Icon painting: with love and prayer

A talk with an icon painter Sergiy in the icon painting workshop of Minsk monastery of the Saint Elizabeth.
A talk with an icon painter Sergiy in the icon painting workshop of Minsk monastery of the Saint Elizabeth.

— How the icons are being created today?
— Somebody chooses a simple way: takes any materials, any paints — this is cheaper. In our workshop we try to observe ancient traditions of icon painting. We use only paints of the minerals — malachite, lasurite, cinnabar… They are rather expensive and difficult to get. We bring them from Moscow, where there are several specialized shops. Prior to the icon painting, it is necessary to choose a material. We need a well dried board, as a rule, linden or pine one. Special claims are laid to it, not each woodworker can make a board for an icon. It is necessary to take into account the temperature and humidity in the temple. After the board was chosen, it is covered with a canvas, it is glued and then covered by a chalky coat. Only after this you can get down to painting. The colour is applied in many layers by a special technology, which, they say, came to us from Egypt. The paint is hand-made: powdered minerals are mixed with egg emulsion — egg yolk and some white wine. Minerals, though powdered, still possess the property of a stone — that is why icons are so perennial.
— In what way an icon differs from a picture?
— An icon, we can say, plays a role of the mediator between the earth and the heaven. Any image can be deeply symbolical. In order to approach to its understanding, you should see with the eyes of the believer.
— Which peculiar requirements are placed to the painter, who decided to dedicate himself to the icon painting?
— To each, who comes to work in our workshop, we say: “If you came to serve God — you are welcome, but if you came to work and to receive money — you came at a wrong address”.
Prior the work at the icon, the painter has to study everything, what was before him. And he starts to descend by the tree of knowledge — to the roots. First of all — Rublev, Dionisiy, then — pre-Mongolian Russian icon, Byzantine icon, the icon of the V–VIth centuries — Sinaitic… And till the earliest images of Christ and Madonna. The process of study is time-consuming, it takes several years. In point of the fact, the icon painter studies during the whole life. This can be clearly seen by his works: this is an image, created in the first year, in the fifth, in the tenth… An icon painter shall understand and outlive the event, which he paints.
—How the labour of the icon-painter is paid?
— The price for the icon is rather a donation. While paying for it, the buyer donates for the temple. But, of course, the icon-painter also gets some amount. It is worth saying, that he is not a simple worker, and a person, who came to the workshop by call of his heart, by dictation of his soul. A painter, who decides to paint icons, sooner or later comes to realization of the fact, that he will have to choose. Because you can’t work at the iconostasis in the afternoon, and seat in the bar in the evening or go to the disco. An icon becomes the centre of life, this is why money stop playing such role, which they play during execution of other manufacturing works.
— Where in Belarus one can master this art?
— In Blagoveschensky monastery in Slonim works the religious school, where an icon painting department has recently been opened.
— How can you explain the myrrh-pouring of icons?
— As a wonder, which is given to us in order a man to ponder. He decides by himself, which choice to make. People say, that before the Great Patriotic War many cases were noted, when the icons poured myrrh. For example, on the eve of the terrorist act of the 11th September in the temple of Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem the icon of Our Saviour poured myrrh abundantly. This looked in a way, as if the feet of Our Saviour bled. Having learned this, the journalists connected with Orthodox priests in Jerusalem, and they told, that the icon of Our Saviour had abundantly poured myrrh on the eve of the massacre of Saint Bartholomew and on the eve of the World War II.
And sometimes the wonder of myrrh-pouring is a sign of peculiar God’s grace.

Anna Bondarchuk
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