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“Traditional ecclesiastical pictorial embroidery is a unique art form. In the Middle Ages it was as popular as icon painting. Embroideries were favorite collector’s items and can be found in museums all over the world. Nowadays, very few people, mostly found in Russia and the Ukraine, master and practice this painstaking and time consuming hand work. Fast and cheap machine embroidery is replacing unique hand work all over the world. Therefore, it is of great importance to support, develop and spread the art of ecclesiastical pictorial embroidery in ancient style.” Dr. Inge Wierda, an art historian and Russian art specialist who teaches at several universities in the UK and the Netherlands.

Dalmatic of Charlemagne, the 14th century work of Constantinopolitan artists

Read about the efforts of Olga Fishchuk, a master embroiderer from the Ukraine, to “spur a revival of the ancient art of ecclesiastical pictorial embroidery.”

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Since 2003 Hexaemeron has been an itinerant school of ecclesial arts. We will celebrate our tenth anniversary in Sao Paulo, Brazil, January 20-26, 2013. As our reach has lengthened to include venues in the western United States and South America, our curriculum has broadened to include ecclesial embroidery and icon carving. Our first course in ecclesial pictorial embroidery, taught by master embroiderer Olga Fishchuk, is scheduled for late September 2012 in Maggie Valley, North Carolina. Our first course in icon carving, taught by master carver Jonathan Pageau, is planned for mid-May 2013 in Santa Barbara, CA,  and is to run concurrently with icon painting and embroidery.

We are tremendously excited about adding icon carving to our offerings for Hexaemeron’s 2013 schedule. Fro​m the earliest sarcophagi to lavish ivory miniatures to the austere Russian low reliefs, icon carving has been a vibrant part of the Orthodox Tradition.

Jonathan Pageau

Our teacher, Jonathan Pageau, is a graduate with honors from the Painting and Drawing program at Concordia University in Montreal. His spiritual journey toward Orthodoxy led Pageau to icons and traditional Christian images. Though disillusioned with contemporary art, Pageau’s love of art was rekindled and he developed a passion for carving. He has been carving various liturgical objects in both wood and stone since 2003. He also studied Orthodox Christian theology and iconology at the University of Sherbrooke in Montreal.

Watch this beautiful video clip of Jonathan working.

As a carver of large icons and miniatures, Pageau’s desire is to renew the ancient art of icon carving that has been neglected in recent centuries. Likewise, Olga Fishchuk’s goal is to spur a revival of the ancient art of ecclesiastical pictorial embroidery. Hexaemeron has partnered with Pageau and Fishchuk in an effort to further their mission and ours.  By bringing serious students to our teachers, we fulfill the mission of the ever quotable Master Iconographer Ksenia Pokrovsky: “I need steady stream to fish. Bring me a steady stream and I will pull the best from it.”

Ground rules for the carving course

Pantocrator carved in linden wood

The course is open to 10 students per site. Pageau teaches this ancient art through both practical work and theory. Students will have the opportunity to carve either in either wood or stone.

Wood Carving

Those wishing to carve in wood are expected to have a basic understanding of woodworking as the course will focus on carving rather than technical aspects like laminating panels or sharpening tools.  Although tools will be available, students should bring whatever gouges they have, ideally 1 straight gouge, 1 scoop gouge and 1 “V” gouge.

Stone Carving

Tools will be made available for those who plan to carve stone.  Each student is expected to leave with at least one finished icon by the end of the class.​  ​​

St Nicholas of Myra carved from stone

Work and theory will intertwine through the week and will address following elements: ​ ​

  • ​​Icon carving in the Orthodox tradition, history with ancient and contemporary examples
  • ​Preparing a panel, choosing a pattern, tracing the pattern.​
  • ​The difference between icon painting and icon carving: drawing for relief, compression of space interpreting iconic style for carving
  • ​Grounding the image and basic shaping
  • ​Light and shadow in carving
  • ​Clothing, hands, hair, faces​​
  • ​​Inscriptions​
  • Finishing and polishing

For a glimpse at Jonathan’s work, visit his website: PAGEAU CARVINGS.

Jonathan is a contributor to the Orthodox Arts Journal; see his article on The Recovery of the Arts   Part 1 and Part 2), which clearly expresses the mission of Hexaemeron. Also see his article on Armenian Carving. We welcome Jonathan to Hexaemeron’s faculty of expert iconographers. We share his belief that “the arts can be a revealing of the Kingdom, the making present of the sacred – the visible, audible and tactile example of how Creation can become sacramental.”

For our 2013 schedule, visit us at http://www.hexaemeron.org

ImageHexaemeron is very enthusiastic about adding a new dimension to our course offerings this Fall. Master embroiderer Olga Fishchuk of Kiev will teach the art of ecclesial pictorial embroidery, September 28-October 3, 2012 at Living Waters Catholic Reflection Center in Maggie Valley, NC. The course is open to eight students who possess basic skills in embroidery. If you are interested in taking this course, it is recommended that you register immediately on Hexaemeron’s website. Click here to see course details and to register.

Fishchuk is a practicing artist and a graduate of the Pictorial Embroidery Department of the Icon Painting School under the Moscow Orthodox Theological Academy (Sergiev Posad, Moscow Region, Russia). Fishchuk’s work has been shown in exhibitions in Russia, Ukraine and elsewhere, as well as in a one-woman show in Amsterdam in October 2010.

The course not only gives instruction in embroidered icons and ecclesiastical textiles, but also provides an overview of the history of ecclesiastical embroidery and an understanding of the language of icons.

This ancient art is the perfect complement to Hexaemeron’s mission to offer the highest level of training in iconography available in this hemisphere. An article by Fishchuk about her work was published in Hexaemeron’s newsletter in February of 2011. It is well worth revisiting even if you have read it previously: The Ancient Art of Ecclesiastical Embroidery. Image


Overview of the Art

The history of ecclesiastical pictorial embroidery begins with the construction and furnishing of the Tabernacle in the wilderness that God commanded Moses to build. From then on, through the early centuries of Christianity, embroidered cloths were used in wоrship and for adorning the interiors of Christian churches. They were in widespread use in Byzantium, Medieval Western Europe, and ancient Russia. Ecclesiastical pictorial embroidery (or icon embroidery) replaced icon painting in situations where there was a need for a material more flexible and lightweight than wood: parts of bishops’ and priests’ vestments, podeas. shrouds, veils, covers for holy relics, mobile iconostasis, as well as banners and standards.

ImageThese pieces were made with precious materials: pure silk fabric; silk, gold and silver threads; pearls and semiprecious stones. Such materials were very expensive. Therefore ecclesiastical pictorial embroidery was an art of queens and noblewomen, who practiced it with the help of their maidens. Nowadays anyone can afford the luxury of practicing the ancient art of queens.

Course Description

The course will include practical work at three levels of mastery, as well as lectures on the history of ecclesiastical pictorial embroidery. Classes will be conducted in English in a small, friendly group setting. As stated, basic embroidery skills are required for this workshop. Students will be able to start and execute the most important and difficult parts of their projects in class, then complete them at home.

Level One: mastering all the basic techniques required for ecclesiastical embroidery; execution of an ornamental motif.

Level Two: execution of an icon (angel’s face, simple method).

Level Three: execution of an icon or bookmark (saint’s face and hands with shading).

Advanced students may work on a project of their own choosing, under the instructor’s guidance.

About Olga Fishchuk

Born in the town of Zhytomir (Ukraine), Olga Fishchuk is a former journalist. She is a graduate of the Pictorial Embroidery Department of the Icon Painting School under the Moscow Orthodox Theological Academy. During her four years of study there, she participated extensively in research in museums throughout Russia, learning to create original new works in the ancient style by using the ancient technology. Since graduation, Olga has lived in Kiev, practicing ecclesiastical pictorial embroidery.Her works are in use at the Church of the Protection of Our Lady at the Moscow Orthodox Theological Academy; the Church of the Archangel Michael in Moscow; the Kievo-Pecherska Lavra and Zverynetsky Monastery in Kiev; and in many other places. In 2010 her works were displayed in a one-woman show at a gallery in Amsterdam (Netherlands).

Olga’s goal is to spur a revival of the ancient art of ecclesiastical pictorial embroidery.

Photographs of Olga’s work can be can be viewed at: http://helgaembroidery.livejournal.com/

Perhaps it was inevitable. The technology has been in place for decades. It was only a matter of time before the sacred art of the icon became an inexpensive do-it-yourself room makeover.  For those of us who support sacred arts through training iconographers and encouraging high quality work crafted from noble materials for our churches and homes, the creation and dissemination of icon wallpaper is a cause for mourning.

Fresco of angel in St. Sophia Cathedral, Vologda

We recently received an advert email for “Priests and Wardens” that touted the benefits of a process for manufacturing “images that go on your church walls like wallpaper. MUCH cheaper than real frescoes!”

We were even warned “there is an ‘imposter’ out there using cheaper materials, so be careful!”

Imagine, an “imposter” of the “MUCH cheaper than real.” Really?

There is a story told about Henry Ford that comes to mind. You remember the businessman from Detroit who made it affordable for just about everyone to own an automobile.  After the inventor of assembly-line production amassed so much wealth he didn’t know what to do with it, his financial advisors suggested he invest in fine art. But the acquisitive Ford was taken aback by the sticker price on the art pieces brought before him. So, he ordered photographs to be taken of the art and the paper copies placed in fancy frames to hang throughout his mansion[s]. The idea caught on and the art reproduction business was launched. Once again Ford had succeeded in finding a way to make something of value accessible to the masses. Now, everyone can own a Rembrandt that is “MUCH cheaper than real” because it isn’t.

Ford’s ingenuity worked well for auto assembly and we are thankful for it, but aping his thrift in artificial art production (whether high-end imposter or low) is a tragedy for iconography. Ironically, no one has ever argued that the artificial imitation of fine art works is real. That argument seems to be reserved for the sacred rather than the secular.

We were further told, “This method of displaying beautiful iconography has been blessed by Bishops and supported by priests all over the world.”  Of this there is no doubt. But let us consider the inspiration for and the consequences of such blessings.

The argument for the artificial, with only a few laymen to oppose it, rests upon defunding the artist and capitalizing on his or her work, made easy because icons are rarely copyrighted.  This was Ford’s inspiration. Although he could easily afford a Cézanne, Ford placed a higher value on a paltry imitation because it served the purpose of providing decorations without paying big bucks for the real thing. While this is hardly the reasoning of bishops, priests and parish councils trying to adorn temples out of their penury, the effect is the same.

Since costly items of infrastructure cannot be substituted with photographs of furnaces, plumbing and electrical systems just because the parish can’t afford them, the “blessing” seems to indicate that the more essential elements of Orthodox worship can be illusory. The implication is that icons are merely decorative accessories like, well – wallpaper. A similar mentality reigns for individuals who shell out $1500 to $3000 on a widescreen plasma TV without batting an eye, but are only willing to spend twenty bucks on a photograph of the Sinai Christ glued to a piece of particleboard.

Fresco by Dionisy in Ferpontov Monastery

As our email advertiser educates us: Images are representations. The medium used does not play a role in the validity of the object/person being represented.

Thanks, Henry!

Of course Orthodoxy does not [officially] consider icons as decoration.  But this does not mean that Orthodoxy, which takes its very appellation from the victory over iconoclasm, is immune to iconoclasm manifest in new forms.

Consider the words of renowned Russian iconographer Archimandrite Zinon:

“In speaking about the icon, one could say that today it does not occupy its rightful place in the divine service, nor is there a proper attitude towards iconography. It has long ceased to be regarded as “theology in color”; people don’t even suspect that it is capable of conveying the teaching of the Church just like the word, and that it can likewise give false witness instead of witnessing to the Truth. The icon has become a mere illustration of the celebrated event, and for this reason it doesn’t matter what form it takes, because nowadays even photographs are venerated as icons.”

“A mere illustration of the celebrated event” sounds a lot like our email advertiser of wallpaper bargains.

And then there are the weeping paper icons so invincibly offered as proof that “themedium used does not play a role. We can talk all day long about the meaning of dripping photographic paper, and bishops, priests and monks do, regardless of what is at stake. In this strange twist of anti-materialistic logic the lesson gleaned seems not to be miraculous intervention but that we can replace the holy icons with a soulless materialism that merely illustrates what an icon is.

In photographic illustrations of icons, real gold becomes an RGB algorithm as do the other noble metals and semi-precious stones of the iconographer’s palette. The image is pixilated but the icon is absent. The prayerful dialogue between God and the human hand, between the bounty of the created world and its divine source are annihilated in the toxic vapors of print production.

Romantic, are we? Or are we simply defending the integrity of the icon against its falsification? Mounted photographs of icons may have a place in Orthodoxy, something akin to sturdy teaching tools for Church School children or illustrations for events, but in no way should they be permanently incorporated into our worship services.

As a succinct articulation of a profound objection to the faux-fresco industry and its like, we re-post here excerpts from an interview presented in a 2010 Hexaemeron Newsletter. The full article on Liturgical Renewal printed in Orthodox America explains among other things why “colored photograph is unacceptable for use in church” as are other forms of imitation such as artificial flowers. It is regrettable that the remarks below may be treated as obsolete fetishes of fanatics rather than guiding principles. This is obviously because our priorities have become more aligned with Henry Ford’s than we could ever have imagined. Under communism the icon was threatened with violence; under capitalism with banality. God help us!

This discussion occurred in 1990 between Archimandrite Victor, rector of St. Euphrosyne of Polotsk Church in Karsava, Latvia and Archimandrite Zinon, who was then serving as an iconographer of the Pskov-Caves Monastery. It speaks directly to the misleading mixing of terms in the statement “the medium used does not play a role in the validity of the object/person being represented.”  The self-deception imbedded in this bold claim is that it confuses the “validity of the immutable and transcendent prototype (person) with how the prototype is “represented.Attend closely to why the materials used to represent divine presence DO play a role in every image that serves as an encounter between God and man, be it the vestments of the clergy or the flowers we bring to express our love for our Savior’s accomplishments upon the Cross.

Fr. Zinon: In the Moscow Patriarchate Journal, 1989, No. 10, there is an article by L. A. Ouspensky about colors in icons. It explains very simply and convincingly why a colored photograph is unacceptable for use in church: it only imitates color; it has no color of its own. For this reason it cannot serve as a substitute for a painted icon. An icon must witness to the Truth, and here we introduce something false, artificial; this cannot be.

Fr. Victor: This is the same as having artificial flowers in church. Patriarch Alexis I asked that they not be brought into church, because there is no truth in them.

Fr. Zinon: Even earlier, Metropolitan Philaret (Drozdov) of Moscow said that imitation gems and imitation metals should not be used in church not because they are not costly but because they contain falsehood. Gold was always costly; where it was unattainable, ordinary but natural materials were used. For example, the traditional background for icons has always been gold leaf (or silver). In poor churches, especially in northern Russia, all backgrounds were painted with light colors. To be more precise, “background” is not a Russian word; iconographers call it “light”.

Fr. Victor: Because God is light.

Fr. Zinon: And lives in unapproachable light.

Fr. Victor: One can say that nowadays we see a decline in religious understanding; the dogma of icon veneration has been forgotten, supplanted with the veneration of artificiality. And this is not simply forgetfulness, but rather a rupture with the living Tradition of the Church, a scornful attitude towards the Holy Fathers and to the decrees of the Ecumenical and Local Councils. One must restore the veneration of icons in its genuine significance.

Fr. Zinon: This problem must be resolved at the Synod level; it should be a matter for the whole Church. Today churches are being returned to us, monasteries. They all require iconographers, but so far there isn’t a proper school for iconographers. I know many young people, talented and eager to study, but the means for this are lacking. Some are tied to families and can’t travel far, others are free but have nowhere to study. Our hierarchs have made efforts to increase the number of clergy: diocesan schools are opening, there are courses for readers, seminaries. But I have yet to hear of any school, even a small one, for iconographers. And this despite the fact that almost every week someone comes to me with a request to paint an iconostasis or fresco a church. Here is further evidence that the icon has been eliminated from the divine services; it is no longer given due attention. What is sold in church kiosks, the mass reproductions produced in the shops of the Moscow Patriarchate, do not comply with the requirements applied to church art.

In the Synodal period there appeared many depictions, which can plainly be called mockeries, parodies of icons. Last time I gave you to read some letters by Bishop Ignaty Brianchaninov. In one of them he writes that he saw not icons, but caricatures of icons. At best these could be called well-executed paintings, but by no means icons. This was written in the last century, when churches were filled with this sort of art and the Orthodox icon was branded as “Old-Believer” or barbaric art. (The well-known historian, Karamzin, seeing the ancient frescoes in Novgorod’s St. Sophia Cathedral, called them “barbarian”.)

Fr. Victor: L. A. Ouspensky, in his book, The Theology of the Orthodox Icon, accurately observes that in the iconoclast period the Church fought on behalf of the icon, while in our time of troubles the icon is battling for the Church.

Magi fresco, St. Sophia Cathedral -Vologda

As a non-profit organization dedicated to the sacred art of the icon, we see the other side with a clarity that transcends competition for market share among wallpaper imposters. Our students sacrifice not only thousands of dollars in pocket layout to study the theological and aesthetic goals of the ancient tradition that have been organically transmitted from the first icons painted on the walls of martyrs tombs, but they also offer up hundreds of hours of time away from their families and their employment to prepare themselves to serve God’s Holy Church with hard acquired skills and knowledge of temple adornment.

The reality from the other side is that even the best-trained iconographers are often passed over for “MUCH cheaper” amateurs, or they are asked by priests and bishops to donate their work. Many, many gladly do so out of willingness to serve, but at the expense of the tradition that should support them.  All this haggling over not wanting to remunerate real iconographers at the rate of legal minimum wage is destroying the future of iconography everywhere.  If, as our e-mailer suggests, priests and wardens turn to the “cheaper than real” catalog for adorning their temples, there will no longer be a need for icon painters. And just as every office and hospital wall is mounted with an artificial Degas or Cassatt, so will every temple have a cheap photograph of the Rublev Trinity smoothed large on drywall surfaces “like wallpaper.”

This glimpse into the realities of practicing iconographers is portrayed here in mere economic terms as a flip side of the Ford mentality troubling our parishes, but the greater issue of artificiality is as Fr. Zinon says, “a matter for the whole Church” to resolve.

Mary Lowell

Anna (Pokrovsky) Gouriev had the rare advantage of growing up in the household of one of the world’s most prominent icon painters, Ksenia (Xenia) Mikhailovna Pokrovskaya, her mother. And so Anna learned the art of icon writing in the gradual and natural way that daughters learn to cook by watching their mothers.

“I never planned to be an iconographer” says Anna, “it wasn’t a decision; it is just my life.”

Anna does not advertize her “life.” People find their way to her by seeking treasure. It’s hard to explain. You look over hundreds of same subject icons by as many iconographers and find one so full of grace your heart stops.

Anna had many years of training in the seriousness of icon writing before taking up the brush. From earliest childhood days in Moscow, Anna was surrounded by the steady coming and going of artists, theologians and intellectuals who were in one way or another involved in the clandestine operations of her mother’s network of secret iconographers. Describing those days, Anna considered the “real world” to be what was going in her parents’ flat. “When we came home from school” (there were five children born to Lev and Ksenia Pokrovsky), “and closed the door behind us, the fantasy ended.” Outside that door “we could never talk about what our mother did; we had to pretend we were a part of that strange outside world where everything that really mattered to us was forbidden.” During Soviet times creating new icons was a crime on same order as trafficking in firearms, narcotics and pornography.

Sought after as experts in icon restoration, the entire Pokrovsky family worked illicitly in various capacities to repair hundreds of icons brought to them from all over the Soviet Union. It was an education by discovery to uncover layer by layer the nearly lost technique and palette of generations of iconographers that preceded them. In her book “Hidden and Triumphant: The Underground Struggle to Save Russian Iconography”, Irina Yazikova traces the history of icon writing from the catacombs of First Century Rome to the bonfires of communism that consumed millions of icons in 20th century Russia.

Included in the organic chain of heroes who saved iconography is Mother Juliana (Maria Sokolova) and many courageous men and women, among them Anna’s mother.  Ksenia and her associates established Izograph Society in the 1970s and 80s, which became an underground fellowship of iconographers and iconologists who prepared the way for the “New Spring”, as Ksenia calls it, the great renaissance of icon-writing and restoration of churches currently enjoyed in Russia. At the first open celebration in Moscow of works produced by members of the Izograph Society in 1989, Anna exhibited her icons.

Ironically, the Pokrovsky family left Russia in January of 1991 just as the first signs of rebirth of iconography were becoming publicly visible. It was politically and culturally a volatile time, and for the Pokrovskys a time of great personal grief because their beloved spiritual father and friend, Fr. Alexander Men, had been brutally murdered in September of 1990.

St. Mary Magdalen Orthodox Church

News followed Ksenia’s arrival in the U.S. Articles in the Boston Globe and the patronage of the Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) and that of many priests who knew of her reputation in Russia led to her establishing a studio in Sharon, MA. While assisting her mother with grand scale projects for churches, such as St. Andrew Orthodox Church in Lexington, Ky., individual orders for icons started coming Anna’s way nearly two decades ago.  Ksenia and Anna continue to work as a mother-daughter team adorning the interiors of churches like the ongoing project for St. Mary Magdalene Orthodox Church in Manhattan. Other large commissions like the one for Holy Annunciation in Maynard, MA, keep Anna busy.

Anna also shares responsibilities for teaching courses in iconography with her mother and Marek Czarnecki, who has received world-wide recognition for his beautiful panels under Ksenia’s tutelage. While Ksenia often refers to Marek as her mouthpiece because his uncommon gift for articulating difficult concepts and imparting Ksenia’s teaching with great accuracy, no one complains that Anna’s method of teaching is practically wordless.

Watching this taciturn instructor demonstrate the glories of her brush and correct the stray passages of her students is the same way that Anna came to inherit a share of the mantle passed from her mother. If Anna never consciously chose to be an iconographer,  her work reveals the nature of gifts bestowed when there is no ambition to gain them for ones self, only years and years of practicing the life that is hers by both blessing and toil.

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

Sources:

Catacomb yields early Christian icons of apostles

The significance of the Dura-Europos synagogue

Synagogue architecture and interior design

SIX DAYS OF CREATION 2012 SCHEDULE

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

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:

http://journeytoorthodoxy.com/2010/07/18/the-story-of-fr-seraphim-scheidler/#axzz1BKwjYNll

 

 

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