You can see remarkable multi-colored highlights only on a few embroidered works of one ancient studio from fifteenth-century Novgorod, which belonged to Bishop Evfimii.  This studio was influenced by western embroidery art.

On ancient embroidered objects, some clothing is executed mostly with silk, some only with golden or silver threads in various patterns, and a third category is embroidered decoratively both with golden thread and silk, creating surprising textures which imitate the splendid patterns of ancient fabrics.  They are totally different from what can usually be seen on icons.

During my studies at the Department, I independently created several embroidered works and supervised two major projects:  the creation of a bishop’s miter and an ”Aer” (the cloth covering used for the Chalice and the Paten during the Divine Liturgy) with an Entombment composition.  More than five embroiderers worked on each of these projects.

Since completing my studies, I have continued to practice ecclesiastical embroidery in Kiev (Ukraine), and to teach this beautiful art to others.  You can see my works on my personal page in Live Journal on the Internet:


Researching ancient embroidery in various museums, practicing it for many years and teaching it to people, I have realized some important things:

1.  All the beauty and luxury of ancient embroidery was created essentially using only two or three generally known stitches in various combinations and patterns.  These are the stem stitch, split stitch and couching.

2.  It doesn’t take any special talents, or even the ability to draw, to learn to embroider as the ancient embroiderers did.  (Ancient embroiderers couldn’t draw by themselves, but this did not prevent them from creating masterpieces, using prepared drawings.)

3.  Any person who can hold a needle, and has just a little patience and a great desire to master this art, can practice ecclesiastical embroidery.  Even your first work – your first sampler – would be a masterpiece, which people would admire.

4.  Ecclesiastical embroidery doesn’t require the use of materials that are very highly priced, allergenic, or injurious to your health, so it is much cheaper and safer than icon painting.

If you would like to learn traditional ecclesiastical embroidery, I can teach you.

Olga Fishchuk

You can contact Olga at: 40 Yurkivska St., Apt.20; Kiev 04080, Ukraine; cell: 380 066 194-41-94; e-mail: fishchuk.olga@gmail.com; helgamailru@mail.ru


One of the sweetest men we have ever known, Fr. Seraphim Scheidler, reposed in Our Lord, January 17, 2011. He had struggled with a weak heart condition for many years. We first met him in 2003 at our inaugural icon-painting workshop in Lexington, KY. Father became a regular at the Six Days of Creation workshops, sponsored by Hexaemeron non-profit organization, and led by Ksenia Pokrovsky.

Fr. Seraphim loved the Orthodox mission in Indonesia, which he visited twice in an official capacity. In fact, he was ordained to the sub-diaconate at Holy Apostle Thomas Orthodox Church in Jakarta, February 23, 2006,  and was initially assigned to work with Fr. Daniel Byantoro, founder of the Indonesian Orthodox Church.  Fr. Seraphim’s poor heart-health held him back from realizing his desire to serve in Indonesia along side Fr. Daniel.

Truly, an un-self-conscience servant of love, Fr. Seraphim’s  focus was always on the person before him. What a shining light of kindness he was, he is, even more brightly now! Fr. Seraphim was (and is) loved by everyone who has been blessed to know him. We at Hexameron are honored to be among this blessed company. We will greatly miss him.

Memory Eternal, our dear Father and friend!

Read more about Fr. Seraphim Scheidler’s life:




Fr. Seraphim and Marek Czarnecki taking a break from icon painting, June 2005, St. Andrew Orthodox Church, Lexington, KY

A recent dialogue with an inquirer on the subject of what we teach:

Hi Mary,

Can you tell me what role the spirituality of writing icons plays in the class as opposed to the technical/artistic components?

Dear Inquirer,

I’m not sure how to respond to your question exactly because learning the discipline of icon writing is itself a spiritual discipline, one which is thoroughly integrated with the “technical and artistic elements.” Thus, we call it “sacred art” not simply because the subject of icons is sacred persons and events in the lives of sacred persons, but also because the doing of it, the act of representing sacred persons, is a sacred practice. We do not separate spirit from matter and assign different values or explanations to each as if it were a secret or Gnostic language accessible to only the initiate.

For this reason we make every effort to choose venues that provide the proper context for the practice of sacred art, that is, the prayers of the Church. Our favorite sites are monasteries and seminaries where we have access to the full cycle of prayers within the Church. This is not possible at every site, in which case we call upon a local priest to offer morning prayers before we begin our day of work.

I refer you to one of our teachers, Marek Czarnecki, if my answer has been insufficient or you prefer a more learned response.

Hope this helps, God Bless,

Mary Lowell

Dear Inquirer,

Thank you for your thoughtful question, which Mary forwarded onto me.  She is right when she says that we teach an integrated way of working. Iconography is not a style of painting, as many people think, it is a vision of reality: what the world looks like when transfigured by the light of Christ. Acquiring that vision is the hardest part of learning iconography. After that, I would say that everything is a just problem of technique by which I mean, finding the adequate way of expressing that integration of spirit and matter. Each part of the process of icon writing has a spiritual justification for its doing and nothing is just for the sake of art or technique, these are tools for the iconographer, but not the goal.

There is a reason why iconography has been preserved and nurtured in Eastern Orthodoxy. The Orthodox Church created a climate for the icon and She has never let go of it. And so we must learn from Eastern Orthodox Christian spirituality what the icon is. Connected with the act of painting an icon, we teach a fundamental theology of images: how to justify making sacred images; what the definition and purpose of an icon is, and how the icon is used in our lives. We also teach the simple practices of prayer that accompanies the making of an icon. First, is the direct, familiar prayer to the face of the saint whose image you are making, and second, is the repetition of the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have Mercy on Me a Sinner.”  We teach that each movement of the brush is a silent repetition of that prayer.

Ksenia and Anna are Orthodox, I am Roman Catholic, and thankfully we have students across all denominations and confessions. I find that when we are studying the early period of Christianity that defined iconography, that it was a deeply ecumenical and expansive time, and it created a broad, common platform of understanding for all of us.

As Mary said, we also try to work at sites that have a routine of prayer that we may enter into that ongoing prayer. While we do talk much about theology, neither Ksenia,  Anna nor I take the role of a spiritual leader, often when I have had sincere spiritual questions that were unrelated to iconography, Ksenia would say to me, “Marek, for this you must ask your spiritual father.”  Having said this, I would not be the person I am without Ksenia’s spiritual example and advice, but this is something acquired personally, not something taught as part of our curriculum. Still, every iconography school carries the charism of its teacher, and I would say that our school is imprinted with Ksenia’s sensibilities, those of common sense, practicality, historical authenticity, theological orthodoxy, scientific inquiry, open heartiness, good humor, and the discipline of hard work.

I hope this helps, if you have some more specific questions or concerns, please feel free to write and ask.

Best Wishes,

Marek Czarnecki

Hexaemeron non-profit organization announces its 2011 schedule for the SIX DAYS OF CREATION icon-painting courses, now in our ninth year of service to raising the level of iconographic training in the Americas. Yes, the Americas. We have students who join us from 37 states, Canada, Mexico and South America. Due to the many requests from our current students and from those desiring to newly enroll in the most comprehensive lessons in traditional iconography available on these two continents, we have increased the number of course venues to seven and expanded our range of outreach from coast to coast for the 2011 season.

There is no getting around it (we even have t-shirts bearing our motto of sorts), “Iconography is Hard Work!” Even so, our teachers, Ksenia Pokrovsky, Marek Czarnecki and Anna Gouriev-Pokrovsky have a clear and direct way of imparting the knowledge you need to get started and keep going. Everyone knows you can’t learn to play the piano well in six days. Neither can we teach you how to become an iconographer in six days, but we do guarantee you will get familiar with all the keys to iconography during our time together. There is no substitute for training with a true master and her team.

A student in one of our 2010 courses put it this way:

“After being exposed to two nationally known iconographers, and then coming into the workshop that Hexaemeron presented, I can say – and I am saying to everyone that asks me – the Pokrovsky approach is the best from the points of: historical approach toward the icon itself (the image must be theologically, semantically, and aesthetically correct), the materials and techniques used, ease of learning the materials and techniques, gold application method, etc.  While I appreciate what I learned from other teachers, I think that the Pokrovsky approach works the best, and I say that from the perspective of a three decade classroom teacher of history.” Deacon Paul O. Iacono, Diocese of Providence RI

Please join us for the 2011 season at one of our locations:

St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield, CT: APRIL 10-16

St. Nicholas Ranch and Retreat Center in Dunlap, CA: MAY 8-14

St. Tikhon Orthodox Theological Seminary in South Canaan, PA: JUNE 19-25

Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, KY: JULY 3-9, 2011

Christ the Saviour Orthodox Church in Harrisburg, PA: AUGUST 14-20

Living Waters Catholic Reflection Center in Maggie Valley, NC: SEPTEMBER 11-17

Oakhurst Retreat Center in Whitinsville, MA: OCTOBER 30-NOVEMBER 4


For details and registration, visit our web site: http://hexaemeron.org


Mary Lowell, organizer


Fr.  Anatoly Volgin is an iconographer and an Orthodox priest of a parish in the Moscow vicinity. He started writing icons in the late 1960s, many years before he was ordained.  Xenia Pokrovsky considers Fr. Anatoly as one of her teachers because he started learning iconography a short time before she did. Together they were among the initiators and founders of The Russian Iconography Society Izograph in Moscow and organizers of the first exhibition of contemporary icons in Moscow in 1989.

An exhibition of contemporary icons in an art museum would seem to assert that an icon is unquestionably a work of art.  This has been the attitude of our art historians for a very long time, and viewers have consequently also sought primarily aesthetic revelation, emotional impressions, and formal innovation in the icon–in other words, everything they are accustomed to finding in the works of artists.

Here, too, there is much that will disappoint us right away–repetitious subject matter and composition, familiar devices, and stylizations in the manner of the Byzantine, Muscovite, or Novgorod schools of icon painting.  Isn’t this copying? Not to mention the bright clarity of a fresh “product” instead of the familiar “noble patina” of ancient icons.  The practiced eye of art connoisseurs will undoubtedly find much else that challenges taste and disconcerts the mind.

But the aesthetic sphere is one of changing tastes and incongruent concepts of the good and the bad.  Therefore, some will take ecstatic note of the renaissance of national consciousness and true Orthodox art, others will appreciate and praise the artistic achievements of iconographers, still others will assume a fatherly, reproving tone, expressing indulgent hopes for the future, and some, perhaps, will consider all this unacceptable.

But is such an approach to the icon justified overall? The icon is above all theology.  Its function consists not in aesthetic contemplation but in participation in the act of worship, in bearing witness to sobornost (communitarian-ness) not through subjective but rather sobornyi (communitarian) experience, through the experience of saints about the highest religious truths.  And so, the significance of the icon for us can be correctly and rightfully appreciated only in these terms.

The language of the religious image and its content–that is, how and what it says–is determined by strict canons that are not subject to change and that are carefully preserved by the Church; and faithfulness to this canon is considered to be not despicable slavishness but virtue.

(To continue reading this superb article, please follow our link to IZOGRAPH STUDIO.)