Thursday, June 2, 2016

The icon of Jesus is called "Pantocrator, Christ as the All-Powerful." The red undergarment indicating His humanity; outer blue garment indicating His heavenly origin. 

The Good Samaritan Icon: a Jew on the road to Jerico is waylaid. Attacked. Left for dead. The Good Samaritan (Jesus) shows healing compassion, taking him on his donkey to the inn (the church) for healing. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

New Creation Icon from Fr. Leo

The style of this Icon is in the tradition of Eastern Orthodox iconography, a multi-layered method of painting from the darkness of non-being to the light of life. Icons are "theology in color", "windows to heaven”. Here the subject conflates the time lapse of the creation story into one image. Christ is seen descending in the clouds of heaven with a blessing for all that He has created. The Holy Spirit is depicted as a Dove from heaven. The Father is symbolized as a hand of creative blessing from above. Eve is seen coming from the side of Adam who is asleep during the event.

What a joy it will be when he wakes up and beholds the masterpiece that God has created while he slept. All the animals and fishes are painted in twos, indicating they are still with us. Those that later become extinct are painted as individuals. The newly created heavens compose a background for all that is created on earth.  Note the serpent slithering down the fruited tree on the far right. The icon expresses, not how the creation took place, but by Whom all was created. God said, “Let it be!” and “Bang!” There it was. Fr. Leo can be reached at (925) 456-0845 or

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


NEW YORK – The Holy Eparchial Synod of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, that convened for its regularly scheduled Spring meeting, Apr. 20-22, issued the following statement regarding recent tragic events in North Africa and the Middle East.

STATEMENTby the Holy Eparchial Synodof the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Americaon Recent Tragic Events in North Africa and the Middle East

Every day we learn of people’s suffering throughout the world and it is easy to become desensitized to the pain and affliction caused in various circumstances and in manifold contexts:

Hundreds of migrants have just drowned in the Mediterranean as they innocently sought shelter, even as others exploited their vulnerability.

Thousands have been massacred in Syria, Yemen and throughout many nations of the Middle East as power and greed turn a blind eye to blameless civilians seeking to survive or escape.

Untold numbers are unknown victims of sectarianism, discrimination and exclusion both in their own countries like Nigeria and Zimbabwe or in neighboring regions like Libya and South Africa.  Such conflict and bloodshed is not restricted to the Middle East and Africa but also wreaks havoc in Europe, with hostilities in Ukraine.

Before such ongoing horrific acts of brutality, wrought by brother against brother throughout the world, we will not remain silent, but raise our voices in solidarity and prayer. As Saint Paul reminds us, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12.26).

Therefore, we express our concern and compassion for the situation of Christians in Egypt and Northern Africa as well as in Iraq, Syria and the entire Middle East. We express our support for their right to remain and flourish in their homelands. And we condemn every form of oppression and violence against all human beings, irrespective of racial origin, ethnic background or religious conviction.

We are appalled by the discrimination and brutality against people of every religion, but especially against Christians kidnapped and indiscriminately slaughtered. We recall with profound sorrow the disappearance two years ago, during this very period after the celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection, of the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Boulos Yazigi (brother of His Beatitude Patriarch John X of Antioch) and the Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim, both of Aleppo, Syria, who were kidnapped by Islamist militants during a joint philanthropic mission in the region.  We continue to pray for their safe return among us.  

Moreover, we profoundly grieve over the very recent loss of the Ethiopian and Coptic Christians callously beheaded by Islamic extremists in Libya. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has always welcomed our Ethiopian and Coptic brethren in our communities throughout this country. We share in their loss and mourning at such unjustifiable events. May God’s mercy serve as balm for their wounds and bring healing to their communities.

We urge the faithful of our Archdiocese and all people of good will to keep our suffering brothers and sisters in their prayer. And “may the Lord of peace give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you” (2 Thess 3.16).

Thursday, April 9, 2015

“In the radiance and glory of this Holy Pascha we find the meaning of life as it was created to be.  We see our goal, our purpose, our completion and our eternity.  Our hope for the journey of life is strengthened. Our understanding of life, of others, of the world, and of all creation is changed in the truth and certainty of the Resurrection.  Fear is vanquished, the threat of death is annihilated, and the weakness of sin is exposed in the enduring light of our Lord’s holiness and glory,” writes Archbishop Demetrios, spiritual leader of 1.5 million Greek Orthodox Christians in America in his Paschal Encyclical.

Orthodox Pascha is celebrated this Sunday, April 12, 2015, one week after the celebration of the Western Easter. The Orthodox date for Easter is based on a decree of the Council of Nicaea, Asia Minor, held in 325 A.D.  According to this decree, Easter must be celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon of the vernal equinox but always after the Hebrew Passover to maintain the Biblical sequence of events of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. The Orthodox Christian churches have adhered strictly to this formula through the centuries.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Dear Friends of St. Christiana... Our Open House with Yard Sale & Old World Bake Sale is coming up on Saturday Oct 25. We are not only have our usual schedule but will be featuring our 10th anniversary as well as the 100th anniversary of the building we are using for our temple. There will also be a mini choir presentation.  See you there!



Dear Friends in Christ, the Perfect Icon of the Father,
I learned as a practicing iconographer that what I see is as important as what I hear. It is true that “Faith comes by hearing; hearing the word of God”(Romans 10:17). It finally dawned on me that faith also comes from seeing: seeing what? The word of God in images and color.
An icon creates a visual place to pray. Just ‘gazing’ reverently at an icon can lift my spirit to contemplate the realm of the Holy Spirit. That is why Icons are called “theology in color”. They express the Gospel truths through visual medium, and so are also known as “Windows to Heaven”.
Icons have lately been rediscovered broadly among Christians who thirst for the beauty of God and the Gospel. God is not just beautiful, God IS beauty, just as He is Love and Truth. An Icon is a work of beauty and beauty bears witness to God. Of course we pray ‘with icons’ not to them.
Over the past year I have “written” (painted) these six iconic events in the life and work of Christ specifically for our retreat:
The retreat describes the meaning of each Icon. Then we are prepared to contemplate the Icon by simply “gazing” at it, and through it to the reality each represents, relying on the sensitivity of our hearts more than the rational function of our minds. It is an activity of the spirit whereby we place ourselves in the presence of the Lord and His saving work depicted in the Icon. This is because the Icon transmits the Christian faith in line and color.
Please register now for the October 11th retreat at San Damiano Retreat Center P O Box 767 Danville CA 94526-0767
I look forward to sharing with you what I have learned by personal experience over many years.
See you there!
Fr. Leo Arrowsmith
Priest-iconographer and retreat-master

The above Retreat will take place on October 11, 2014.  Please contact Fr. Leo at


The icon workshops I have been doing of recent months have been very successful. A lot of folks want to try their hand at icon ‘writing’ which is an art genre all its own. Most everyone has different schedules because of work and other commitments, so I decided to make our workshops “open workshops”, that is, I will continue to do workshops each Wednesday from 9 am to 11:30 am, but each participant can choose when they can attend as fits their schedule. To do this, each student will be instructed individually even though in a group setting. Some will be just starting a new icon; some will already be completing their icon. Everyone can pace themselves as time is available.

If you are interested in taking advantage of this ongoing opportunity to learn to write your own icon or to improve your skill, please let me know by email or phone. (925) 456-0845. There are no pre-requisites, but some drawing talent is needed. Please let others know of the open workshop. We will continue to use acrylics as our chosen medium. Included in the cost of $50 per session is the pre-gessoed board you will be painting on and all other materials needed except four brushes which you can purchase from me at the workshop at cost if you do not already have brushes.

Give me a ring and let’s chat about the feasibility of working together to produce beautiful icons worthy of veneration by the faithful. There is lots to learn and I am eager to introduce you to the art and spiritual exercise of iconography.

Fr. Leo

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Updated details: “Windows to Heaven”
Fr. Leo’s 2nd Workshop in iconography at
Bothwell Arts Center 2466 8th St. Livermore

We will be writing an icon of the Theotokos (Mother and Child). We will be in a better lighted room. This theme will require all the time we have available on Saturday and Sunday. Maximum number of students only 10. Only the first 10 to register will be able to participate. Board, brushes, and all materials are provided. $75 per student.


SATURDAY January 25th
9:00 am – 9:30 am Getting acquainted – distribution of all materials

9:30 am - 12:00 noon - Instruction in how to ‘write’ your own Icon of Theotokos (Mary with Child)

12:00 noon – 12:45 pm bag lunch (bring your own)

12:45 - 4:00 pm Continue painting session

4:00 Prayer of dismissal

SUNDAY January 26th: 
1:00 pm – 4:00 pm Continued instruction and painting your icon of the Theotokos.

To preregister or for more information, call Fr. Leo Arrowsmith at (925) 456-0845 or email him at
Fr. Leo’s blogsite: DoveTaleIcons/

ABOUT FR. LEO: A lifetime spent in drawing, sculpting and painting, Fr. Leo came to iconography when appointed Rector of St. Innocent Orthodox Church in 1996. Since then he has written more than 50 icons for the parish church. Now retired, he continues to write icons and introduce the public to icons as an art and a spiritual way of life.

Writing an icon is time consuming and should not be rushed. If you are unable to finish your icon during the time of the workshop, you may either finish it at home on your own, or you may make an individual appointment with me to help you complete your icon. The cost is $75 for an hour and a half individual session. If two or more make the appointment together, the cost is $50 per student. The sessions will be at Bothwell Arts Center . 
Happy painting! 
Blessings!  Fr. Leo


Workshops Continue this Saturday... Check Schedule with Fr. Leo at

Newest Update from Fr. Leo... Please contact him at his new email address for any questions or if you would like to commission an icon.  
New Email:

MARK YOUR CALENDARS:  “Windows to Heaven”

Fr. Leo’s Lecture and Workshop in iconography
Bothwell Arts Center 2466 8th St. Livermore

WHEN:  Sunday December 1st:  Lecture on iconography
Saturday December 7th:  Workshop in writing your own icon


SUNDAY December 1st, 6:30 – 8:30 pm  (freewill offerings accepted)
6:00 – 6:30 Getting acquainted
6:30 – 7:30 Fr. Leo’s lecture icon painting
  What is an “Icon”?
  Praying with Icons
  How to get started ‘writing’ your own Icon
7:30 – 8:00 Refreshments
8:00 – 8:30 pm Mini-workshop: How to line draw an icon 

SATURDAY December 7th, 10 am – 3 pm (bring your bag lunch) Cost: $30
10:00 am – 12 noon: hands on instruction as you paint your icon of the head of Christ. Board and materials provided. Maximum students only 10
12:00 – 12:45 pm: bag lunch
12:45 pm – 3:00 pm: continued instruction and painting

For more information, call Fr. Leo Arrowsmith at (925) 456-0845 or email at

Fr. Leo’s blogsite: 

This is your opportunity to learn about how icons are made (“written”); a brief overview of the origins and development of iconography and how icons relate to worship in Orthodoxy.

ABOUT FR. LEO: A lifetime spent in drawing, sculpting and painting, Fr. Leo came to iconography when appointed Rector of St. Innocent Orthodox Church in 1996. Since then he has written more than 50 icons for the parish church. Now retired, he continues to write icons and introduce the public to icons as an art and a spiritual way of life.

LOCATION: Bothwell Arts Center, 2466 8th St., Livermore (ample curb parking)

This is "Image Made Without Hands". One of the recent icons I have written.. The Transfer from Edessa to Constantinople of the Icon of our Lord Jesus Christ Not-Made-by-Hands occurred in the year 944. Eusebius, in his HISTORY OF THE CHURCH (I:13), relates that when the Savior was preaching, Abgar ruled in Edessa. He was stricken all over his body with leprosy. Reports of the great miracles worked by the Lord spread throughout Syria (Mt.4:24) and reached even Abgar. Without having seen the Savior, Abgar believed in Him as the Son of God. He wrote a letter requesting Him to come and heal him. He sent with this letter to Palestine his own portrait-painter Ananias, and commissioned him to paint a likeness of the Divine Teacher.
Ananias arrived in Jerusalem and saw the Lord surrounded by people. He was not able to get close to Him because of the large throng of people listening to the preaching of the Savior. Then he stood on a high rock and attempted to paint the portrait of the Lord Jesus Christ from afar, but this effort was not successful. The Savior saw him, called to him by name and gave him a short letter for Abgar in which He praised the faith of this ruler. He also promised to send His disciple to heal him of his leprosy and guide him to salvation.

Then the Lord asked that water and a cloth be brought to Him. He washed His Face, drying it with the cloth, and His Divine Countenance was imprinted upon it. Ananias took the cloth and the letter of the Savior to Edessa. Reverently, Abgar pressed the holy object to his face and he received partial healing. Only a small trace of the terrible affliction remained until the arrival of the disciple promised by the Lord. He was St Thaddeus, Apostle of the Seventy (August 21), who preached the Gospel and baptized Abgar and all the people of Edessa. Abgar put the Holy Napkin in a gold frame adorned with pearls, and placed it in a niche over the city gates. On the gateway above the icon he inscribed the words, “O Christ God, let no one who hopes on Thee be put to shame.”

For many years the inhabitants kept a pious custom to bow down before the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands, when they went forth from the gates. But one of the great-grandsons of Abgar, who later ruled Edessa, fell into idolatry. He decided to take down the icon from the city wall. In a vision the Lord ordered the Bishop of Edessa to hide His icon. The bishop, coming by night with his clergy, lit a lampada before it and walled it up with a board and with bricks.

Many years passed, and the people forgot about it. But in the year 545, when the Persian emperor Chozroes I besieged Edessa and the position of the city seemed hopeless, the Most Holy Theotokos appeared to Bishop Eulabius and ordered him to remove the icon from the sealed niche, and it would save the city from the enemy. Having opened the niche, the bishop found the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands: in front of it was burning the lampada, and upon the board closing in the niche, a copy of the icon was reproduced. After a church procession with the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands had made the circuit of the city walls, the Persian army withdrew.

In the year 630 Arabs seized Edessa, but they did not hinder the veneration of the Holy Napkin, the fame of which had spread throughout all the East. In the year 944, the emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitos (912-959) wanted to transfer the icon to the Constantinople, and he paid a ransom for it to the emir of the city. With great reverence the Icon of the Savior Not-Made-by-Hands and the letter which He had written to Abgar, were brought to Constantinople by clergy.

On August 16, the icon of the Savior was placed in the Tharossa church of the Most Holy Theotokos. There are several traditions concerning what happened later to the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands. According to one, crusaders ran off with it duringtheir rule at Constantinople (1204-1261), but the ship on which the sacred object was taken, perished in the waters of the Sea of Marmora.

According to another tradition, the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands was transported around 1362 to Genoa, where it is preserved in a monastery in honor of the Apostle Bartholomew. It is known that the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands repeatedly gave from itself exact imprints. One of these, named “On Ceramic,” was imprinted when Ananias hid the icon in a wall on his way to Edessa; another, imprinted on a cloak, wound up in Georgia. Possibly, the variance of traditions about the original Icon Not-Made-by-Hands derives from the existence of several exact imprints.

During the time of the Iconoclast heresy, those who defended the veneration of icons, having their blood spilt for holy icons, sang the Troparion to the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands. In proof of the validity of Icon-Veneration, Pope Gregory II (715-731) sent a letter to the Byzantine emperor, in which he pointed out the healing of King Abgar and the sojourn of the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands at Edessa as a commonly known fact. The Icon Not-Made-by-Hands was put on the standards of the Russian army, defending them from the enemy. In the Russian Orthodox Church it is a pious custom for a believer, before entering the temple, to read the Troparion of the Not-Made-by-Hand icon of the Savior, together with other prayers.

According to the Prologue, there are four known Icons of the Savior Not-Made-by-Hands:

at Edessa, of King Abgar (August 16)
the Kamulian, -- St Gregory of Nyssa (January 10) wrote of its discovery, while according to St Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain (July 14), the Kamulian icon appeared in the year 392, but it had in appearance an icon of the Mother of God (August 9)
in the time of Emperor Tiberius (578-582), St Mary Syncletike (August 11) received healing from this
on ceramic tiles (16 August)

The Feast of the Transfer of the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands, made together with the Afterfeast of the Dormition, they call the third-above Savior Icon, the “Savior on Linen Cloth.” The particular reverence of this Feast in the Russian Orthodox Church is also expressed in iconography, and the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands was one of the most widely distributed.

Friday, February 1, 2013

New TV Interview - Get To Know the DoveTale Iconographer - Fr. Leo

A wonderful new TV interview is now available for you to get to know the life of Fr. Leo the DoveTale Iconographer!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Who in the world is Fr. Leo?

My mom said on many occasions, “Son, you always choose the odd way to go!” She was referring to leaving my parents’ home in New York to attend Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles when I was 15 in order to study the arts of painting, illustration, life-drawing from high school teachers who were also successful professional artists. For me, drawing began at the tender age of seven when I drew a portrait of the neighbor’s jet black Scottie dog.

Mom thought it was especially ‘odd’ when I joined the Army Paratroopers in Fort Benning, GA, who sent me to the Philippines during WWII with the 11th Airborne Division.

Once again after separation from the army, Mom was shocked when I told her I was going off to the Jesuits right after studying art at the prestigious Bisttram School of Fine Arts on Wilshire Blvd in LA. Besides the usual long course of classical Jesuit studies, I continued to draw, paint and sculpt. I asked the Lay Brother who was cook in the seminary to cast a 100 gallon bar of homemade soap which I carved into my version of “The Thinker”. Thanks for the inspiration Monsieur Rodin! During the next rainy season we had soap suds floating down the hillside.

I continued my love of sculpture with such projects as a head of Christ in a block of walnut. The Dark streaks in the wood  coincided with where the tears of the suffering Christ streamed down. We had lots of hard sandstone in the seminary hills which I used to chisel a more than life-size head of Christ. The Christ was always my favorite subject, but I also carved a full figure of the Theotokos in walnut. In those pre-Orthodox years I knew the Theotokos only as the “Mother of God”. Another sculpture was of the bust of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Founder of the Jesuits, with which I was dissatisfied, so I threw it out the second story window of the seminary. Oh my! After three years of intense studies I was awarded an MA in Philosophy in spite of throwing sculpture out the window. My thesis was on the Aristotelian concept of Mimesis (art and imitation).

My informal career in art blossomed when I arrived in Japan where I studied and worked as a Jesuit missionary for 12 years. Japanese art and architecture became my new love.  I visited the ancient centers of Japanese art and architecture at every opportunity. After completing four years of theological studies with an MA in Theology, and one year of ascetical studies in Hiroshima, I began my four years of architectural studies in Tokyo. My first design project upon graduating from Tokyo University with a Masters degree in Architecture was a library for St. Mary’s School of Theology in Tokyo where I had studied theology for four years. During those years I continued to turn out sculptures large and small. One of my pet projects was a life-size Crucifix for a Japanese church near the seminary. The parishioners carried it in procession several miles to the church.

Upon my return to California in 1967 I began teaching courses in art and theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley under the auspices of the Jesuit School of Theology. It was while teaching there and working on a doctorate in Architecture (which I never finished) that I met Denise Mason, daughter of a Baptist Pastor from South Africa. Long story short - we married with the blessing of Rome in 1971. Last December we celebrated our 40th anniversary.

For some years I traveled as a ‘Catholic Evangelist’ but eventually found my way to Orthodoxy when I discovered the Evangelical Orthodox Church (EOC). We moved to Santa Cruz County and became part of the historic movement of the EOC into canonical Orthodoxy. I taught Philosophy at Bethany Bible College during that time. Metropolitan PHILIP ordained me along with more than 30 others to the priesthood with such luminaries as Fr. Peter Gilquist, Fr. Jon Braun, and Fr. Jack Sparks. This was 1987 on the Feast of Pope St. Leo the Great. So I took the name Leo in hopes I might be a bridge of some kind between Rome and Orthodoxy. Still waiting. Perhaps through iconography?

Ever since becoming rector of the OCA St. Innocent Orthodox Mission on Father’s Day in 1996, I have been engaged in writing icons for the parish. I had no idea how far it would go. Now there are more than 50 icons that I have written for my parish church. I am still continuing this ministry so dear to my heart. Over the years I have taken workshops in icon writing from both Greek and Russian masters.

I was able to share my love for icons when I began doing workshops for interested students from both Protestant and Catholic backgrounds. We even formed an ‘Icon Circle’ to share our journey in iconography.

On October 1st of this year I will retire as rector of St. Innocent and remain there as an ‘attached’ priest iconographer. Retirement will free me up to offer workshops in iconography. My key PowerPoint presentation describes both the history and process of icon writing. I tie it all together with Bible references to the spiritual dimension of writing icons. Anyone interested in arranging for a lecture or workshop can contact me at Fr.

“In everything give thanks!,” 1Thessalonians 5:18

Iconography by the Hand of Archpriest Leo Arrowsmith

Priest-iconographer Fr. Leo  is the Rector of St. Innocent of Alaska Orthodox Church in Livermore CA.   Fr. Leo attended Icon workshops under Russian masters at Prosopon. Iconographers from throughout the world and from many eras have influenced him.

For more than twenty years Fr. Leo has been blessed to paint more than 60 icons for his own parish church and for homes throughout the United States.  It is his prayer that God will use his work in a way that people will learn of the love of God.  


At present time I accept commissions for the creation of  icons for personal devotion. Besides commissioned work, I have created giclee copies of my original work which are also available.

I am also available to lecture about Iconography and the Orthodox Christian faith in Churches and on College campuses.

Approximate pricing guidelines are shown below. (these pricing guidelines do not include shipping or Sales Tax for CA residents)

(Single Half-Figure)

* 5" x 6"                  $125

* 7" x 9"                  $200

8" x 10"                   $300

9 1/2" x 12 1/2"       $375

11" x 14"                 $425

15" x 15"                 $600

13" x 17"                 $600

15" x 20"                 $750

17" x 21"                 $825

18" x 24"                 $900

24" x 36"                 $1400

* Note: Because of the difficulty of detail — 5" x 6" & 7" x 9" are typically for head & shoulders (half figure) icons only.

Important Notes:
Full Figure images should be 13" x 17" or larger  Traditional Festal Icons should be 18" x 24" or larger.
Exact pricing will depend on several factors. When sending your inquiry, please provide a detailed description of your desired icon including:
subject or subjects
full-Figure(s) or half-Figure(s)
guilding options (full, halo, no guild, etc.)
desired borders or other preferences

Please note:
Dear Patrons,
When commissioning an icon, it is important to be aware of the fact that most of the famous icons of the world are 24” x 36” or larger. The detail that is so easily represented in a print is due to the fact that the image has usually been reduced many times. For this reason the same detail that you may see in an 8” x 10” print may not be reproduceable in an actually hand-painted icon.

As an iconographer, the most important detail for me in the icon is the face. This is where the eyes and expression will hopefully lead us spiritually to an experience of the heavenly. This is not to devaluate the rest of the image, but to hopefully suggest that sacrificing the size of the face for the sake of excess detail in a smaller icon may not be beneficial.

An icon is a spiritual investment. The icons you receive will last many generations. They are not just symbols for the wall or copies of famous images, but individually part of the common experience of the Church. No two icons are ever exactly alike. The icon that you receive will be unique and communal, hopefully acting as a spiritual tool helping all who view it in their journey towards the Truth. Icons are not just reminders of the Faith or symbolic theology, but a mystical point where the wall between this world and the next becomes a translucent veil helping us to shed the scales from our eyes and open our hearts to heaven.

Your unworthy servant,

Archpriest Leo

If you wish to proceed and commission the icon, we will then provide you with an invoice for the quoted amount. Orders less than $500 will need to be paid in advance. For larger orders (over $500), you have the option of an initial invoice of 50% of the quotation up-front and 50% upon completion of your icon. These invoices can be paid by check.

Use the form below to send us your hand-written icon inquiry and we will contact you about the details.
Full Name:
City, State Zip:

Enter the type and size of the icon,
a description and the subject(s) you are interested in below:
(for an accurate quote—please be as detailed as possible)
Currently, hand-painted icons can be provided within 1-3 months upon the receipt of an order.

Iconography by the Hand of

Archpriest Leo Arrowsmith

2987 College Ave #165
Livermore CA 94550
(925) 456-0845

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Apocalypse: an Iconic Review in Word and Color

Fr. Leo has hand-written several large icons on the theme: “The Apocalypse: an Iconic Review in Word and Color”. When feasible, the four by four foot icons will be transported to the place where Fr. Leo will give a ‘powerpoint’ lecture that covers both the meaning of the icons and discussion of chosen texts from the book of Revelation. The icons are visual representations of specific chosen texts. His explanations are based on the patristic book The Apocalypse in the Teachings of Ancient Christianity, by Archbishop Averky (Taushev) and Father Seraphim Rose. This is an exciting way of looking noetically at the Book of Revelation from a Priest-iconographer’s visual and theological vantage point.

Please contact Fr. Leo to make arrangements for this lecture.

A Discourse in Iconography

by St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco

Iconography began on the day our Lord Jesus Christ pressed a cloth to His face and imprinted His divine-human image thereon. According to tradition, Luke the Evangelist painted the image of the Mother of God; and, also according to tradition, there still exist today many Icons which were painted by him. An artist, he painted not only the first Icons of the Mother of God, but also those of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul and, possibly, others which have not come down to us.

Thus did Iconography begin. Then it came to a halt for a time. Christianity was cruelly persecuted: all that was reminiscent of Christ was destroyed and subjected to ridicule. Thus, during the course of the persecutions, Iconography did not develop, but Christians attempted to express in symbols what they wished to convey. Christ was portrayed as the Good Shepherd, and also in the guise of various personalities from pagan mythology. He was also depicted in the form of a vine, an image hearkening back to the Lord's words: "I am the true Vine.... ye are the branches" (St. John 15:1, 5). It was also accepted practice to depict Christ in the form of a fish, because if one writes in Greek "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior" (Iesous Christos, Theou Hios, Zoter) and then groups together the first letter of each word, one discovers that one has written the Greek word Ichthys, "fish." And so, Christians depicted a fish, thereby calling to mind these words which were known to those who believed in the Savior. This also became known to the pagans, and consequently the image of the fish was also held suspect.

When, following the victory of Emperor Constantine the Great over Maxentius, freedom was given to Christians, Christianity quickly transformed the Roman Empire and replaced paganism. Then Iconography flourished with full force. We already see directives concerning Iconography at the first ecumenical councils. In some church hymns, which today are still frequently used, mention is also made of Iconography.

Now what are Icons? Icons are precisely the union between painting and those symbols and works of art which replaced Icons during the time of persecution. The Icon is not simply a representation, a portrait. In later times only has the bodily been represented, but an Icon is still supposed to remind people of the spiritual aspect of the person depicted.

Christianity is the inspiration of the world. Christ founded His Church in order to inspire, to transfigure the world, to cleanse it from sin and bring it to that state in which it will exist in the age to come. Christianity was founded upon the earth and operates upon the earth, but it reaches to Heaven in its structure; Christianity is that bridge and ladder whereby men ascend from the earthly Church to the Heavenly. Therefore, a simple representation which recalls the earthly characteristics of some face is not an Icon. Even an accurate depiction, in the sense of physical build, still signifies nothing. A person may be very beautiful externally, yet at the same time be very evil. On the other hand, he may be ugly, and at the same time a model of righteousness. Thus, we see that an Icon must indeed depict that which we see with our eyes, preserving the characteristics of the body's form, for in this world the soul acts through the body; yet at the same time it must point towards the inner, spiritual essence. The task of the Iconographer is precisely to render, as far as possible and to as great an extent as possible, those spiritual qualities whereby the person depicted acquired the Kingdom of Heaven, whereby he won an imperishable crown from the Lord, for the Church's true significance is the salvation of man's soul. That which is on the earth perishes when we bring the body to the grave; but the soul passes on to another place. When the world comes to an end, consumed by fire, there will be a new earth and a new Heaven, as the Apostle John the Theologian says, for with the eyes of his soul he already foresaw the New Jerusalem, so clearly described in his sacred Revelation. The Lord came to prepare the whole world for this spiritual rebirth. To prepare oneself for this new Kingdom, one must uproot from within oneself those seeds of sin which entered mankind with our ancestors' fall into sin, distorting our pristine, grace-endowed nature; and one must plant within oneself those virtues which they lost in the fall. The Christian's goal is to change daily, to improve daily, and it is of this that our Icons speak.

In calling to mind the saints and their struggles, an Icon does not simply represent the saint as he appeared upon the earth. No, the Icon depicts his inner spiritual struggle; it portrays how he attained to that state where he is now considered an angel on earth, a heavenly man. This is precisely the manner in which the Mother of God and Jesus Christ are portrayed. Icons should depict that transcendent sanctity which permeated the saints. The Lord Jesus Christ is the union of all that is human and all that is divine; and when depicted in an Icon, the Savior must be painted so that we sense that He is a man, a real man, yet at the same time something more exalted than a man, that we not simply approach Him as we app. roach a visitor or an acquaintance. No, we should feel that He is One Who is close to us, our Lord Who is merciful to us, and at the same time an awe-inspiring Judge Who wants us to follow Him and wishes to lead us to the Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, we must not turn away to one side or the other. We should not depict only the spiritual aspect of the saint, completely disregarding how he looked while alive on earth. This would also be an extreme. All saints should be depicted so as to convey their individual characteristics as much as possible-soldiers should be portrayed arrayed for battle; holy hierarchs in their episcopal vestments... It is incorrect to depict bishops of the first centuries vested in the sakkos, for at that time bishops wore the phelonion, not the sakkas, and yet this is not such a great error, for it is far better to make a mistake in what is physical than in what is spiritual, to ignore, as it were, the spiritual aspect.

However, it is far worse when everything is correct in the physical, bodily sense, but the saint appears as an ordinary man, as if he had been photographed, completely devoid of the spiritual. When this is the case, the depiction cannot be considered an Icon. Sometimes much attention is spent on making the Icon beautiful. If this is not detrimental to the spirituality of the Icon, it is good, but if the beauty distracts our vision to such an extent that we forget what is most important—that one must save one's soul, must raise one's soul to the heights of Heaven,—the beauty of the depiction is already detrimental. It cannot be considered an Icon, but merely a painting. It may be very beautiful, but it is not an Icon. An Icon is an image which leads us to a holy, God-pleasing person, or raises us up to Heaven, or evokes a feeling of repentance, of compunction, of prayer, a feeling that one must bow down before this image. The value of an Icon lies in the fact that, when we approach it, we want to pray before it with reverence. If the image elicits this feeling, it is an Icon.

This is what our Iconographers were zealous about—those ancient Iconographers of the time before the conversion of Russia, of whom there were many, and our Russian Iconographers, too, beginning with the Venerable Alypius of the Kiev Caves, who painted a number of Icons of the Mother of God, some of which still survive. These wondrous Icons, which continued the Byzantine tradition of the painting of Icons which inspire compunction, were not necessarily painted in dark colors; frequently they were done in bright hues; but these colors evoked a desire to pray before such Icons. The holy hierarch Peter, a native of Galicia who later became Metropolitan of Kiev and All Russia, painted Icons, some of which were until recently to be found in the Cathedral of the Dormition in Moscow. An entire school of Iconography was established in Novgorod under the direction of the holy hierarch Alexis of Novgorod, a whole series of whose Icons have been preserved. The Venerable Andrew Rublev painted an Icon of the Holy Trinity which is now famous not only in the Christian world, but throughout the half-Christian world as well.

Unfortunately, this Orthodox movement as a whole started to collapse when Russia began to be infiltrated by Western influence. In certain respects, Russia's acquaintance with the European West was very beneficial. Many technical sciences and much other useful knowledge came from the West. We know that Christianity has never had any aversion to knowledge of that which originates outside itself. Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom studied in pagan universities, and many writers, among whom were our spiritual authors and many of the best theologians, were well acquainted with pagan writers. The Apostle Paul himself cited quotations from pagan poets even in the Holy Scriptures. Nevertheless, not all that was Western was good for Russia. It also wrought horrible moral damage at that time, for the Russians began to accept, along with useful knowledge, that which was alien to our Orthodox way of life, to our Orthodox faith. The educated portion of society soon sundered themselves from the life of the people and from the Orthodox Church, in which all was regulated by ecclesiastical norms. Later, alien influence touched Iconography as well. Images of the Western type began to appear, perhaps beautiful from an artistic point of view, but completely lacking in sanctity, beautiful in the sense of earthly beauty, but even scandalous at times, and devoid of spirituality. Such were not Icons. They were distortions of Icons, exhibiting a lack of comprehension of what an Icon actually is.

The purpose of this article is, first of all, to promote an understanding of the true Icon, and secondly, to cultivate a love for the Icon and the desire that our churches and our homes be adorned with genuine Icons and not with Western paintings which tell us nothing about righteousness or sanctity, but are merely pleasant to look upon. Of course, there are Icons painted correctly in the Iconographic sense, but yet very crudely executed. One can paint quite correctly in the theoretical sense and at the same time quite poorly from a practical standpoint. This does not mean that, from the principle of Iconography itself, these Icons are bad. On the other hand, it happens that one can paint beautifully, yet completely ignore the rules of Iconography. Both such approaches are harmful. One must strive to paint Icons well in principle, method and execution. This is why we oppose certain people and their attempts to paint our churches, for they have the wrong approach, the wrong point of view. They may paint well, perhaps; but when the point of view is incorrect, when the direction is wrong, no matter how well the locomotive runs, it nonetheless slips off the track and is derailed. This is precisely what happens to those who execute their work technically and correctly, yet due to an incorrect approach and an incorrect point of view, they travel the wrong path.

From Orthodox Life, Vol. 30, No. 1 (Jan-Feb 1980), pp. 42-45.