by Catherine Doherty.
In Eastern Christianity, icons are not just another form of religious art, in the way we of the West see religious art. And the iconographer, the one who paints them, is not simply an artist. Joan Bryant was an iconographer for 38 years.
I have never been able to express what it is that an icon means to me. It’s not a photograph.
An icon is a fruit of prayer, a deep fruit of prayer. An icon is a fruit of fasting. An icon is a fruit of faith. An icon is a fruit of joy.
A icon is not a dialogue with God. It’s a monologue, and God is the one who does the monologue. He explains, he tells; he guides the hand of the painter. The painter who fasts and who prays and who is in pain, and who cries out, "Out of the depths I cry to Thee, oh Lord."
Yes, to those who do, he puts his hand over theirs, and out of this collaboration come icons that stop you in your tracks in the various churches, and alas, today, all over.
When I hear people tell me that they are icon painters, I never say a word, because there is nothing to say. It’s like a child who learns to say "Papa" and "Mama," but cannot pronounce either.
An icon painter—yes, there are icon painters. They can paint icons. I’m not denying that they can paint icons. But the icons are empty. It’s like you look at an icon like that, and you can see through it. You see through the paint and the wood, and what do you see? Emptiness, nothing, because that is not the way icons are painted.
An icon is painted with the blood-life of the icon painter. The icon painter has been chosen by God, even if he or she doesn’t know it, to paint immortality. To paint without ever revealing what he, the icon painter, might catch a glimpse of.
But he or she doesn’t do it consciously. Unconsciously he will reveal, and because he will reveal unconsciously what the Lord’s hand upon his hand moves him to do, the icon will become a corridor to God.
The icon painter is a corridor painter; that is to say, there are corridors and corridors, and this corridor is one of those that are often seen in all the monasteries. It’s not just a plain corridor, the kind that we walk through. No. It’s a holy corridor, a corridor that saints walked, Our Lady walked, but above all, Christ walked.
And, factually, it’s not a corridor at all. It’s a path. You can hear, in the winter, the howling storms; the snow that is on your face. And in the summer and spring, the gentle breezes, and in the fall, the colors of gold. Yes, an icon painter catches all these, and puts them on wood.
And the icon is blessed by a bishop, and it is baptized, and it is hung in a church or a house, in the eastern corner, from which Christ came.
And now you are invited. The icon painter invites everybody to walk that path. To have the snow on his face, her face, to feel the breezes of the spring, and the warm breezes of the summer, and the golden leaves in the autumn.
The icon painter invites the beholder to walk into the icon, because he has given it substance. There is no way to go through that wood on which the icon is painted. Because the whole icon is a path that leads to the Father. The whole icon exists so that people, moving as the icon painter paints and moves, fall flat before the Father and kiss his feet.
The saints, Our Lady, Jesus Christ himself, show you the way. Lo, behold fire, fire, fire from the path, from the corridor, if you want to call it that. Fire. An icon is a fire. It enters into your soul and is right there, so that when you look at another person, the fire jumps and the other person falls. It is thus that an icon painter brings men to God.
—From Restoration, April 1979
If you enjoy our articles, we ask you to please consider subscribing to the print edition of Restoration; it's only $10 a year, and will help us stay in print. Thanks, and God bless you!