Saturday, September 26, 2009
Tomorrow is a busy day. My family and Lisa's mother are coming over for Brunch. Then we have a rehearsal and rehearsal dinner in the afternoon because we are getting married this Sunday. I still can't quite believe this is all happening. I feel overwhelmed by the blessings in my life over the last year, and I feel so unworthy of this great a gift, and yet I don't often enough take the time to thank God for all that He has given me.
Well I am off to sleep, please pray for Lisa and I as we embark on a new chapter in both our lives, that it may be pleasing to God and for our salvation.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
So I haven't been blogging much lately... It would seem to be a fairly consistent pattern with me. The icon above is the reason for my absence. I have been working long hours to get this done in time for Ascension. It is now done, but sadly will have to wait a little while for the installation. This icon took up almost an entire wall of my living room, and required me to use a ladder to paint the parts at the top. At some point I am hoping to finish assembling a video from all the still photos I took along the way. Anyway, I'll keep this short since I still have lots to do before my trip to Idaho next week, but I just wanted to wish all a Happy Feast Day and thought that this icon would be a nice way to do that.
Friday, May 8, 2009
If you might be interested in attending, please check out the brochure. (PDF format)
Or you can go straight to the registration form. (also PDF)
You can also pay the class fee online using google checkout here.
The class will paint this icon from start to finish, with all of the supplies included, and demonstrations of all of the steps necessary for completion of the icon. In conjunction with the class, we will be supporting the work of this mission parish, and reaching out to the community. Before the class begins, I will be installing two (maybe three) icons in the iconostasis of Holy Transfiguration Church. We will try to get press attention for this so that we can have the opportunity to speak to a larger audience, not just about iconography, but about the Orthodox Church. We will invite the public to attend a lecture at the completion of the class so that they can learn about how this sacred art reflects the theology of the Church. It is my hope that this class will be a blessing to the parish of Holy Transfiguration, and a blessing to the area as it will no doubt be a blessing for me and my fiancee.
If you are interested, please let us know. Or if you know of someone who would be interested, please forward this information, or send them here, or to my website.
Friday, May 1, 2009
So I finished the icon of Christ for Holy Transfiguration Church in Boise. I took a lot of pictures along the way, and I thought that rather than posting a bunch of pictures, I would make a little video. It's a little jumpier than I would have liked, and in the future I need to take a lot more pictures along the way to make it really smooth, but I thought it might be neat anyway. Perhaps at some point I will set it to music or something. I just didn't want to wait much longer or I knew I would never end up posting it... And below is a slightly more detailed look at the finished product.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Christ is Risen!
Indeed He is Risen!
It's been a few days since an update. I have been hard at work painting even with Holy Week wrapping up and all of the festivities for Pascha. This is usually a difficult time of year for me. I am very busy with all of the services, especially since I have to chant at all of them. My duties with Parish Council have also added to the amount of work I have to do. And of course this is a busy time for commissions as well. Then this year I had an added bit of fun. On Friday about half an hour before I had to leave for Vespers, I lost my footing and almost sprained my ankle, but instead fell forward and slammed my sternum against the corner of a chair, slammed my arm against the wall, and my knee against the floor. Needless to say I was plenty sore by the time I was done with Church on Sunday afternoon. Now I am finally somewhat rested.
But despite all of that, I was very glad to have spent so much time at the Church celebrating the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. On Saturday I was so moved by the thought that by Pascha of next year I will be married and able to celebrate the Resurrection with my wife. It has been a long time since I have been able to celebrate with someone that I love. My family has all moved away and none of them really go to Church much anymore, and I have felt this loss a lot over the years. There is something very sad about feeling alone when we are created to live in community and love. So I am very thankful that God has given this to me again, even if I have to wait a little bit longer.
Most of the time I was not in Church was spent with paint brush in hand. By Friday afternoon I had the faces finished, and the icon was looking almost done. Today I finished the lettering, all the rest of the trims, borders, and pinstriping, as well as the gold. It is all but finished now.
I still have to come up with something decotative to go at the bottom, and I am contemplating a painted pattern within the halos, but otherwise that icon is done. Tonight I started a drawing for the matching icon of Christ so that I can get started on that. But I had to try to finish the icon of the Theotokos because it is the same icon that we will be painting in the class in June, and we are going to use it for advertisements and brochures.
Now that I see it done, though, I am really starting to get excited about what this will look like when I am all finished with the other icons. I will be installing at least the first two when I go for the class in June. It should be such a big change from the prints that they have now. And everyone that Lisa has shown the pictures to has been thrilled. It makes me so happy to be able to do something nice for this group of people who has welcomed me with open arms and who will be my Church community soon.
Friday, April 17, 2009
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
So this will hopefully be the beginning of a series of posts which should go on over the next few weeks and months. Lisa attends Holy Transfiguration Antiochian Orthodox Church, a small mission parish in Boise, Idaho, and while she would very much like to be married in that Church because of her close friendships with everyone there, when she visited me in Pennsylvania she remarked that she would rather get married in my church because it is so much more beautiful with all of the icons that we have. I told her that I had a solution to her dilemma which was that I could make her Church more beautiful.
In all the years that I have been working as an iconographer, I have done a lot of work in Churches, but it seems like every commission has to match the other icons in the church. I have yet to paint an entire iconostasis because I keep getting work at established parishes. I am certainly not complaining about the work that I have been given, but part of me wants to do something from start to finish. So I have an opportunity to fulfill a little bit of a dream for myself, give a wedding gift to my future bride, and give a small Mission something that they could never afford (and I get a tax deduction out of it to boot...)
So a few nights ago I began the first icon for the iconostasis. It is an icon of the Pimen Mother of God, and in the next few days I hope to draw up the icon of Christ to match it. I have decided to document the work, and use it as fuel for my blog. The added benefit of that is that the people of the Church can check in and see what is happening. In addition, there are plans underway for me to teach a class on iconography (more details in the next couple weeks hopefully) from June 9-13 in Boise, and we will be painting the same icon in the class, so this will give me images to use in advertising for the class, and hopefully I can use this blog to get better coverage and fill up that class since part of the profits from the class will be used to support this parish that will be my spiritual home in a few months time.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
In late November of this past year, I received a message from an Orthodox woman named Lisa through a social networking site called Orthodox Circle. She wrote to tell me that she really likes my icons, and that we have some common tastes in music, movies, and books. She went on to tell me a little bit about herself, and asked a couple questions. Now normally I read messages from people and barely respond if at all. I might just send a little note thanking them, but rarely anything more elaborate than that. But she had taken the time to write quite a bit, and so I responded point by point to what she wrote, more out of a sense of obligation than anything else. She then responded again with more detail, more questions, and so I responded again. This continued for a while, and she would usually say something like "I am really enjoying our correspondence, and I hope it can continue." At first this was slightly frustrating. You see, I don't really like email. And our correspondence seemed more like a laundry list of information rather than a real personal exchange. And the other thing that made it difficult was that I had decided that I was not going to pursue a relationship. At 31 years old, I had concluded that God did not have a relationship in store for me, and I had decided that I would just accept that and stop letting it frustrate me. I decided this the day before the first email I received from Lisa.
As time went on, instant messaging was added to the emails, which was a little more natural, and helped me to see Lisa's personality just a little better. At one point we were talking on the catbox (or chatbox to the uninitiated) at desertcalling.com and she sent me a message telling me that I was a "kick in the pants" and that I should give her a call when she got off of work. Being shy and nervous about sounding like an idiot (I hate talking on the phone) I declined and decided that my time would be better spent working on a project I had to get done. But I continued with the emails and IMs.
In late December, Lisa put her feelings on the chopping block, and told me how much she liked me, and said that if I was interested, she would really like to expand our friendship. For me, this was a difficult decision. While I knew that I liked her, and enjoyed talking to her, I didn't really feel like I knew her well, and I was also wary of long-distance relationships (she only lives about 2000 miles away from me). Ultimately, I told Lisa that I was interested, but that I didn't know enough about her and that I had to proceed with caution. So the next time we were talking on IM, she asked me what I would like to know about her. So I started asking questions. this didn't go on very long before she asked me if I would want to talk about it on the phone rather than typing everything. So I bit the bullet and called.
I was a little worried that I would call and show myself to be an idiot. I was a little worried that she would have an annoying voice. I was worried that we would have nothing to talk about. What I found was that she has a lovely voice, and that she is so easy for me to talk to, and that she has an intoxicating laugh. And so 2 days after Christmas, I found myself starting to fall for this woman who lives almost on the other side of the continent. We spoke again on the phone on New Year's Eve, then a few days later, and we gradually started to talk for longer periods of time, and more often. It got to the point that we now talk on the phone for a couple hours a day.
Lisa had a trip to Pennsylvania planned for sometime after Christmas, and was hoping she could meet me in person during that trip. I was a little worried about meeting her, for much the same reasons that I was worried about talking to her on the phone. I agreed to meet her, but was anxious about it. As it turns out, the trip had to be rescheduled for mid-February. By about mid-January, February started to seem like a really long time to have to wait to see her.
By the end of January, I got tired of mouthing the words "I love you" at the phone after hanging up, and decided to tell Lisa how I felt about her. After a really wonderful phone call with neither of us wanting to hang up, I wrote a long email telling her how much she has meant to my life, and I told her that I didn't want another day to pass without telling her that I love her. The next day she told me how much that meant to her even though she didn't think she would be able to say those words until she met me in person. I felt a little saddened by that, but when she told me the next day that she printed out the email and carries it with her, it made me so happy to know that whether she said the words or not, I knew she loved me. It only took a few more days before she was able to say it anyway...
So the weeks leading up to February 13th were some of the longest weeks I have ever had. She only had 3 full days in Pennsylvania, but we tried to make the most of them. We were both so happy to meet in person, and were pleasantly surprised that the connection we had on the phone transferred just fine to our connection in person. On February 14th, being Valentine's Day, I had a present for Lisa. I painted her an icon of her patron saint, St. Elizabeth the New Martyr, and wrote a very long inscription on the back. She cried when I gave it to her, and then held it in her arms for most of that day. She gave me one of her favorite prayer ropes which I now take with me whereever I go. We had so much fun together that she almost missed her flight back home because we just didn't want to say good bye.
So then we waited. We continued talking on the phone daily (thank you Verizon for free calls between Verizon phones), and we continued emailing. On March 18th, I flew out to visit her for her Birthday which was on the 20th. I spent the first two days of my visit cooking food for her Birthday party to which she had invited her friends and family. It was a wonderful night for her, and for me as well. I was able to meet her dad, her aunt and uncle, her best friends, and most of the people at her church.
On Monday evening, I took Lisa to one of the nicest restaurants in town, where we had a delicious dinner. We then took a walk along the river next to the restaurant. I told her how much her love has meant to my life, how she was able to reach past all of the obstacles and barriers I had built up around my heart, and to help me to find love when I thought I never could. I then asked her to be my wife, and gave her the ring that I had bought that morning. Before I could finish asking she said yes.
I have never been happier in my life than I have been the past few months. She is sweeter to me than anyone I have ever known, and I feel so blessed to have her in my life. I know that God worked wonders to bring her into my life, and I am thankful for every moment with her. There are still many things to be worked out, not the least of which is the fact that we live in different states, but we are working toward a future life together, and we are both grateful to have found each other. Please pray for us as we work out the details necessary to make this possible.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
When I was about 12 years old, I went to the eye doctor for the first time. I had been having trouble seeing the blackboard at school, and so I was past due for a pair of glasses. As part of my eye exam, I was shown a set of plates like the one above, and asked if I could see a number in each plate. Naturally I thought the doctor was crazy. Why would he show me a plate with no number in it and expect me to see a number? Of course my diagnosis of crazy doctor turned out to be wrong, and I was told that I was colorblind. Apparently the number 6 is in the graphic above, but I can't see it for the life of me.
At the time I was getting into painting a little, having watched just a bit too much Bob Ross on PBS. Knowing that I was colorblind meant that I had to find a spotter to help with my paintings. I needed someone to tell me if I was using the right color for things. So I turned to my little brother who was also my best friend at the time, and I would seek his advice. I would later discover that he was colorblind as well, and it would seem that he is even more colorblind than me. So I gave up asking his advice.
A couple years later I started studying iconography. There were a few missteps early on. When I first mixed Sankir, which is the base color for the face, I was a little heavy-handed with the green, and after hours of painting, I showed the icon to my dad, and he asked me if it was supposed to be Kermit the Frog or the Incredible Hulk.
It's been years now since I have heard a comment like this, and more often than not it seems like I hear people compliment me on the colors in my icons. I have to laugh a little because half the time I can't even see what it is that I've done. In times past I refused to tell people about my colorblindness for fear that no one would want to order icons from someone who couldn't see the colors he was using. But in recent years I have started to tell people about it.
Of course everyone likes to quiz me on what color shirt they are wearing, but once that novelty wears off, everyone wants to know how I do what I do without being able to see what I do. So I thought I would share a little of that. The first thing to remember is that tubes of paint have labels. This is very helpful to me. I have also spent a fair amount of time studying color theory. I not only know what happens when you mix yellow and blue (thank you ziplock), I also know what happens when you mix yellow and orange (a trade secret I am not willing to share). I can't necessarily see what happens when two colors are mixed, but I know what is happening. I know a lot about which colors are strong colors and which ones are weak colors so I can gauge proportions when mixing colors. I have also come to depend on technology to a certain extent. I will sometimes use the color picking tool in photoshop to see what color something is. Once I have done that I can try to replicate the formula using what I know of theory. But more often than not, I just paint. I don't think a whole lot about what color something is unless there is some particular significance to the color that is being used.
In the rules for an iconographer that I was given, there is a rule that states "When you have to choose a color, reach out to the Lord inwardly and ask His counsel." While I can't say that I always do this consciously, I don't think a lot about what I think would look nice. I prefer instead to pick a color without thinking about my preferences. An iconographer is supposed to be guided by the Holy Spirit. I have a hard time saying that my work is the work of the Holy Spirit given my struggles to remain prayerful and attentive, but I also know that there is nothing that I can do personally to insure that my colors will appeal to anyone. All the theory and practical considerations aside, there are so many times where I just can't see what I have done. I can't tell you how many times I have been asked what colors I used on something, and if I can't remember I usually can't even make an educated guess. So I am left thinking that the Holy Spirit must be doing something through my hand. And my prayer is that as I continue in this work, my influence will diminish and the influence of the Holy Spirit will increase.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
As I mentioned in the last post, I told the Parish Council at my church an abbreviated story of how I returned to the church after a prolonged absence. I mentioned that I had written about this on my blog, and I was asked for a link to the story, but when I looked I realized that while I had talked a lot about my stay in the hospital in a previous post, I had not gone into details about what got me to that place in my life, or how it has impacted me since then, so I will try to go into more detail here now.
I've been Orthodox since infancy, and while most of that time I have attempted to be pious and good, I never really realized that I needed the medicine that the Church provides during most of the first three decades of my life. Piety and goodness seemed like enough. So I served as an altar boy, I sang with the chanters, I went to Sunday School, I crossed myself when I was supposed to, I learned to paint icons, and in all honesty, I enjoyed the Church, I just didn't feel like I needed it. And in reality, I have not been as good or pious as I appeared to other people, but I was good at hiding behind a facade that I created, and I didn't feel deceitful because I did like Church.
Because the Church was just a hobby for me, it was easy to drift away for a time, and to come back when I felt like it. In 2003, I worked on a very big commission that had to be done in a very short amount of time, and I found myself with a lot of money all at once. I took some of that money and I got myself a house about 35 minutes from where I had been going to Church. The house was a fixer-upper that I got for a good price. Since my neighbor was a friend of mine and a contractor, he did a lot of work on the house. He could only work on weekends because of his schedule, and so I didn't go to Church so that I could stay and supervise and help out. It was not something that I felt particularly guilty about because it seemed like it was an honorable and temporary reason to miss Church.
This went on for maybe a couple months. When the work stopped on the house, I had a new reason not to go to Church. I've always been a night owl, and the thought of getting up early in the morning to go to Church was in no way appealing to me, and now that I lived even farther away from Church it was much easier to just stay in bed and sleep in. Sure there was another Church five minutes away that I could have gone to, but I didn't really know those people, and I'd still have to get up early. So I gave in to my laziness and stayed home.
I stopped praying. After all, what is the point of praying when you aren't a churchgoer? Fasting seemed pointless as well. Even taking a minute to think about God would just make me feel guilty, so it was best to just shut that out of my mind. Truth be told, the one thing I didn't stop doing, which I should have, is painting icons. It was my sole source of income, and so I set about the technical act of painting while my soul was far removed from it. I have heard it said that the act of painting an icon is in itself a prayer, but if this is true, I tried very hard to not hear my own prayer. I am ashamed at what I replaced God and His Church with in order to fill my free time.
It is no wonder to me now that God's blessings seemed so far removed from my life during this time as I had run as far away as I could from Him. I ran out of commissions and had to struggle to find new ones, I ran out of money, and accumulated debt, when my car died I had no way to fix it or replace it, so I only left the house to walk to the store or when someone could pick me up. I felt depressed and alone, but I still didn't want to return to God because I thought I could still fix my situation if I could just think of how...
Then one day, I broke my arm. It was a particularly nasty break, and it required three days in the hospital. I spent most of that first night in tears reflecting on my life. A few years earlier I had felt like I had everything, and suddenly I realized that I had nothing. I had squandered everything. I never felt more alone than I did that night. I had not been to Church in years, I hadn't been to confession, and I was worried about going into surgery with my soul in the condition it was in. I felt like the Prodigal Son eating the food meant for pigs, covered in filth, alone, worried that I couldn't even go back home. I made up my mind that, like the Prodigal, I would return to my Father and say "I am no longer worthy to be called your son, but make me as one of your hired servants."
It took me several months before I got back to Church. I wish I could say that I was a transformed person that night on the spot. But this was the beginning. I was headed back along the road to my Father. During my journey back, I was checking the statistics for my website, and I saw that someone had linked an image from my website to a message board called Christian Forums. I followed the link and found that there was an Orthodox section on that forum. I spent a great deal of time reading things there, and learning things about my own faith I did not know. It helped to pull me along the road back to the Church even when I was tired and didn't want to keep walking. At Pascha of that year, I sat and watched a video of the Paschal Divine Liturgy that someone had linked, and cried that I could not be there.
It was not much later that I finally got a car again. The first opportunity I had I went back to Church, and I have been there as often as I could ever since. As if to welcome me back, I finally found my baptismal cross that had been missing for months if not more than a year the very day that I returned to Church for the first time.
Not long after returning to Church I was asked to start singing with the chanters again. I happily agreed because it is such a joy to me to sing in Church. A little while later I was asked to teach Sunday School. I was much more apprehensive about this since I didn't feel like I related well to 9th graders when I was in 9th grade, but they told me someone else would help me, and so I agreed, remembering my promise to be a servant. Last year I was asked to serve on Parish Council. This really frightened me because I had heard horror stories from my Dad over the years, but it was important to me to do what I was asked to do. I was nominated this year for Parish Council Chairman, and wanted so badly not to do the job that was set in front of me, but I know too well the many blessings God has given me, and so I accepted.
I am not a very good servant, and I don't know that I ever will be. But God accepted me back after I denied Him and sought to live my life without Him, and how can I ever repay Him for that? And He continues to bless me far more than I could ever deserve in this life. For every half-hearted attempt to serve Him and to serve others I have received more in return than I could have imagined.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
We are created in the image and likeness of God. And specifically, in the image and the likeness of the Holy Trinity. Just as Father, Son and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons, they are in perfect union with each other. To be truly human is to be in union with other humans and with our Creator. Furthermore, we believe in a God who became a man, sharing in our humanity so that we could share in His Divinity. We also believe that the Church is the Body of Christ, that our salvation lies in our being one with each other with Christ as the head of the Church. To choose to exist as isolated individuals is truly to deny all of these things in practice regardless of whether we agree to them in theory. This isolation, it seems to me, is the very essence of sin. If we truly practiced unity with one another, we could not lie about our neighbor, steal from them, murder them, use them for our own gain, or abuse them.
So tonight at the first meeting of the full Parish Council, I shared the abridged version of how God used financial ruin, and a stay in the hospital to bring me back home to the Church, and how I vowed to return to the Church as a servant which is why I agreed to be on Council and why I agreed to run for Chairman despite my fears and trepidation. And once again, I saw how this little bit of sharing is what begins to tie us together as Christians.
For a while now, I have been sharing things through this blog, and on various other sites I am on, but there is something very different about sharing things in person. What I write here may be read by many people, or no one at all. People may be brought to tears by what I write, or they may roll their eyes. This is not a personal medium, even though there are people writing and people reading. There appears to be a connection between writer and reader, but in most cases this is little more than an illusion. I don't know most of the people that will read this, and so while it might make me feel good to write things down, and it might help someone to read it, we still are not united together in a substantive way.
I have been doing much more sharing in person lately. I have shared my joy, my sorrows, my struggles against temptation, my sins and my faults with people, and in return I have received love, forgiveness, acceptance, encouragement, and consolation. The truth is that if we are even a little bit serious about being a Christian, we have this desire within us to share, and to have others share with us. It is imprinted in us as beings in the image and likeness of God. We have just forgotten how because we live in a fallen world that encourages us to stay separate from each other.
We may start by sharing bits of information about ourselves, but over time we begin to actually share our whole self. And I am finding that the more I do this, the more blessings I have to be thankful for, and I spend more time sharing myself with God.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
I have not posted a blog entry in just over a month now. This blog was intended as a way for me to take some of what is in my head and expose it to the light of day, to share with others my struggles, my triumphs, my joys and my sorrows. I wanted it to be a means for me to spend more time outside my thoughts and to let others in. But in order to do so, I feel like I have some cleaning and rearranging to do. It turns out that this is harder for me to do than I had expected.
For the better part of my 32 years on this earth, the part that I can remember at least, My life has been lived inside my head. I let very few people in to look around, and I spend very little time outside of it. I keep people at arms length because it is easier than trying to fix what I don't like about myself, and easier than taking the time to clean up and set my life in order. The one thing that never occurred to me in all this time is that there are actually people that might want into my head even though the place is a mess.
The real reason I have not posted anything in a month is that I have been busy doing a little cleaning in my head and in my heart to welcome an amazing new friend in. And like any good cleaning, it kicks up a lot of dust, displaces a lot of things temporarily, and occasionally looks like more of a mess than before I started cleaning. My head has been more of a mess than usual, making it hard to write about my thoughts in a public forum, but it has been a mess in a way that hopefully will make it a more inviting place to be on a regular basis.
Just like my priest doesn't ask if my house will be clean before he schedules a house blessing, this person didn't ask me to clean house, but I feel compelled to put my house in order before I invite someone else in. I find my head a more peaceful place to be now that I have done some cleaning. I like opening the doors and letting the sunshine in. I like bringing this visitor in to have a look around. I like being able to share my life with another person who for some reason doesn't seem to mind that I haven't finished cleaning yet and probably never will. And when the dust settles, I am hopeful that I will start spending more time outside my mind, and be more willing to let others inside.