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Between Worlds

The new school year began with today’s faculty meetings, but I haven’t quite crossed the threshhold from summer.  This evening, a concert by the Ciompi Quartet gave me a lovely chance to reflect and relish this moment between worlds.

Iconography teachers

Iconography teachers

I’m still processing the extraordinary experience of the last week, when I was a student in an intensive, six-day iconography class through the Prosopon School in New York.  Byzantine-style icons have been part of my life for the last thirty years, partly because they’re omnipresent in Greece and partly because my brother-in-law and a good friend are both iconographers.  Icons are not part of my religious practice, though, and I’ve never really had the chance to learn about them in any depth.  Thus the experience of studying and creating an icon took me into new religious and artistic territory.

The teachers of last week’s class, Tatiana and Dimitriy Berestov, came from New York to teach at my church, St. Paul’s Lutheran.  They are Russian immigrants who combine deep faith with knowledge of the history and art of icon writing.  In a remarkably quiet, gentle manner, they led a class of twenty teenagers and adults through a series of 22 steps from a blank board to the contemplation of a completed image of St. Michael the Archangel.

It was, among other things, the most compelling nonverbal activity I can remember being a part of.  Since my world usually revolves around speaking, reading, writing, and responding to others in all those linguistic forms, it was quite a departure to work quietly in the company of twenty other adults.  No one ever told us not to talk, but there was little need or desire to do so.   It was also a great chance to be the student who wasn’t able to take everything in, who heard instructions but forgot them, who sometimes needed extra help to keep up.  The tone of the class was gentle, caring, and patient.  Everyone was there by choice, and everyone was fully committed to the experience.  I wish I could reproduce those circumstances for my own students.

St. Michael the Archangel

St. Michael the Archangel

So here it is: my icon of St. Michael the Archangel.  Nearly everything about it is flawed, yet it’s very special to have “written” it (as we say in this field!).  It’s also gratifying to have begun to learn how to “read” an icon: to understand some of the symbolism, to see the many layers that compose it, to contemplate it as window onto another world.

I hope to describe a few parts of the 22 step process in another post, but for now I’ll stop.  The Herald-Sun newspaper published a nice article about the class.

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  1. August 13, 2013 at 11:50 pm

    Tina, I went to Turkey for three weeks this summer. Loved the Byzantine art and buildings and such, though I was pretty much studying the Ottoman Empire. Love reading your blog. I really think we could do a great book together. I just need to figure out how to squeeze it into my life.

    • August 14, 2013 at 7:00 am

      Hi Sharolyn.
      I followed your blog via the TGC Facebook group this summer. And I was especially interested because I had been in western Turkey for a week in June! That was an entirely personal trip, a bit of tourism added on to visits to my husband’s family in Greece, so I didn’t do any blogging. It surely made me want to return to study the language, culture, and education system.
      I’m glad the book idea is still percolating in the back of your mind. This week I’ll give a third or fourth version of my presentation on “The Other,” this time for a faculty professional development workshop at my school. Our time will come!

  2. August 14, 2013 at 12:09 am

    Fascinating. 🙂

  3. Deborah Marion
    August 14, 2013 at 8:58 am

    Tina, sounds like a wonderful experience!

  4. Carol Burk
    August 14, 2013 at 9:10 pm

    Tina, this is fascinating! It’s been too long since we caught up!

  5. August 23, 2013 at 7:53 am

    Tina, I thought about you for the entire week of the workshop and was so tempted to stop by and witness your writing of St. Michael. Beautiful. I also want to hear more about your presentation of “The Other” that you mention above. So, I would love to grab a cup of coffee before you become (completely) buried in composition correcting. I visited the Prospon sight and am fascinated with the writing process. Would love to hear your insights and impressions. Let me know what might work for you…via email. I will bring my map and return yours. Mine is in Greek, but with your help I will be able to decide if that is really a problem.

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