This weekend Dimitry Shkolnik, Russian iconographer who resides in California, installed six new icon panels on the walls at our parish, St. John Orthodox Church in Memphis. What a joy it was to participate with many fellow parishioners on Saturday, preparing the walls, measuring, cutting, hanging, pressing out the extra glue, smoothing out air bubbles, and at the end of the day, standing back in awe of these beautiful works of liturgical art.
The next day, several of us continued to work with Dimitri, painting the hematite red borders around the new icon panels. They’re not quite finished, as you can see in some of these photos of festal icons. Borders around the two larger icon panels, containing four saints each, were completed.
Dimitry’s work is stunning. Very traditional, Byzantine Orthodox in style. The colors are rich, even festive. These panels are done in acrylics, although Dimitry also works in egg tempera.
Icons are sometimes called “windows to heaven,” because they open for us a mystical passageway carved out by the lives of the saints and martyrs who have gone before us. We venerate the saints (or Christ or His Mother) whose images are drawn, but we don’t worship the image.
The icons that were installed this weekend include:
Nativity of the Theotokos (Mother of God)
Presentation of the Theotokos
Dormition of the Theotokos
Elevation of the Cross
Venerable Olympia the New Martyr
Saint Mary Magdalen
Saint Raphael of Brooklyn
Saint John of Damascus
My photographs are kind of dark… as the lighting in the back of the nave isn’t great, and photos using a flash often wash out the colors. But at least you can get an idea of the process of installing the icon panels, which were painted on large pieces of canvas at Dimitry’s studio in California and then brought to Memphis for the installation.
Working together as fellow parishioners to help Dimitry was a great joy and honor to everyone involved. He’ll be back in about a year with many more icons to fill the “white space” in the altar area, and to do some decorative painting to help tie each section together. Dimitry is also trained as an architect, and is a graduate of Holy Trinity Monastery, so he brings technical and spiritual training to his work as an iconographer.
Our first icons at Saint John were installed about fifteen years ago, by a different iconographer. With each addition of these “windows to heaven” our temple becomes a more complete image of the heavenly one.