Father Theophane: Ego stains

Icons created by Fr. Théophane. Photo by Father Théophane

By Father Théophane
Saint Job Orthodox Church of Pochaiv
Los Allamos

For the past few months, my work in the pottery store has been suspended. However, I have worked on my iconographic practice, and it seems that I will make an exhibition of it in July at the Library. All the more reason to continue.

In an icon, painted (or written) in the medieval Russian style, the first layer of pigments is the darkest. This is called “roskrysh”, which translates means to discover, the image begins to be discovered. The painting turns from darkness to light, hopefully reflecting and symbolizing our own journey to enlightenment.

The pigments, suspended in the egg tempera, are applied very loosely at this point, almost like watercolors. And the pigments settle in random and unpredictable patterns. However, what can result are dark spots, where too much pigment is deposited too quickly. My instructor, Father Mefodii, likes to call these “ego points”. If the painter gives too much reign to his ego, it results in an overabundance of these spots.

There are those who believe (and I have little reason to doubt it) that all of his passions, weakness and sins, become evident in different and specific ways when creating icons. Whether this is true or not, this is definitely a journey of spiritual self-discovery.

My current icons are covered in ego stains. I realize that the work on myself is not as advanced as I had hoped.

This also became evident around the time I sat on the Los Alamos County Public Places Art Board. While championing an artist and commission that I believe would be a great addition to the county’s collection, I have become defensive and combative; much more than I have ever done on things of the Church and of the spiritual nature. I said and wrote things that I shouldn’t have had, and in a way, without charity, that I shouldn’t have had. I ask forgiveness from anyone who has been offended by my words.

Iconography, like our life, is an additive process. Mistakes are made and passions are revealed, but there is no room, no possibility of erasure. We cannot go back and fix the mistakes; we cannot really take back the words and actions that cause injury. We can only continue to do better in the next steps.

The roskrysh is the beginning and there are coming lines, three highlights and three floats, final highlights and final lines. God willing, there is more to come, and we shouldn’t be defined by our worst day. God willing, the icon will turn out beautiful even with the ego stains, a little tempered, and my life too.

About Laurence Johnson

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