Allow me to introduce the man whose eyes I have been staring into for the past week! Here is my masterpiece from my week at the Bethlehem Icon School. It’s the face of Christ, loosely based on Christ the Savior, Cyprus circa 1495 (view here), and the Savior with Golden Hair, Russia circa 1200 (view here). The spots on the outer blue garment of divinity represent the nine planets (yes, in iconography there are still nine planets!) and the seven dots on the red inner garment of humanity represent the number of perfection. As in most icons of Christ, there are two unmatching halves of his face, a judging side and a merciful side. The inscription “IC XC,” which labels the subject of the icon, stands for “Jesus Christ, Son of God,” and the “OWN” on the halo stands for “The One Who Is,” a reference to the various times in which God in the Old Testament and Jesus in the New Testament answer questions about their identity with the phrase “I Am.” And here’s a quick peek into the icon’s miraculous evolution from a piece of plywood to a finished icon in one week!
Icons are a large and ancient part of our Christian heritage, dating back to the earliest days of the church. Though they are mostly a tenet of Eastern forms of Christianity, Western Christianity is also becoming aware of, and forming a devotion to, these beautiful and sacred images. The Eastern churches believe that God is the ultimate artist of all icons and that icons are simply recorded, not created, by the artist. That is why creating an icon is known as “writing” an icon, rather than “painting” an icon. Many of the processes required to write an icon, such as covering the board with gesso, gilding with gold leaf, and mixing egg tempera paints from natural pigments, all rely very much on chance. So when a bubble or an imperfection forms, it is God’s bubble or imperfection and you must learn to love it. You must also pray while you work, asking God for guidance of how He wants this icon to look. It truly is a labor of love and devotion.
Also, since I was at the monastery this past week with little access to the Internet, there was no Wordless Wednesday. To reward your patience, here is a lovely image of the natural pigments with which I painted the icon. Isn’t it amazing that all these colors occur in nature? God is truly the grand artist, and all creation is his masterpiece!
Also, this past week, Rodolfo had a birthday, and he came to Bethlehem to visit me on that day. The night before, I went into town to try and procure a cake. I finally found one, but the shop owner didn’t speak much English, so the cake says “Happy Birthday” in Arabic!
My icon school teacher, Ian Knowles, is in the process of founding a three-year icon school to teach the craft to locals. As I’ve mentioned before, the Christians in Palestine, the smallest minority in the Holy Land, are facing great persecution and, as a result, leaving their homeland in droves and are not permitted to return. This project hopes to create jobs for Palestinian Christians by teaching them a craft and giving them a space to sell their work in a fair-trade style, rather than taking the pennies they would get for selling their work to a local souvenir shop. For more information about the Bethlehem Icon School, including another intensive short course like the one I attended coming up in the fall, visit their website. Who knows? Maybe we’ll see you here in the Holy Land next October!
While in Bethlehem, we were exceedingly blessed to be hosted by the adorable French sisters of the Emmanuel Greek Catholic Monastery in Bethlehem. (Two of them who attended the icon class with us, Sister Bénédicte and Mother Marthe, are shown in the photo above. You can also see the wide and rich variety of interpretations of the same subject in everybody’s icons. Everyone literally sees the world differently!) Getting to know the sisters and their faith was a real highlight of my stay there. The Greek Catholic (Melkite) faith is an Eastern tradition with many elements found in the Orthodox churches, such as Byzantine rites (liturgy in Greek and a slightly different order of Mass) and an emphasis on icons in their worship space (like in their chapel, shown above), and yet, they are in full communion with the Catholic Church! Even more interesting, did you know that some of their priests get married? For a peek into the life of one Byzantine Catholic priest’s wife, visit this blog. The sisters at Emmanuel Monastery do not have a website, but they can be contacted by email.
We were also blessed with the opportunity for a brief visit to the L’Arche community in Bethlehem. This exciting project gives meaningful employment and a home away from home to a group of mentally handicapped locals in Bethlehem who create beautiful works of art (like the adorable Nativity above) from the wool of Bethlehem sheep! For more information on their community, visit their website. Also watch this great video from the Franciscan Media Center about L’Arche’s founder, Jean Vanier, and his recent visit to the Holy Land. Featured in the video are a number of our new friends from our visit to their workshop! View the video here.
Also, if you happened to miss it last week, here is the video recap of our first Holy Week in the Holy Land, featuring the beautiful Schoenstatt song “Él Que Muere Por Mí” (“The One Who Died For Me”) from Porta by Rodrigo Joglar and Francisco Alvarado. Enjoy!
Have a wonderful week!