I have just returned from a beautiful, powerful, intense experience where art and prayer were indistinguishable. I have come away with a deep appreciation for the time and skill it takes to paint an icon properly, the patience it builds, the prayers it exacts. We began every day with the prayer of the iconographer, and then we prayed all day in silence. Other than the demonstrations given by our teacher, a master iconographer from Greece, we spent the rest of the sixty hours we worked in communion with Christ. Personally, I prayed the Jesus prayer in unison with my breath most often. I also wrote the names of those I was praying this icon for over the hearts of Jesus and Mary before I painted, and I love knowing that they will always be there, close to their hearts, hidden in the many-layered folds of their mantles.
Growing up a Protestant, I knew nothing of icons until I took a class in Jerusalem in 1994. As a Christian, I was confused about their purpose, mistaking them for idols at worst or distractions at best. As an artist, I thought them simple in technique, albeit beautiful in a severe and gaudy sort of way.
My ignorant interpretation persisted through my BA in art, despite my attending a Catholic University and entering the Church in 2000, and through my years living in St. Petersburg, Russia, despite being surrounded by some excellent examples of iconography and the devout worshippers who utilized them.
In 2006 I moved from the Roman Catholic Church to the Byzantine Catholic Church, and it was here that my understanding of and love for icons was born and grew. In 2011 I began experimenting with copying icons that I liked. I have always done work incorporating tiny detail and intricate design, & iconography was then just another form of artwork for me. I took a 15 hour class with Father Elias, a Byzantine priest here in Texas, and I happily learned more about the process and the prayers that accompany icon writing. I enjoyed doing an icon of St. Nicholas and getting to know the other people in the class while we painted, but it was more of a painting session than a spiritual experience for me.
My journey has lead me to deepen my experience of iconography, which is not like other forms of art. It is not merely painting, but a spiritual ritual. It is not self-expression or decoration, but an opportunity to commune with the Divine prototype through the written image.