Friday, 5 December 2014

Icon Writing

On Tuesday I made my visit to Hyning to partake of the last part of The Journey Course, the theme was The Hermit's Cell and the day was led by Sr Mary Stella.  Our brief was to paint/write an icon of The Theotokos, Our Blessed Mother, The God Bearer.  The session began at 1pm and finished at 6:30pm when the bell sounded for supper in the monastery.  There were two tea breaks and the chance to attend vespers in the chapel if you so wished and the evening was rounded off with prayers and a meditation on the annunciation.

 The icon studio nestled in the grounds.

 Down the path and in through the door...

... tables, chairs, paper, wooden blocks and paints.  The smell of an art studio and I am immediately transported back to my art classes in high school :-)

Sr Mary began with an overview of the history of iconography and the arrangement of icons within the orthodox church.  Since her studio was only a single storey building she was unable to arrange them in the traditional fashion but as best as she could, she remained true to the original layout.

 On the left side of the tryptych, from left to right: Saint Peter holding some parchment to represent his teaching roll within the church and a set of keys to denote his authority, Saint Michael The Archangel and The Theotokos, Our Blessed Mother with her hands extended in a gesture of humility and intercession.  Sr Mary said that Our Lady is the best volunteer going and if we need any help she will always intercede for us to her Son and who knows a son best but his mother!

Jesus the ruler of all, takes centre stage.  
The blue of his robe denotes His divinity and the red of his tunic represents the blood of humanity, therefore truly God and truly man.  His hands are extended in a gesture of blessing but He is also pointing to The Holy Book, The Word of God.

The facial features of an icon are painted in such a way that they always point to heavenly and not earthly things and you cannot help but be drawn in by their gaze.  The image of Jesus is not exuding vanity, his nose is quite long and narrow and Sr remarked that, "He is not interested in sex, drugs and rock and roll!"  He is wanting us to focus beyond his appearance and likewise His mouth is quite small, as He has very little say since The Book tells us all we need to know. 

To the right of The Pantocrator are from left to right: St John whose cloak is blowing in the wind represented by the Holy Spirit, The Angel Gabriel and St Paul, one of the authors of holy scripture.

Sr said that you always keep your first icon as a remembrance of how far you have progressed so here is a recent rendition of The Pantocrator:

By now it was time to begin the writing process.  A prayer to St Ephraim was said, Sr gave our first set of instructions and some beautiful music wafted over us as we painted in silence in that room.  The first tea break was a welcome breather but by the time a second cup of tea was on offer many of us declined, preferring to work with the image in front of us. The bell for vespers rang and some got up to attend and my friend Sallie, went for a walk as dusk was looming.  My prayer was in my hands and I relished the peace and quiet of the studio and the  pitch blackness outside.

 Sr Elizabeth, very kindly let me take a shot of her icon as it really spoke to me of "peace"  Sallie and I both agreed that this icon depicted a person rooted and grounded in prayer and as a contemplative that was so true!

 All our icons lit before prayer time.  We all had the same design brief but each one was so different from the other, we painted something of ourselves in that image.

 My icon.
 Each night, I light a candle in front of her and ponder those outstretched hands offering me help and guidance and goodness on most days, all help is much appreciated!

The Journey Course has been such a blessing to me and it was with a sadness that we said our goodbyes to one another in the cold night air.  As with all journeys though, as one finishes there is the promise of another and so come January I will be back in that little studio on a Wednesday afternoon, you see I have found my calling and it all really is good x 


  1. What a beautiful afternoon, San. I love seeing all of your icons illuminated by candlelight on the table. It must have been so peaceful painting there with dusk descending :)

    1. It was very peaceful and I am looking forward to the new class in January :-)

  2. Such an authentic looking place, San. It looks like you learned a lot and managed to make such a beautiful icon yourself. When I took a class on how to sew a Waldorf doll, our teacher told us that each person would make a doll that would resemble the person the doll was for. My very first doll was for myself and had long legs, like I do. My teacher immediately noticed. Your comment that each person painted something of herself reminded me of that. It was a treat to look at these pictures. I would go back as well.

    1. How interesting about you experiencing a similar reaction with the Waldorf doll. I am glad that you liked the pictures, it really was a beautiful prayer filled afternoon x


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