22 June 2017

A summer exhibition of icons
in Christ Church Cathedral

‘The Transfiguration’ by Adrienne Lord, inspired by Theophanes of Crete, in the exhibition in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (© Adrienne Lord, 2015, 2017)

Patrick Comerford,

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin,

23 June 2017,

7 p.m., Opening of Exhibition of Icons by Adrienne Lord.

It is a particular, personal pleasure to be invited back to Christ Church Cathedral this evening, having been a canon of this cathedral for ten years before going to Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, as Precentor earlier this year.

Icons have been at the heart of my own spiritual life and journey for three decades, and I am familiar with many of the icons in Crete and on Mount Athos that we are being invited to see, and to engage with, this evening.

However, the word icon is much misused today. Apart from its use in computers and technology – where an icon can be a pictogram used in a graphical user interface, or a high-level programming language – how often do we hear of someone being described as a ‘style icon,’ a ‘movie icon’ or even a ‘political icon’?

And when they come face-to-face with icons, many people often misunderstood their role and purpose. At one end, there is extreme Protestant position that fails to understand the Biblical rootedness of praying with icons, and on the other hand there are these who see them merely as works of art that are pretty or decorative, without appreciating their spiritual role and value.

The Apostle Paul uses the word icon when he describes Christ as the ‘image of the invisible God’ (Colossians 1: 15). We might translate Saint Paul’s original Greek, ὅς ἐστιν εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ἀοράτου, πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως as saying Christ ‘is the image [or the icon] of the invisible God.’ In this sense, Christ himself is an icon, indeed is the first icon.

As people, we are also made in God’s image, and so we too are living icons of God.

Saint John of Damascus dismisses anyone who seeks to destroy icons as ‘the enemy of Christ, the Holy Mother of God and the saints, and is the defender of the Devil and his demons.’ This is because the theology of icons is part and parcel of the incarnational theology of the humanity and divinity of Christ, so that attacks on icons have the effect of undermining or attacking the Incarnation of Christ himself as taught by the Ecumenical Councils.

Among the Cappadocian Fathers, Saint Basil of Caesarea, in his On the Holy Spirit, writes: ‘The honour paid to the image passes to the prototype.’

In Eastern Orthodox practice, to kiss an icon of Christ, for example, is to show love towards Christ himself, not the mere wood and paint that have gone into making or writing the icon. Or, as Sister Wendy Beckett says on some of your invitations, ‘Contemplating the icon, with faith and love, draws us out of our material world and into that divine world to which we will only have access after death.’

Icons are not a fashion in art, to attend to today and to move on to other expressions tomorrow. Thirty years ago, as I attempted to ‘buy’ my first icon in Crete, I felt the iconographer Andreas Theodorakis, who had been trained in Stavronikita, was less than co-operative. If I wanted to buy a souvenir icon, there were plant of cheap reproductions available in the tourist shopping streets of Rethymnon.

His icons were, first and last, works of prayer. And so too, with these icons by Adrienne Lord. Which makes it so appropriate that we are viewing her icons in a church setting, and not, as so often happens, as works of art among others.

During many years now, this cathedral has been to the fore in the Anglican theological and liturgical recovery of the tradition of icons and iconography.

Since 2003, the Lady Chapel has collection of icons written by the Romanian icon-writer, Mihai Cucu, who is well-known in Ireland. These icons were presented to the cathedral by choir member Dan Apalaghie and his family.

In 2009, Christ Church hosted the challenging exhibition of ‘Icons in Transformation’ by Ludmilla Pawlowska. That year too, the Dean commissioned the Romanian icon-writer Georgetta Simion to produce an icon of the Trinity, inspired by Andrei Rublev’s ‘Visitation of Abraham,’ and now an important part of the spiritual life of the cathedral.

‘The Holy Trinity’ by Adrienne Lord, inspired by Andrei Rublev’s ‘Visitation of Abraham’ (© Adrienne Lord, 2015, 2017)

It is inevitable then, I suppose, that Adrienne should include in this present exhibition two works inspired by icons by Andrei Rublev in the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow: ‘The Holy Trinity,’ of course, and ‘The Virgin of Vladimir.’

Two years ago [2015], Adrienne organised an exhibition here that also included icons by Philip Brennan, Maureen Quinn and Patrick McMacken. Since then, her icon of Saint George the Dragon-Slayer, inspired by an icon in Moscow, has attracted considerable attention in the south ambulatory. And so, it is wonderful to see her back with her own solo exhibition, which includes this icon of Saint George.

It is worth seeing how she works so devotedly and with such care by looking at her YouTube video on the step-by-step process of writing Saint George the Dragon Slayer:

Adrienne is based in Dublin and practised as an architect before qualifying with a degree in Fine Art Painting from NCAD in 2001. In 2008, she started writing icons with Eva Vlaviano and Dick Sinclair as her tutors, working in the Greek Byzantine tradition of tempera and gold leaf.

Over the last few years, she has travelled to Crete and Russia for her research, so this exhibition also contains Icons from these countries.

The influence of traditional iconography on Western art is reflected in her icon of ‘The Blue Crucifix,’ inspired by a well-known processional cross by the Master of the Blue Crucifixes, who worked in the mid-13th century and who is associated with the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi.

But Adrienne’s work here is primarily continuing in the tradition of the great Greek Byzantine, Greek and especially Cretan icon-writers, that has been strongly influenced by Theophanes the Cretan (Θεοφάνης ο Κρης). He was a leading icon writer of the Cretan School in the first half of the 16th century, and the most important figure in Greek icon-writing at that time.

He was born in Iraklion and worked from about 1527 to 1548, in mainland Greece rather than in Crete, and he trained his sons and several pupils, many from Crete. Theophanes and his sons Symeon and Neophytos become monks on Mount Athos, but Theophanes eventually returned to Crete, where he died in 1559. Many of his works are found in monasteries on the Holy Mountain, and many of these were only seen for the first time by the outside world at the exhibition, ‘Treasures of Mount Athos,’ in Thessaloniki in 1997.

Adrienne’s inspiration by Theophanes and his sons can be seen in her icons of ‘The Annunciation,’ ‘The Archangel Michael,’ ‘The Archangel Gabriel’ and ‘The Transfiguration.’

This icon of the Transfiguration, part of which you can see on many of your invitation cards, is a very good example of how an icon works.

This is an icon of movement, an icon of past present and future. It shows Christ leading the apostles Peter, James and John up the mountain of the Transfiguration before the event; it shows them dazzled, afraid, at the moment of the Transfiguration; and it shows them being led back down the mountainside by Christ afterwards.

In other words, it is an invitation at this very moment in time into the eternal experience of the Transfiguration and of being Transfigured ourselves, to move from the present into eternity.

Two other icon writer from Crete, Andreas Ritzos (1421-1492) and Mikhail Damaskinos, have also been an inspiration for Adrienne, including ‘Saint John leaning on Christ’s Bosom’ and ‘The Archangel Michael.’ Damaskinos was the teacher of El Greco in Iraklion, and so there is a direct connection in these icons these evening between Saint Catherine’s on Mount Sinai, with icon writers in Crete, and through El Greco and his work in Spain with western art that connects right through to Picasso.

As well as the Mountain of the Transfiguration, two other mountains figure in Adrienne’s work – Mount Athos and Mount Sinai – and there are works inspired by icons in Jordan, Russia.

‘Christ Pantocrator’ by Adrienne Lord, inspired by an icon in Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai (© Adrienne Lord, 2015, 2017)

The icon of Christ Pantocrator in the Monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai is one of the earliest icons we have, and perhaps our earliest image of Christ. Adrienne’s striking interpretation of this icon shows how this sixth century icon in Egypt speaks to us directly and comfortingly today.

Saturday [24 June 2017] is the Feast of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist. So, I would like to draw your attention this evening to her icon of Saint John the Baptist (24x18, not for sale). This is inspired by a detail on an early 13th century Deesis in the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, showing Christ with the Virgin Mary on one side and Saint John the Baptist on the other.

This icon is not for sale, but if you would like to see how an icon writer works then look at the five photographs detailing the process of writing this icon in 2015 that Adrienne has posted on Facebook.

But look too at the whole collection of icons this evening. There are images of modern-day, 19th and 20th century Russian saints, including Saint Sergius of Radonezh and Saint Tikhon.

Her ‘Triptych,’ inspired by the 15th century Deesis, by Angelos in the Holy Monastery of Viannos in Petra, Jordan, could attract a price tag of €1,000, but is being raffled. Tickets are on sale and the funds raised at this the raffle will help the work of SPPD, an NGO in India working with communities living in poverty in Tamil Nadu.

The proceeds of sales made during the exhibition are going to a registered charity nominated by the purchaser. Sales of the icons on the opening night will be donated to one of four charities nominated by the artist.

‘Saint John the Baptist’ by Adrienne Lord (© Adrienne Lord, 2015, 2017)

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick was speaking Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, at the launch of the summer exhibition of icons following a service of choral evensong on 22 June 2017. The exhibition continues until the end of September and there are demonstrations by the artist on the last Friday of each month from 11 am to 1 pm and 2 pm to 4 pm.

Copyright notice: the icons in this posting are from the exhibition in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. All images are copyrighted by the artist, Adrienne Lord), and cannot be reproduced for commercial use without the artist’s permission.

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