| "The icon invites the viewer to be still and enter a timeless, eternal moment of encounter with the Holy.
It is a moment of being hosted by the compassionate, loving, truth-bearing gaze of one whose very person lives in the presence of God's transforming, all-seeing love.
To pray before such an image is to be welcomed into profound moment of communion that is timeless and without measure of the potential for the viewer to be pulifted, healed, confirmed, welcomed home."
- Episcopal Church Visual Arts: www.evca.org
"Christ the Lord"
acrylic and gold leaf on wood
Icons, for many Christians of the Western world, are something
of a mystery. Some see them as insignificant, flat, dark, primitive
pieces of religious art and wonder at their popularity, while
others regard them as a door into the divine realm and a means
by which they can enter more deeply into their own interior life.
"Icon" is a word generally
used to describe religious pictures, mainly portable wood panel
paintings, that have a historically prominent place in the life
and worship of the Eastern Orthodox churches. From the Greek
meaning "image," it is the word St. Paul used when
he spoke of Jesus Christ being the image of the invisible God
in the Epistle to the Colossians.
Although icons grew out of the
mosaic and fresco tradition of early Byzantine art, it was the
Russian Orthodox Church that embraced iconography; it flourished
there between the 15th and 19th centuries. Unlike Western art,
which sought to reflect space and movement, icons focused on
the symbolic or mystical aspects of the divine being.
Slowly, television, books, travel
and a growing interest in Orthodox spirituality are contributing
to a developing interest in icons and icon "writing." Scholars and restorers are opening the doors of perception, allowing
Western Christians to better appreciate their beauty and power.
"When noise and movement are
increasingly dominant in our world -- and often our churches
as well -- I believe it important that we should cherish those
things that bring silence and stillness into our lives,"
says the Rev. John Baggley, writing about the spiritual significance
of icons in "Doors of Perception" (St. Vladimir's Seminary
Press, Crestwood, N.Y.).
Baggley, an Anglican serving in
the Church of England, says the lack of realism in icons has
also been a major problem for Western people. Icon painters are
not simply illustrators in the sense of pictures in religious
books or Bibles, but their work is of a different category.
"Just as the spoken or written
word can convey the church's tradition and deepen the life of
faith, so iconography is another means of conveying or externalizing
the sacred tradition," Baggley says. "The purpose of
an icon is to take us into the world of the Spirit, where we
can experience the transforming power of divine grace."
Because there are many variations
in technique and a painter must master the skills of the art,
knowing the materials and familiarity with the form and scale
that is required for each subject, icon painting can be a daunting
challenge to modern-day artists.
Therefore, it is surprising, even
to her, that Kathryn Carrington, a successful artist, accepted
that personal challenge. "The first time I saw an icon I
thought it was awful," she recalls, laughing.
This Vermont artist is enjoying
life in her prime as a professional known widely for landscape
watercolors and abstract paintings on handmade paper. They hang
in hundreds of corporate and private collections. Since 1989,
she has also been painting icons. Two of her most recent were
dedicated in December in the Chapel of Christ the Lord at the
Episcopal Church Center.
Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold
commissioned the works for the chapel along with two existing
icons, one painted by the Rev. John Walsted of New York and another
that was given to the late Presiding Bishop John Allin. "There
are so many creative people in our church," Griswold said
after the dedication. "I believe one of my functions is
to bring attention and provide support to the talents of all
those in our community.
The "Christ the
Lord" icon in the Episcopal Church Center chapel
was painted by
|| The event was another step in a remarkable
spiritual journey for Carrington, whose life has taken her through
difficult times. Widowed at 31, just two years after her marriage,
she became a single parent for two stepchildren. At the same
time, she was waiting for a kidney transplant that would free
her from a six-year, three-days-a-week dependency on a dialysis
"I think I survived partly
by making up my mind that I was going to be very courageous,"
she said. "I was going to do the best job I could on dialysis.
I was going to live an active life. And I had my art, which kept
In 1979, a kidney transplant proved
successful, but only after she spent three months in isolation
on strong medication. She recovered and eventually met Gregory
Norbet, a former Benedictine monk who has won distinction as
a composer, speaker and retreat director. They married in 1987.
Now, 20 years later, she works from a bright studio, attached
to her Manchester, Vt., home, with skylights offering a vista
of the Green Mountains and windows overlooking an expanse of
meadow with flocks of wild turkeys.
"A big part of icon painting
is Tradition, with a capital T," she explained. That tradition
has been treasured and protected for us by the Eastern church."
She studied this tradition for years, working with a nun and
a priest, and with masters of the technical aspects of Russian
medieval church art. Her study, she said, combined beautifully
with what she had learned earlier in the spiritual directors
program of Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation in Washington.
She has painted many icons for
churches, private collections and monasteries. Through her husband,
Gregory, she met the presiding bishop, who had first visited
Norbet's monastery as a priest in 1965. She came to know his
wife, Phoebe, during the couple's years in Chicago.
Carrington, who said Griswold carried with him one of her icons
during the discernment process before his election as presiding
bishop, said she was proud and pleased to have been asked to
paint icons for the church center's chapel. She began the work
in late 1998. "I pray for help as I paint the icon,"
she says. "I pray that the icon will inspire all those who
will gaze upon it."
Each icon slowly evolves, she said,
revealing itself over months of time. "I wanted Christ to
look very serene, and I wanted Mary to look tender, but strong."
Both Christ and Mary are portrayed as dark-skinned people, not
discernable as members of any specific race, she said, adding,
"I strove to make Christ raceless. He transcends that."
Griswold said he values the power
and significance of icons. "They are a form of pictorial
scripture that growing numbers of people in the West, who have
been starved for something more intuitive to balance Western
rationality, have found to be a window to divine mystery.
"They are profoundly evocative. Because they come from the
East, they transcend all the divisions we have experienced in
Western Christianity. Maybe it's through icons that we are receiving
a sense of mystery that has been so much a part of Eastern Christianity."
Carrington says she can best describe
the power of icons through the words of her friend, the Rev.
Andrew Tregubov, author of "The Light of Christ," also
published by St. Vladimir's Press: "Icons help us enter
into communion with Christ and enlighten our souls. They become,
in some mysterious way, the window to the divine and uncontainable
God. Through the icon, the mystery of God is revealed in a direct
way," he wrote.
"The icon thus becomes a means
of hope, a way of refuge and an experience of joy."
Kathryn McCormick, associate director of
Episcopal News Service, contributed to this article.
This article first appeared in the
February 2000 "Episcopal Life" magazine. Republished
The Christ the Lord icon in the
Episcopal Church Center chapel was painted by Kathryn Carrington.
January 13, 2000
Anglican Communion News ServiceWorldwide Faith NewsEpiscopal Church Front Page
Episcopal News Service
Director: James Solheim
Associate Director: Kathryn McCormick
Online Editor: Daphne Mack
All ENS material
may be reproduced
without permission.Please credit
Episcopal News Service.
Icons bring new 'visual scripture' to
Church Center's chapel
by Kathryn McCormick(ENS) To artist Kathryn Carrington, icons are
visual scripture, meant to complement the music and liturgy that
regularly fill a church. The fact that two icons she has painted
were recently installed in the Chapel of Christ the Lord at the
Episcopal Church Center in New York City seems a natural step
if the church is to consider all forms of art in worship."I'm delighted, of course," she said in an interview
on December 8, the day that the icons were dedicated in a service
at which Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold presided. An Episcopalian,
Carrington noted with a smile that of all the icons she has painted
in her Manchester, Vermont, studio, these were the first to find
homes in an Episcopal church.Griswold himself commissioned the works. After seeing them
mounted on a wall, joining two other icons mounted elsewhere
in the chapel, he declared he was "pleased beyond words.
They are more beautiful than I had envisioned they might be."The dedication was a pleasing step in a remarkable journey
that, Carrington admitted, "hasn't always been a piece of
cake."The fact that she had painted them at all would at one time
have seemed at odds with her life and work. "The first time
I saw an icon I thought it was awful," she recalled, laughing.
A graduate of the University of Michigan, where she earned bachelor's
and master's degrees in fine arts, she also studied at Yale University,
L'Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and Chelsea College in London.It was an impressive start, she agreed, but acknowledged later
that her life also had taken her through some hard times. As
a young widow with two children, she struggled as a single parent,
then endured a long and debilitating illness that, for all its
pain, nurtured her spiritual growth.She recovered, and eventually met Gregory Norbet, a former monk who has won
distinction as a composer, speaker and retreat director. They
married in 1987.Icon on the mantle"A friend sent us an icon card for our wedding,"
Carrington recalled. She said she set it on a mantle and found
herself lighting candles near it and saying prayers. "After
a year, I wondered if I could paint one. It just wouldn't go
away."At that time she was busy as an artist (landscape watercolors
and abstract paintings on her handmade paper) and an art consultant
to many big firms and agencies. Her works are in the collections
of IBM, Hyatt Regency, the U.S. State Department and Gannett
Publishing, among others. She made room in her life, however,
to study the art of icons and their history."A big part of icon painting is Tradition, with a capital
T," she explained. That tradition, she added, "has
been treasured and protected for us by the Eastern Church."Although icons grew out of the mosaic and fresco tradition
of early Byzantine art, it was the Russian Orthodox Church that
embraced iconography after Constantinople fell to the Ottoman
Empire. Unlike western art, which sought to reflect space and
movement, icon art focused on the symbolic or mystical aspects
of the divine being.Carrington studied this tradition for years, working with
a nun and a priest, and studying with masters of the technical
aspects of medieval church art. The work combined beautifully
with what she had learned earlier in the Spiritual Directors
Program of Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation in Washington,
D.C.Her first icon was painted for a Roman Catholic parish on
Long Island. She has painted others for churches, as well as
private collections and for a monastery.She met Griswold through her husband; the presiding bishop
first visited Norbet's monastery as a priest in 1965, she said.
She added that she got to know Griswold's wife, Phoebe, during
the years that Griswold served as bishop of Chicago. The bishop,
in fact, commissioned a small icon from Carrington, which he
carried with him while traveling during the discernment period
before he was elected presiding bishop in 1997.When Griswold asked her to paint icons for the Church Center
chapel, she said, she was proud and pleased to do them. Griswold
noted that another icon in the chapel was the work of the Rev.
John Walsted, an Episcopal priest from Staten Island, New York.
A smaller icon was a gift to the late Presiding Bishop John Allin."There are so many creative people in our church,"
Griswold said. "I believe one of my functions is to bring
attention and provide support to the talents of all those in
our community."Painting in prayerCarrington began painting her icons in late 1998. "I
paint each icon in prayer," she said. "I believe that
I am receiving help as I work on it, that Christ is in my work
for people to see."Each icon slowly evolves, revealing itself over months of
time, she said. Of the icons in the chapel, she said, "I
wanted Christ to look very serene, and I wanted Mary to look
tender, but strong."Both Christ and Mary are portrayed as dark-skinned people,
not discernable as members of any specific race, she said, adding, "I strove to make Christ raceless. He transcends that.""Icons have their own power," Griswold said later.
"They are a form of pictorial scripture. Growing numbers
of people in the West, who have been starved for something more
intuitive to balance western rationality, have found them to
be a window to divine mystery."They are profoundly interesting. Because they come from
the East, they transcend all the divisions we have experienced
in western Christianity. Maybe it's through icons that we are
receiving a sense of mystery that has been so much a part of
-Kathryn McCormick is associate director of the Office
of News and Information of the Episcopal Church
Contact the artist:
These images are painted
and copyrighted by Kathryn Carrington and
may not be used or reproduced without the artist's permission.