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.

Catching the conman who
claims the non-existent thrones
of Montenegro and Macedonia

Pamela Anderson kneels before the self-styled Prince of Montenegro and Macedonia

Patrick Comerford

Two week ago, I wrote about walking around the churchyard at Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, and how I came stumbled across the simple and humble grave of Prince Milo of Montenegro, facing the great west door of the cathedral and looking out onto the banks of the River Shannon.

Prince Milo Petrović-Njegoš (1889-1978) was a prince of Montenegro and was a direct descendant of Radul Petrović, brother of Danilo I (1670-1735), the first Vladika or Prince-Bishop of Montenegro from 1696. After a life of exile in Italy, Shanghai and California, he eventually settled in Ireland, and died in Barrington’s Hospital in Limerick in 1978.

Prince Milo never realised his dream of restoring the Monenegrin throne, which was abolished in 1918. But now, almost a century after the fall of the royal house of Montenegro, newspapers around the world have been reporting in recent days on the arrest of a 57-year-old Italian conman who has been charged with fraud and forgery after posing for years as a member of the Royal Family of Montenegro.

The man, whose real identity has not yet been revealed, calls himself ‘His Imperial and Royal Highness Stefan Cernetic, Hereditary Prince of Montenegro, Serbia and Albania,’ and claims to be a descendant of the Emperor Constantine, and the head of the royal family of Montenegro.

He is such a convincing conman that he has hoodwinked and fooled many royals and celebrities. He travelled across Europe in a luxury black Mercedes flying Montenegrin flags and fake royal insignia, and stayed in luxury hotels, free of charge.

To make his claims even more credible, Cernetic set up a website and several social media accounts, where he regularly posts photographs of himself alongside known royals, like Prince Albert of Monaco, and members of famous aristocratic families, like Savoy, Hapsburg and Hohenzollern.

The website that fronts an elaborate hoax

On his website, Cernetic describes himself as ‘the head of the family that ruled Montenegro, Albania and Serbia from the XIV century to the second half of the XVIII century,’ and has published family trees, photographs and illustrations of medals, seals, coats of arms and ‘legal rulings.’

It all looks impressive until you start reading some of the meaningless babble, such as this paragraph:

His Royal and Imperial Highness, as descendant of S. Constantine the Great and of the Emperor of Constantinople Angelo, Comneno, Ducas, Paleologo, Lascaris, Vatatze is holder and guardian of the heraldic knightly heritage of his House and as such fons honorum, precious evidence of a glorious past, that is alive and propelled to the future, carrying on values without wich (sic) the present has not roots.

If that reads like nonsense, then it is not surprising that Italian police, who have been investigating him for more than a year, say his claims are all just ‘nonsense.’

Yet this man’s elaborate charade has been effective for many years. He attends receptions organised by real royal families and pretenders. Earlier this month, he shared a table with Princess Irena of Greece and Denmark, in Athens. He has met bishops in the Vatican, patriarchs in their palaces, and attended lavish parties on yachts.

The Mayor of Monopoli in Italy, Emilio Morani, has hosted a reception in his honour, and he managed to get Baywatch star Pamela Anderson to kneel before him two years ago as he bestowed on her the title of ‘countess’ in a solemn ceremony. The Hollywood actress was also named ‘Great Lady of Montenegro’ and her children received the title of knights.

He bestows ‘the nobility titles of Noble, Hereditary Knight, Baron, Viscount, Count, Marquis, Duke, Prince’ to anyone who is silly enough to pay for them. He also doles out five different chivalric orders to anyone who is naive enough to pay for them: the Imperial Equestrian Order of Saint Hubert; the Imperial Orthodox Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem; the Dynastic Equestrian Order of Merit ‘Goldener Doppeladler’ (Golden Double Eagle), the Imperial House Cernetic; the Angelico Sacro Imperiale Equestrian Order of Saint George Orthodox Constantinian; and the Cernetic Imperial Order.

It is curious that orders that claim to be Orthodox use Latin lettering on their insignia. But this is probably a minor quibble for those eager to buy baubles to wear to the ball.

He claims his ‘official residence’ is in Belgrade, some of his Facebook accounts indicate he lives in Monte Carlo, but he seems to spend most of his time in Italy.

His self-styled Highness appointed an honorary consul who travelled around Europe as his royal ambassador. But Maurice Andreoli is a total fake too.

After his arrest Italian police revealed the ‘prince’ is not from the Balkans, but from Trieste and his parents are Italian. He was being paid to attend public events and even had his own brand of wine in Tuscany.

But the royal house of cards began to tumble down last year. While he was staying in the luxurious Italian resort of Fasano, he instructed the hotel to forward his bill to the Macedonian embassy. It was reported that a terse reply came back: ‘Do not send us the bills, we don’t have a prince, and we certainly don’t share one with Montenegro.’

Confusing Macedonia and Montenegro is a laughing matter even in table quizzes in pubs. Confusing them when you are trying to avoid paying your hotel bill and claiming royal status is beyond belief.

Italian police raided the homes of the fake prince and his ambassador, and found several fake titles and awards, diplomatic permits and a royal seal.

His arrest was widely reported last weekend. But by Monday, he was on his way from Milan to Rome by fast train, boasting he was travelling with ‘diplomatic discount’ and ‘Club Class’ Italo. He was in Monte Carlo by Tuesday, it would appear from his Facebook page.

Has he managed to get away with it?

Stefan Cernetic, if that is his name, is not a member of any royal or imperial house, and certainly not the head of one. He has no connections to the royal houses of Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania or anywhere else. The titles and orders he bestows are as bogus as his claims.

A set of claims phrased in true Ruritanian style

On some of the parchments handed out with his gongs he describes himself in true Ruritanian style as ‘His Imperial and Royal Highness Prince Stephan Tcherneitch, By the Grace of God, Head of the Imperial and Royal House and Rightful Dynastic Heir to the Historical Crowns of Montenegro, Macedonia, Croatia, Dalmatia, Illyria, Romania, Greece, &c.

That must come as news to the people of Greece, who decided democratically to reject all royalty in 1974, and are still disturbed by another would-be-king who is waiting in the wings.

The ‘&c’ is a little worrying, that I would worry too much about this claimant. If the Macedonian and Montegrin embassies are sending back his hotel bills, is he going to start forwarding them to the Irish embassy in Rome? Perhaps the ‘&c’ may even refer to Royal Meath and the Kingdom of Kerry. Who knows?

Everyone knows Macedonia has no royal family waiting in the wings to accede a throne if the electorate is ever barmy enough to want a king. Count Gyula Cseszneky, a Hungarian-Croatian aristocrat who collaborated with Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, was proclaimed Grand Voivode or Grand Duke of Macedonia but reigned for less than two months in August and September 1943. In fact, the former Yugoslav republic only started calling itself Macedonia in recent years, much to the chagrin of the majority of people in Greece. It has only existed as a state since 1991, and when it was part of Yugoslavia, it was also known as Vardar Banovina.

The last king of Croatia, Tomislav II, was an Italian prince who collaborated with Nazi Germany. He became king at the request of Ante Pavelić, the leader of the fascist Ustaše movement in Croatia.

Montenegro, Serbia and Albania have living pretenders who continue to claim they are the rightful royals in those Balkan nations. But Montenegro has not had a royal family since 1918. Nikola II Petrović-Njegoš is the current head of the House of Petrović-Njegoš, making him, in royalist eyes, the true pretender to the throne of Montenegro. He is a second cousin once removed of Alexander II Karađorđević, the current head of the House of Karađorđević and the man who wants to recognised as King of Serbia. Leka II of Albania is the current head of the House of Zogu, the royal house of Albania. He is the grandson of King Zog I and currently works for the Albanian Foreign Ministry.

Someone, somewhere, must be wondering whether Prince Milo is turning in his grave in Limerick.

Prince Milo’s humble gravestone in the churchyard at Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)