In 2015 the monastics had many discussions about how we would celebrate our 50th New Skete anniversary. One idea that emerged was to have a commemorative icon painted that would symbolize who we are.
The monks and nuns spent much prayer and reflection on what we would like to see in the icon, and we agreed on a plan. We articulated our ideas and sent them to several iconographers with a request for an agreement as to time needed to complete and how much the commission would cost. The question came back: Why not do it yourself? You have iconographers there. So I was asked, Will you do it? Can you do it in time for the anniversary? There was no way I could complete the icon in time for the beginning of the anniversary year, 2016, but we agreed it would be sufficient if I could have it completed by the day of the Pilgrimage.
So began the process of preparing the board and the drawing. Many questions needed input: which Transfiguration model to use, what size the small temple was to be, which two saints to depict and their size, and which animals of the Creation to depict. Only a few changes from the next draft were
made: the church needed to be a little smaller and from a different viewpoint so that the large middle bonja would be more centered and with the cross on it pointing to Christ. The two saints would also be a little smaller, and the creatures would be only those we might see around here, both wild and domesticated. The suggested list of animals kept getting longer. While not everyone was thoroughly satisfied with all the decisions, approval was given and the painting began.
Painting for others and painting for one’s own community whose tastes are so varied can be stressful. Trusting in the Spirit to guide me, I began work on June 13, 2015. Any and all were invited to come and see the progress, and I welcomed critiques, which were varied: “The horses look more like donkeys.” “The Scottish Highlander’s legs are too long.” “Where is a cat?”
To me the faces are the most important part of icons. What do the faces express when anyone gazes upon them? Until St. Maria Skobtsova and St. John Cassian, in the upper third of the icon, were completed to the point where I was happy with their faces, I felt nervous. Once their faces looked acceptable, the whole project became quite joyful. As the icon neared completion I asked Brother Stavros to write an explanation of the meaning of the icon, which he graciously did. By the beginning of June 2016 the icon was completed, brought up to the church, and after several deliberations hung where its placement was originally planned. On the Feast of Transfiguration, August 6, Metropolitan Tikhon said a special prayer of blessing during the Divine Liturgy.
I rejoiced that I had met the July deadline I had set for myself and that now I could tackle the many little jobs I had set aside to be able to work on this icon.