What are your gifts?
A friend of mine invited me to go to church with her last night. Other than a few stray visits here and there, I pretty much stopped going to Church in November 2015. There were a number of reasons behind this happening which will do me no good to recount here, but the main effect of this was I let my strained relationship with the Church effect my love of Byzantine iconography. The Church last night was not an Orthodox Church that we attended and so it was quite a bit different from what I am used to in church going experiences. However, there was one point in the sermon that most hit home with me. The pastor was talking about a woman who was praying very intently that God would give her spiritual gifts and eventually gave up. When she gave up the pastor said “Good, now you will be open to what God wants you to do.” That hit very close to home.
No matter what Fr. Patrick C, Fr. George L or any other priest tells me, I have a gift in being able to paint icons. I know this to be the fact because people regularly order icon prints from me and before I stopped taking or working on commissions I never had a shortage of iconography to work on. To go further into my love of iconography, God even let me be born on the feast of my absolute favorite icon. Every Orthodox Christian knows that August 16th is a Feast of the Icon of the Face of Christ not Made by Hands (pictured above), but what most do not know is that there is also a secondary feast of the Finding of the Icon of the Face of Christ not Made by Hands (the Holy Mandylion) on August 11, my birthday! The Holy Mandylion was my favorite icon for about a dozen years before I realized it had a feast day on my birthday. Further every time I have tried to quit painting icons I have gotten flooded with orders to the point where even though I wanted to quit, I couldn’t.
Around the same time that I walked away from the Church out of disgust over the things that happened immediately before, during and immediately after my divorce, I attempted to walk away from icon painting. I have been painting Byzantine icons since September 1996 and have painted a couple hundred icons in that time. I have had essays on iconography published in Orthodox magazines and even spent the better part of 7 years teaching my ex-wife Lori how to paint icons. When I started teaching Lori she didn’t even know how to properly use a paintbrush, but by the time she left me she was very good at painting iconography in her own right. When I first started teaching Lori to paint icons, I was not a very good instructor. I taught the old German university method: I lecture, you take notes, no questions asked. Luckily I was engaged to Lori at the time because she would often go walking out of the room crying due to how hard of an instructor I was. I was a very strict instructor with Lori as a reaction to how my own teacher, Peter, would teach. Thus I was teaching her the way I wish I had been taught. It took me a few years to learn how to communicate with Lori that which I know very well. Before it was all said and done she ended up organizing her notes on icon painting, which I then typed up and have actually sold a few copies of to those who wanted to learn to paint icons. In spite of all of this, I tried to walk away from painting icons not because I no longer loved painting icons, but because I misplaced my anger toward the Church onto iconography.
The pastor was not the first person who has recently asked me why I am resisting so hard that which I am good at. Several friends lately have asked me what the issue is and why I am not doing that which I absolutely love doing. Sure I have any number of excuses that I can give, but even the best excuses are just that: excuses. And so now I find myself no longer able to bear the weight of the excuses and wanting to get back to that which I love more than anything in the world. The aversion toward painting icons and making icon prints for others is the next layer of the onion that must be removed. This brings me to my question for you. What is it that you are gifted in? Is it singing? Perhaps it is dancing, stained glass, drawing, painting or any other of the many fine arts. Are you pursuing your love of the art? If not, what is holding you back? Are you willing to work through the layer of the onion which prevents you from doing what you love?
Icon of the Face of Christ not Made by Hands, by the hand of Michael Goltz, circa 2005.