Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Master's brush...

"Four faces of Maria"av Christina Lundström

In the early days of The SA in Russia (1917-1923) an icon, similar to one of those to the left, could be found on the walls of many SA corps in Russia. An identical one is mounted on the wall of my study. An Orthodox priest presented it to me at our Farewell Meeting from Moscow with a holy kiss, when given orders to "open fire" in Kiev, Ukraine. 

Ukraine, unlike many other Eastern European countries where the army replanted our tricolour banner, had never seen the Salvation Army inside its several thousand miles border.

Icons (mirror; Grk) are found in great numbers in the former Soviet Union; in churches, to be sure, in homes, places of business, on the dashboards of automobiles, and in the wallets carried by commoners and those in high places alike. And museums throughout the country dedicate complete wings to display icons painted as early as the 12th century by master iconographers. Russians and Ukrainians are drawn to icons in an act of love; they're the focus of the prayers of the faithful.

In my Moscow appointment I was responsible to seek out and strategize the army's development beyond Russia, and Ukraine was a country of immediate interest. It was on one of my exploratory visits to Odessa, Ukraine that I learned about icons; their significance and the skills required in becoming an icon artist. Visits to cities being considered as a part of the SA expansion typically included calling on government officials. church leaders (Orthodox and Baptist churches), and social service institutions. On one such visit, in Odessa, we arrived at the Orthodox Cathedral of the Assumption (seen above) earlier than expected, and learned that the Patriarch, our host, and others were at lunch. A young Monk suggested that my translator and I join him for a quick walking tour. We began with the icon studio, and there we remained. We were both stunned at the beauty of the icons being painted. There were sixteen easels and each held an identical icon. Each had been 80% completed, and each was absolutely identical to the one next to it.

Icon painters are revered as people with a special calling from God. They see themselves merely as God's tools, and few sign their work. (Remember when SA composers were anonymous?) It is a “calling”, not for fame, but rather, returning the gift to God. Their icons are gifts glorifying the God to Whom they were called. The only reward they seek for their work is that those who observe their icons do so in remembrance in joyful, worshipful prayer.

The Monk showed us the paints being used, and explained in great detail about the ingredients. Special care was taken in preparing the colors as they had to contain just the right blend of gold flakes in order that they reflect fully in the darkness of the cathedral where they would eventually find their home. The Monk then asked if we could determine which of the sixteen icons was the one being painted by the master, and which by the novices. We studied each icon carefully, however, to no avail. Each icon was, to our eyes, identical. Each novice sought to emulate the work of the master to the fullest!

He then led us to a corner where dozens of older, and tarnished looking icons were stacked. The Monk explained that every seven years icons were returned to the studio for repair, and to be re-gilded. He explained that it takes seven years for icons to lose their reflective nature. It is a custom that visitors to the cathedral touch or kiss the icons, and in so doing, dirty them, that along with the musty environment of the cathedral causes them to lose their reflective nature.

I took with me from that icon studio a lesson in Christ-likeness … We who are “called” are to mirror His glory in a dark world in the very same way as those icons reflect His glory in cathedrals and homes alike. And I’m reminded too, that the grime of the world demands that we too return to the Master to be touched and made like new, and to do so daily. And, although we are not yet complete, the Master's glory, added to our conscious prayer to be like Him, will clearly reflect His fullness to the world.

During this Easter season and reflect on God's feat gift of eternal life, may your life and mine always be icons of thanksgiving and grace reflecting the glory and beauty of Jesus.

Dr. Sven Ljungholm
Birkenhead Corps

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