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Interview of Emilie van Taack by father Nicolas Ozoline,
on 10 Februrary 2001
during the presentation of the book
« The iconography of the Three Saint Hierarchs Church »
L’iconographie de l’église des Trois Saints Hiérarques
Le Site de l'Icône Orthodoxe
Orthodox Icon
E. van Taack, a pupil of Leonid Uspensky is in charge of an icon studio under the omophorion of Bishop Luka of WesternEurope for the Serbian Patriarchate, "l’Atelier des Saints Apôtres".
Father Nicholas: Since you are publishing the book on the occasion of the anniversary of the Parish, besides the fact that the paintings adorn the church walls, is there a deeper relationship between the celebrated event and the two iconographers' painting?
- Relationship is the very nature of Tradition Itself! What is Tradition? As Metropolitan John Zizioulas said one day in a sermon for the feast of Saint Hieromartyr Charalambos, « Tradition is the Cross ».
The founders of the Parish, together with Leonid and Father Gregory, obeyed Christ's words addressed to the rich young man: « If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor… and come and follow me. »; they renounced the « establishment » and « political correctness », as we would say it today, that is, they renounced themselves, took up their Cross and followed Christ. And in return, the Lord gave them His Holy Spirit: « Give your blood and receive the Spirit ». Tradition manifested itself in them as a living Tradition: theology, spirituality, canonical law, monasticism, music, liturgy, history, painting, sculpture, pastoral activity, architecture – think of the way in which Father Gregory's paintings fit in contemporary architecture (see also Moisenay) – with a holiness and originality that are rarely attained. Life, the way of life, is also created by Tradition.
Father N.: In the first part of this coverage, you spoke about the practice of the icon that one must discover in considering their works. What is it about?
- A genuine icon is never a reproduction of unchanging shapes. Mgr. Kallistos Ware recently wrote that they were two kinds of theologians: those who have the vision of God and those who do not; the former know what they speak about, while the latter must humbly repeat what they hear. It is exactly the same thing about the icon, some « copy », others « invent ». Yet the icon and the practice of iconography, the way the two iconographers teach it to us, allows us to add a little more precision to the Mgr. Kallistos's assertion: even in what appears to be a repetition, or, let us say, in the case of the icon, in what appears to be a copy, there has to be a living and creative incarnation, even in total modesty and being absolutely unnoticed. For those who have that vision as well as for those who do not, the foundation is spiritual life. Only deepening it makes creation possible. Yet through its deepening, a humble copy can also become a living and fertile piece of work.
All of this applies in return to theology. The character of the two iconographers' work, perplexing at times, is due to the fact that they fully belong to the 20th century and are fully traditional, "timelessly" Orthodox. It implies the « Newness of the Spirit », to produce and to comprehend it, to a certain extent. As Saint Paul says, « where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty ».. Father Gregory's painting in particular is the expression of that obedience to the Holy Spirit who IS liberty. Therefore, what he shows is the light of the Kingdom, the « marvellous light » that Saint Basil the Great mentions in the Liturgy.
Father N.: It seems that it sheds new light on the nature of the icon?
- It does indeed! The icon is not only in conformity to apostolic teaching, but is itself apostolic teaching! The iconographer makes us touch, see, contemplate ourselves « That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled (…) and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us … » says Saint John; what the iconographer has touched, has seen, has contemplated… The icon thus is apostleship and Gospel, the Good News!
Father N.: The term « spiritual life » is rather vague today… We what should we understand by that?
- As Archimandrite Sophrony said, authentic spiritual life cannot be but ascetic, theological and church life.
It implies a conscience, not only an existential, but also a dogmatic and canonical one. In the same way, the icon must be truthful at every level: theological - in what it means, spiritual - in what it expresses, and plastic - in what it shows. This is the basis of discernment, which is necessary to salvation as well as to icon painting. Because of this, the icon is also capable of being not a human invention, even conforming to a theory of Christianity, but Revelation, like Holy Scriptures!
Father N.: What do you mean by that?
- The icon is transmission of an inner objective vision, a vision of the world to come, not the way it is «imagined» even by a Saint, but the way the Holy Spirit Himself reveals it to him, lets him see that… Christ living in Him!