Author, Artist, and Christian Speaker N.W. Boyer

Religious Faith

Icons…Lesser Known in Modern-Day Faith

Only the students of religious history may be aware of how much icons play a part in the worship of Christians now and in the past.    Some faiths, such as more contemporary Christian groups, previous leaders of various churches and those of the Muslim faith have either condemned outright pictures of these great men and women of faith or believe that religious paintings are not necessary for worship today.  The reason for opposition to the use of icons was mainly that they did not want them to become an object of worship. That would often include statues of the saints and  Jesus Christ. Making them any type of idol was not the purpose intended even though it had its many critics then and now.

Oldest surviving icon of Christ Pantocrator, encaustic on Panel 6th century at St. Catherine's Monastery Mt Sinai, Egpt

The oldest surviving icon of Christ Pantocrator, encaustic on panel, c. 6th century (Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai, Egypt).

Either way, I found that these works of art had great meaning throughout history.  Sometimes it was the only way a person, who perhaps could not read or was not allowed to read and interpret the Holy Scriptures, was able to think of and be reminded to pray in their everyday devotions outside of the actual church.

Some interesting facts and pictures:  (from Wikipedia)

  • Christian tradition dating from the 8th century identifies Luke the Evangelist as the first icon painter.
  • At least some of the hierarchy of the Christian churches still strictly opposed icons in the early 4th century. At the Spanish non-ecumenical Synod of Elvira, (c. 305) bishops concluded, “Pictures are not to be placed in churches, so that they do not become objects of worship and adoration”. 

After adoption of Christianity as the only permissible Roman state religion under Theodosius I, Christian art began to change not only in quality and sophistication, but also in nature. This was in no small part due to Christians being free for the first time to express their faith openly without persecution from the state, in addition to the faith spreading to the non-poor segments of society. Paintings of martyrs and their feats began to appear, and early writers commented on their lifelike effect…

The Annunciation icon in Macedonia

A key piece of Palaiologan Mannerism – the Annunciation icon from Ohrid in the Republic of Macedonia.

 

Icons can be found in private homes, in churches to remember martyrs, as seen in the pictures below.  They also could be made from different materials as in the one made of metal.

 

 

Some icons were so special that they were decorated with precious jewels.

elaborate Russian icon Jo of All Who Sorrow 1862

Russian icon “Joy of All Who Sorrow” 1862

 

This past week I have been privileged to find out the difficulty in which actually making an icon can be as I was taught how to enjoy painting and praying while working on a special design.   Kara Nelson visited St. James Episcopal Church in Florida to share this knowledge with those interested.  Being an artist with my own style, I decided to see exactly how much talent this would take.  Because all of my own artistic endeavors have been of a freestyle, I was somewhat amazed at the detailed work involved in painting an icon of the Good Shepherd, who is Christ my Lord.

First, in our week-long retreat,  we had Holy Communion with Father Tom Trees and my husband, Fr. Bill Boyer,  and then shared our own walk of faith and concerns.  After instructions by Kara of the steps to be taken, we began to draw a design, which was to be our own painted icon when finished.  (shown in slides below)

 

 

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I chose to paint The Good Shepherd, which called for layers upon layers of paint.  Kara kept telling us that the first layers would look rough and not to be discouraged because as we progressed, the painting would improve.  Miraculously, she was right…as seen in my rough draft.

process in painting the Good Shepherd

Rough beginning of the icon: My lamb is unpainted and the orange color will eventually be filled in with real gold leaf.  See finished icon below.

 

 

Finished Good Shepherd icon 2018

 

the Good Shepherd and the Madanna and Child icons

Madonna and Child and Good Shepherd painted by Kara Nelson. Students in the class had a choice to paint either icon.

 

What have I learned about painting icons?   A great deal.  It is difficult work.  Nevertheless, the act of doing this painting represents the love of a Christian for the Savior, Christ Jesus, and the stories of the saints who have gone before…many of whom were martyrs.

Just as the first Christians and monks who wrote the Holy Scriptures by hand, the painters of Icons showed a similar dedication.    In a world of turmoil, the joy of knowing that Christ’s love has transcended throughout the centuries through this beautiful art form is indeed inspiring. After finishing our icons, we placed them on the altar for dedication and prayed that God would use these as a special blessing for whomever we had made them.

Fr. Tom blesses icons

Fr. Tom Trees prays for a blessing on each icon made by individuals in the group at St. James Episcopal in Leesburg, FL

Take special notice in churches and cathedrals that you may visit throughout the world of these beautiful icons.  Museums may also have special rooms to display the art of dedicated Christian believers.  Look at the details, imagine the hand that painted it and the stories behind the lives.  Show them to a child that may be with you and retell the Bible story that each may represent.  Many a young person may not even know what the word “icon” means. We must not lose the appreciation of this great art form and those who painted them.     To God be the Glory.  Amen

Christ the Redeemer by Andrei Rublev 1410

Christ the Redeemer by Andrei Rublev 1410   

12 century icon Archangel Gabriel called Golden Locked Angel in State Russian Museum

12th Century Archangel Gabriel in Russian State Museum

For information on Icon Painting Workshop/Spiritual Retreat

Contact Kara Nelson at karanelson314@gmail.com