Elina Pelikan is a writer and photographer who lives in North Carolina.
Inspired by the documentary, PISTEVO, the Orthodox Christian Network will be featuring iconography and the Saints of the Orthodox Church. Iconography, the centuries-old tradition of depicting faith through images, was the primary means of teaching Christianity until written records were formally canonized as the Holy Scriptures. Please join us in raising awareness of iconography as a window into heaven & finding and fostering one’s faith.
Iconography is a huge part of our orthodox experience, and as an artist, it is particularly near and dear to my heart. The traditional icons we love so dearly have a style all their own, a beauty in their simplicity. As art changed through the years, byzantine iconography has remained the same, even as we are moved so deeply. Artists can paint a photo-realistic painting of just about anything – they can use colors that entice the eye and speak to the heart, but I have never found an art form that so touches the spirit as traditional icons. My home is filled with these images that change me as I pray before them, drawing my eye to them and through them to Christ Himself. What is it about icons that makes them such idyllic windows to heaven? Why do we continue to trace these lines and struggle to reproduce what some outside the church have called stiff and strange looking? If these stylized images can speak to my heart, wouldn’t a more ‘refined’ image speak even louder? What is this strange mystery? These are questions I ask myself as I journey down this path of learning to become an iconographer myself.
I was so blessed this last summer to take a course with Master Iconographer Daniel Neculae (www.DanielNeculae.com) whose work I had been admiring online for several years. I have had the opportunity to take several courses over the years and hope to take many more, but none have worked in my heart so deeply as the course this summer did. Daniel is a true follower of the ancient art, incredibly devoted to reproducing the lines and works before him. Just as we struggle to learn and pass down the theological truths of our faith, continually referring back to the oldest sources of the faith within the Bible and the writings of the fathers, in iconography we remain true to that which has been handed to us.
Throughout the course, there was less talking about the deeper meaning of it all than I am often accustomed to in courses like these, but the importance of remaining true to the original icon produced nearly a thousand years ago was central to our work. The lines and colors spoke for themselves. There were few words and many, many brush strokes, and as the week came to a close, I felt the light of inspiration in my innermost self. As weeks passed, I noticed that this inspiration to continue working with pigments and brushes also spilled out into the rest of me as I was enlivened with a new desire in my personal spiritual life as well. I was struck by how the icons themselves seemed to work on me.
The icon is not my own creation, but a representation of the True creation. We imitate the lines and the colors put before us with our hearts focused on the creator Himself. Art has always sought to represent things beyond this world. For the most part, impressionists, modern artists, and renaissance greats alike all had this goal in mind. Icons are windows to the world beyond our own, the world that is truly our own, and while they have been dismissed by some as cultural and out dated, these are the images the church in all Her wisdom has placed before us, and with good reason. They shine with a light from within and do not conform to the natural laws of this world. The medium is challenging, more so than oils and acrylics. We mix egg with wine or vinegar, then with gems and rocks ground to the finest powders. The colors themselves are vibrant and alive.
When I was younger, before I converted to Orthodoxy, I had this pompous thought that I could improve upon iconography, that icons had some truth in them, but my own eye for beauty could make them better. Now, as I learn to truly see, their beauty is revealed to me, and I am embarrassed by those brash and prideful thoughts. I’ve learned that my own opinions of what beauty is are naive and unformed, and I am inspired to see beauty beyond the glittery flashes of the modern world to the still small voice of ancient Byzantinium’s icons. Nothing is so beautiful as Christ himself, as His glorious Mother, as the saints themselves, and to work to reproduce their image and likeness in this ancient and powerful way is a gift beyond my imagining. Glory to God!
INSPIRED BY PISTEVO
Inspired by the documentary, PISTEVO & The Greek Orthodox Church of Our Saviour in Rye, New York, the Orthodox Christian Network is embarking on a major initiative to feature iconography and the Saints of the Orthodox Church over the next several months and years to come. Please watch PISTEVO – “I Believe”, and join us in raising awareness of iconography as a window to finding and fostering one’s faith.
We invite you to share your experiences as to how icons have fostered your faith. Please post to the Orthodox Christian Network’s Facebook page or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Iconography, the centuries-old tradition of depicting faith through images, was the primary means of teaching Christianity until written records were formally canonized as the Holy Scriptures. Yet even today, centuries later, iconography remains a spiritually powerful part of Orthodox Christian theology. For many, the images enhance one’s ability to go deeper into the exploration and appreciation of their faith.
Click here to view an archive of all Saint and Iconography posts.
The independent documentary depicts a community coming together to complete the centuries-old mission of iconography led by Father Elias Villis at the Greek Orthodox Church of our Saviour in Rye, NY.
The epic film, PISTEVO, directed by Director, Mark Brodie, and written and produced by Taryn Grimes Herbert, expresses “why we honor the traditions of our theology and share our spiritual experience with the Orthodox world.”
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