Ultreya Coeur lives with her husband and their three children in Ottikon, Switzerland. Trained as a seismologist, she received her PhD in Civil Engineering from the California Institute of Technology in 2005. In 2012, following a walking pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, she left a successful career in academia to focus on raising their family. This pilgrimage marked the beginning of her journey back to her Catholic faith, parts of which she has written about in her blog, “Twenty Tuesday Afternoons" (http://twentytuesdayafternoons.blogspot.ch). Since January 2015, she has been working her dream job as a Sakristanaushilfe (assistant sacristan) with the St Francis Parish in Wetzikon, Switzerland. When not keeping house, ferrying children around, or helping out at church, she enjoys reading, weekend movie nights with the family, painting, and traveling.
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.
This story begins on a Sunday, 2 June 2013. It was the second First Communion Mass in our [Catholic] parish. The church was very full, and there were almost no seats free. I found a place to sit in front of an icon of the Blessed Mother and Child Jesus in the chapel. I found it hard to concentrate on the Mass, because I could feel a very strong energy (I don’t really know what word to use) from the icon. It was very physical, like the flow of heat you feel when you open a hot oven. I “felt” (is “feel” is the right word?) the Blessed Virgin ask me to paint the image and help spread the light and love of her Son by spreading the image. I said, “Yes, but I please help me, as I don’t know how”. I took two photos with my phone. (Everyone was taking pictures, because it was the First Communion Mass, so it did not seem so unusual for me to take the photos.)
I started making my first sketches the next day, 3 June. Later, as I did some research about icons, I learned that this type of icon showing the Blessed Mother and the Child Jesus cheek to cheek with His arm around her neck is an Eleusa Theotokos (Mother of Tenderness). By coincidence, 3 June, the day I stared the first sketches, was the one of the three feast days of the Theotokos of Vladimir (the Vladimirskaya), the famous Eleusa Theotokos icon credited for saving Moscow from invasion several times in it’s history. (This particular feast day is 21 May in the Orthodox calendar and 3 June in the Gregorian calendar.) I did not know anything yet about painting icons. I found an icon painting course, but it didn’t start until August. I felt I could not wait two months. If I skipped some days without doing some work on the image, I would dream about it at night. I decided I’d have to try going forward with the work as soon as possible, without the course. I found plenty of help on the Internet. (Thank You, God, for creating man with enough intelligence to create the Internet!) There were lots of websites about icons and YouTube videos about how to paint icons. I also found a very good book called “Techniques of Traditional IconPainting” (by Gilles Weismann) from Amazon.
I worked with acrylic paints on canvas which I already had at home. (Traditional Byzantine techniques involve using powdered tempra pigments and egg emulsion on wooden boards. I would later learn to work with these through the icon painting course.) Coincidentally, I finished the icon on 22 September, the feast day of St Mauritius, patron saint of our parish! It took a long time, 3 ½ months, from start to finish, because we were away for the summer holidays. Also, I would often hesitate to start a new stage because I would be afraid of making mistakes. Then I would wait a few days, sometimes 1 or 2 weeks, until I felt ready to go forward, praying always that God would guide my hands. Our parish priest blessed the icon for me on 25 Sept. I didn’t tell him the story how it all came about. (That would come a few months later.) In any case, on 27 Sept, two days after the blessing of the icon, we moved across the canton to our new home in a new town.
Sometime in March 2014, about six months after we had moved, I was pondering the turn of events set off by the experience with the Blessed Virgin and her icon when I remembered that she had asked me to paint the image and spread it. I realized that I had only done half the assignment. (The icon hangs in our attic, where I have a little prayer room. My husband is an atheist, and he wanted no religious images in the house, except in the attic. Almost no one ever sees the icon.) So I decided to print some prayer cards, about the size of a business card, with the image of the icon in front and the Hail Mary in German printed on the reverse side. I thought that I could leave these cards in churches and give them out to people when the chance arose. Coincidentally, the first batch of cards arrived from the printer on 25 March, the feast of the Annunciation!
I sent some of these cards to the parish priest at St Mauritius, our old town and the parish where the original icon hangs, along with a letter recounting the story. He was very happy to receive the cards and asked if I had more. I ordered another batch of cards German. I showed them then to my mom, who then asked if she could have them in English. So I made more.
To date, I have distributed about 5000 cards with this image (in Switzerland, where I live, in the US, along the last 100 km of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, to the Vatican, in India), in my attempt to fulfill the assignment the Blessed Virgin gave me of spreading the image.
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 email@example.com.
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.”