Thy Will Be Done

This morning I read a quote by Evagrius the Solitary with my morning prayers. Here’s part of it:

Pray not to this end, that your own desires be fulfilled. You can be sure they do not fully accord with the will of God. Once you have learned to accept this point, pray instead that “Thy will be done” in me. In every matter ask Him in this way for what is good and for what confers profit on your soul, for you yourself do not seek this so completely as He does.

17332278I’ve been praying for success. For each of my books to find publishers (which they have) and now for Cherry Bomb to become a success. To sell well. And my most recent prayer is that the agent I queried for my new book will sign me. All of this is about me asking for my will to be done, right? But isn’t it natural for a child to ask these things of her father? Even Flannery O’Connor prayed this way:

I want very much to success in the world with what I want to do…. Please help me dear God to be a good writer and to get something else accepted…. Oh dear God I want to write a novel, a good novel. I want to do this for a good feeling and for a bad one. The bad one is uppermost. The psychologists say it is the natural one…. (A Prayer Journal)

A good feeling and a bad one. I wonder what the bad one was. Was it pride she was worried about? Another place in the same prayer journal she says this:

Portrait Of Flannery O'ConnorI want so to love God all the way. At the same time I want all the things that seem opposed to it—I want to be a fine writer. Any success will tend to swell my head—unconsciously even. If I ever do get to be a fine writer, it will not be because I am a fine writer but because God has given me credit for a few of the things He kindly wrote for me.

I also want to love God “all the way,” and I wonder if wanting success as a writer is really “opposed to it,” as O’Connor suggests here. Maybe humility is the key. She does credit God for her success in the same paragraph.

Saint Mary of Egypt, detail

Saint Mary of Egypt, detail

At any rate, this morning I found myself releasing the tension a bit as I stood before my icons in prayer after reading Evagrius’ words. I felt my shoulders relaxing and a slight smile crossed my lips—especially as I looked at the icon of Saint Mary of Egypt, to whom I have been praying for success for Cherry Bomb. I was reminded of a conversation I had with a writer friend back in May—one who is a strong Christian—and her words about trusting God with her work. She has several successful novels and is coming out with another one in a week or two. But her countenance is peaceful, unlike my natural state of anxiety. She encouraged me to trust God with my work, which seems like an obvious thing for someone claiming to be a Christian, or a person of any faith, right?

nuns chanting at Holy Dormition Monastery, Rives Junction, Michigan

nuns chanting at Holy Dormition Monastery, Rives Junction, Michigan

It’s been several years since I visited the monastery in Michigan where I spent many weeks over a decade or so as a pilgrim and also studying iconography. The abbess there was somewhat of a spiritual mother to me during those years. The most striking thing about her wasn’t her wisdom, although she was very wise. It was her abiding peace. There’s a Psalm (I can’t find it right now) I remember the nuns chanting that said something about how “God arranges everything” for our good. He gives us what we need. But I wonder if prayer doesn’t change our desires, so that we eventually learn to ask for what we need. So that our will and His become more aligned? At some point, will it be okay to do what Jesus said in Matthew 21:22:

And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.

MOG TendernessBelieving. Today I ask for faith to believe that His will is best for me.

Taking a deep breath, I look at the icon of Christ and His Mother, “Mother of God, Tenderness,” (who often seems more accessible) and say aloud, “Thy will be done.”

“Slow Art” and the Marriage of Art and Literature

Young Lady in 1866 by Edouard Manet

Young Lady in 1866 by Edouard Manet

This weekend I delved into the book section of the Saturday Wall Street Journal (a favorite activity) and discovered “The Image as Event,” Ann Landi’s review of Arden Reed’s book, Slow Art. Reed’s passion for “slow art” began with his repeated viewing of Edouard Manet’s “Young Lady in 1866” at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. He defines “slow art” as “a prolonged encounter between object and observer.” He contrasts this activity with the average time an American museumgoer spends with any work of art—about 6 to 10 seconds.

Reed also writes about “tableaux vivants,” which he describes as “living pictures” in which actors hold theatrical poses for 90 seconds or so, often as recreations of well-known masterpieces like Leonardo’s “Last Supper.” This art form gained popularity around 1760, waned in the 1910s, and seems to have regained steam around 1960.

But before these modern-day examples of slow art presented themselves for viewers seeking (or just needing) an opportunity to slow down and have a serious encounter with art, early Christian icons “demanded slow looking and veneration from viewers.” Later, religious processions with floats featuring tableaux vivants acting out Biblical scenes appeared. Reed ties all these into a genre he calls slow art, taking us from Malevich to Serra, and even into the fiction writing of Don DeLillo.

The-Pen-and-the-Brush-260x381Which brings me to my second “treasure” of the weekend. I started reading the book I purchased at Ernest & Hadley Books in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, when I was there for a reading/signing for A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be. And what a treasure—Anka Muhlstein’s wonderful book The Pen and the Brush: How Passion for Art Shaped Nineteenth-Century French Novels (translated from the French by Adriana Hunter) explores the relationship between art and literature with specific examples from Balzac, Zola, Huysmans, Maupassant, and Proust. Muhlstein chose these five authors because “each in his own way truly invented a visual style of writing.”
Balzac referred to himself as a “literary painter” rather than a writer. He enjoyed including Italian Renaissance art and Flemish painters as well as contemporary painting in his writing. He spent a lot of time at the Louvre, and his knowledge of art fed his writing. An example:

Another illustration of this genuine knowledge of paintings appears in The Peasants: as a finishing touch in describing a horrible old woman, “a hideous black parchment, endowed with movement” he adds, “her likeness is found only in David’s painting of the Sabine women,” which does indeed feature a wizened old woman as a second character.

Balzac often gave fictional characters more credibility by using a known painter’s name. Not that I’m in his league, but I chose to do this with my novel Cherry Bomb (which releases in August) by having the well known abstract expressionist painter Elaine de Kooning appear as a major character, although I fictionalized much of her story in the book.

Balzac’s ambitions include one to “paint a Delacroix in words,” and he writes at length about colors and their symbolism, especially in The Girl With the Golden Eyes, in which “Paquita’s room is bathed in red, gold, and white tones which, in Balzac’s mind, suggest inexpressible desire: “the soul has an indefinable connection with white, love is happiest in red, and gold puts passions to their best advantage.”

Muhlstein says that “Opening a Balzac novel is like walking into a museum, but a museum where the artists (and sometimes even their models) often step out of their frames to come into the story. Balzac would not be the powerful novelist he is had he settled for describing paintings and not created his own huge gallery of painters.”

I’m just now getting to the sections on Zola, Huysmans, Maupassant, and Proust, so this isn’t a complete book review. Just a preview. I can’t wait to see where these next four writers take me in their journey into the art world. I have a feeling I’ll be reading some of their novels soon….

Advance Praise for Cherry Bomb!

I’m pinching myself so I’ll know this is real. These six AMAZING literary rock stars have written blurbs for my novel, Cherry Bomb, which releases in August. This has been a six year (plus) project, and I couldn’t be more excited about it. Or more pleased with Joe Lee at Dogwood Press for being such a great publisher. Thanks so much to these very busy, successful authors whom I’m honored to call my friends. I can’t believe they said things like, “deft narrative control,” “rising star in southern literary circles,” “beautifully written, thoughtfully conceived,” and “rendered with passion, acumen and concision.” Cherry Bomb launches on August 8 (just three months away!) at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi (my home town). Here they are!!!

Cassandra King

Cassandra King

“In CHERRY BOMB, a troubled young artist finds a way to heal a horrific past in the intriguing world of street art, graffiti, iconography, and abstract expressionism. With deft narrative control, Susan Cushman weaves an unforgettable story of triumph and redemption that will linger long after the final page is turned. An impressive debut by a rising star in southern literary circles!”

Cassandra King, author of The Sunday Wife

Joshilyn Jackson

Joshilyn Jackson

Using the life of real abstract expressionist artist Elaine de Kooning as a jumping off point, CHERRY BOMB fearlessly explores the intersection between art and spirituality, creating it as a palpable place where healing can occur. This is a bold, frank book, and Susan Cushman is a brave and talented writer.

             —Joshilyn Jackson, New York Times bestselling author of gods in Alabama and The Almost Sisters

Harrison Scott Key

Harrison Scott Key

“Any book that opens with a young woman painting graffiti across the steeple-ridden town of Macon, Georgia, is my kind of story. Cushman depicts the South as it is, not the sentimental claptrap some people want it to be. No cliches to be found here, just God and art and beauty and pain—just like sitting in church.”

Harrison Scott Key, author of The World’s Largest Man

Beth Ann Fennelly

Beth Ann Fennelly

“How does Susan Cushman do it?  Out of the most unlikely materials—a teenage graffiti artist, an abstract expressionist painting teacher running from her past, and a reclusive nun who paints icons—she weaves an intricate tale that teases us with surprising connections.  This generous first novel is a tale of family and resilience and the healing power of art.  Beautifully written, thoughtfully conceived, CHERRY BOMB surprises and redeems.”

Beth Ann Fennelly, Poet Laureate of Mississippi

Julie Cantrell

Julie Cantrell

“By mixing the work of historical creatives with the risqué endeavors of a modern graffiti artist, Cushman takes a unique approach to examining the experiences of a young girl who turns to art while finding her way in life.”

Julie Cantrell, New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of Perennials

 

Corey Mesler

Corey Mesler

“Susan Cushman, in her marvelous first novel, tells the touching, parallel stories of two female artists, one famous, one not. The intersection of their lives, rendered with passion, acumen and concision, will entertain and enlighten you. The story moves as quickly as running paint, and, in the accumulation of detail, becomes a canny meditation on art and individuality, on spirituality and hope. Its indelible characters, especially its young graffiti artist, will take up residence inside you alongside Scout Finch and Frankie Addams.”

            —Corey Mesler, author of Memphis Movie and Robert Walker

Saint Mary of Egypt and Sneak Preview from Cherry Bomb #Lent2017

Mary of Egypt weepingThis is a big weekend for those of us who take Mary of Egypt as our patron saint, and for many others who look to her as a model of repentance. In the Orthodox Church, she is commemorated twice during Great Lent every year: April 1 (tomorrow) is her feast day, and the fifth Sunday of Lent, which falls on April 2 this year, is known as the Sunday of Saint Mary of Egypt. So, I’ll say “happy name day eve” to my sisters in Christ who are also her spiritual namesakes.

If you’re interested in reading more, here are some previous posts about St. Mary of Egypt:

“Turning Lead Into Gold” (2016)

“Holy Mother Mary Pray to God For Us” (From 2015, this post contains a prayer/poem I wrote to Mary of Egypt many years ago.)

“Forgive O Lord” (2014)

Original icon from which detail of Mary was cropped. This is Saint Basil and Great and Saint Mary of Egypt, a "marriage icon" I wrote as a gift to my husband, Father Basil.

Original icon from which detail of Mary was cropped. This is Saint Basil and Great and Saint Mary of Egypt, a “marriage icon” I wrote as a gift to my husband, Father Basil.

My novel, Cherry Bomb—which will be published this fall—focuses quite a bit on Mary of Egypt. There’s even a weeping icon of Saint Mary in the book, although I’ve never actually heard of one of her icons weeping. More often it is icons of the Mother of God that weep. (But it’s a novel, after all.) I’m excited that this image (above, right) will appear on the back cover of the book when it comes out. It’s a detail from an icon I wrote over ten years ago. My daughter-in-law, See Cushman, cropped it from the original and added the “tears” to make it appear that the icon is weeping, and the graphic designer working on the cover changed the background to gold and added the frame. I couldn’t be more pleased with the result, although my photo is a bit fuzzy and doesn’t do the image justice.

Today I thought I would share a sneak preview from Cherry Bomb. The following excerpt is from a scene in which Mare (protagonist) and Elaine deKooning (her art professor) are attending an opera about Saint Mary of Egypt written by John Tavener. I learned about this opera many years ago from a nun who was visiting Memphis to speak at our parish’s women’s retreat, and I was able to find a CD of the music. I hope it blesses you and raises your interest in the novel, which will be out in about six months!

Holy Mother Mary, Pray to God For Us.

Excerpt from Cherry Bomb, chapter 14:

 

As they entered the Wells Theatre on Saturday night, Mare and Elaine were greeted by materials, textures, and geometric angles that were part of its Art Moderne splendor. Intricate rectangular carvings repeated themselves along the walls. Gold leaf flickered off every surface. Even the curtain on the massive stage was itself a work of art—tapestries of shimmering gold and copper. The theater seated over a thousand patrons and boasted a state-of-the-art audio system. Just listening to the orchestra warming up sent chills down Mare’s spine. The music wasn’t familiar—it had a foreign, Middle Eastern sound—but even the concordant notes the musicians struck as they tuned their instruments simultaneously had an other-worldly beauty.

“Wow.” Mare had never seen anything like this before.

Elaine smiled. An usher handed them each a program and showed them to their seats. The cover of the program featured an icon of Mary of Egypt and Zosimas. They quickly read the Composer’s Note before the overture began, which was penned by John Tavener.  

Mary’s door was wide open, even though her love was misdirected and distorted …

They looked at each other as they read, and then continued to read the rest of the program notes. Mare wondered how the words were hitting Elaine. She remembered how uncomfortable Elaine had been when they visited the Coptic church. What’s she thinking now?

Zosimas’s whole sound world becomes Mary’s. In her he sees ‘love’ and his own limitations. His world, once so dry, now in the dryness of the desert, flowers into what the Desert Fathers might have called “Uncreated Eros” or a hint of the Edenic state. In controlled ecstasy, they both ask each other to give the blessing.

“That’s what’s happening in your painting, isn’t it?” Elaine whispered.

Mare nodded and they continued reading Taverner’s comments:

“Mary of Egypt” is the intent to create an ikon in sound about Non-Judgement. In a sense, Zosimas loves again when through Mary he can dimly see the beauty of God—and who knows how far Mary has gone in her search for the unknowable and unobtainable in her forty solitary years in the desert? Holy Mary, pray to God for us.

The orchestra finished warming up and the lights dimmed. A group of women and men formed two parallel lines on the stage, representing the extensions of Mary and Zosimas. The women’s sensual movements were accompanied by a flute, wordlessly representing Mary whoring in Alexandria. The men were accompanied by the trombone and the primordial sound of the simantron—a wooden percussion instrument used in liturgical music (especially at monasteries) and sometimes with contemporary classical pieces. Each act was more powerful than the previous, building to a climax with the aria, “Bless.” The characters of Zosimas and Mary—without their extensions from early scenes—prostrated themselves on the ground in front of each other, crying out in song the solitary word, “Bless!” over and over.

Mare wasn’t prepared for how this would hit her—seeing the story she was growing more fascinated with by the day brought to life in such a powerful way on the stage. She felt some of the anger she’d hung onto over the years melt away as the words and music worked to soften her heart. Damn. She quickly brushed away tears, hoping Elaine hadn’t seen them. Sneaking a glance at Elaine, Mare saw that she wasn’t the only one weeping.

Then Mary levitated. The angels lifted her up—with help from nearly invisible wires hung from the stage ceiling—leaving a terrified and awestruck Zosimas to grieve her loss. The opera continued with the conclusion of their story: Zosimas found Mary dead in the desert a year later and buried her with help from a lion, who appeared tame in the presence of the saint’s remains.

The Great Blessing of the Waters—the Mississippi River!

Coptic icon of Christ's baptism... the Feast of Theophany

Coptic icon of Christ’s baptism… the Feast of Theophany

Today is the Feast of Theophany in the Orthodox Church. Historically it’s been as big a feast as Christmas, with several services on the calendar to celebrate it. Yesterday morning we had the “Royal Hours,” and last night the “First Blessing of the Water” and Divine Liturgy. This morning at 9 we’ll have the “Second Blessing of the Water” and another Divine Liturgy. The water blessed at these services is used throughout the year in various ways—priests use it for house blessings, to bless icons, crosses, waters for baptisms, etc. Parishioners take some of the Holy Water home with us for use in our personal prayers and when we are sick.

 

Blessing Waters in Russia

Blessing Waters in Russia

This year our parish—Saint John (Antiochian) is joining up with priests and parishioners from Annunciation (Greek) and Saint Seraphim (OCA—Orthodox Church in America) parishes for a “Great Blessing of the Waters” down at the Mississippi River. We’ll gather at noon on Saturday, just a few blocks from my house, where prayers will be said and a cross will be tossed into the river. In warmer climates—especially in Greece—young men and boys actually dive into the waters to retrieve the cross. Brrrrrr! (I think our pastor is tying a rope to the cross and pulling it back out.)

 

Great Blessing of Waters by Boris Kustodiev

Great Blessing of Waters by Boris Kustodiev

It’s interesting that this first year that we are keeping this tradition is the coldest weather we’ve had this winter—it’s SNOWING In Memphis today! But our pastor, Father Phillip Rogers, noted in an email to the parish that it’s not as cold as it often is in Russia (see photo and painting).

 

Now that the twelve days of Christmas are over and we are moving into a new season of the Church—and very soon a new “season” for our country—I pray for God’s blessings and for peace in our hearts and in our homes.

 Blessed Feast!

 

On the Fourth Day of Christmas…

four-gospels… my true love gave to me: four calling birds! In the Church’s tradition, those birds represent the four gospel writers—the holy apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (seen in these icons). They are “calling” to the world to hear the message of Christ’s incarnation.

So how am I celebrating the fourth day of Christmas? We just got home last night from spending a wonderful Christmas in Denver with two of our kids and all four of our grandchildren. So we are tired but happy. Of course I’m unpacking, doing laundry, and grocery shopping today (and starting back on exercising on the elliptical)… but it’s also a day for Christmas cardsopening more Christmas cards and reading through so many wonderful Christmas letters from friends and family near and far. Sending Christmas cards is one of my favorite traditions, and receiving them is such a treat.

This year I didn’t come up with a creative way to display them, so I just spread them out on our dining room table as they arrived. This morning I captured them in photos, then I took down last year’s photo cards from the bulletin board in the kitchen and replaced them with this year’s. Well, some of them. (They don’t all fit!)

It was fun to group some of them:

children, grandchildren, siblings, nieces, nephews, great nieces, and great nephews

children, grandchildren, siblings, nieces, nephews, great nieces, and great nephews

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cards with original artwork (children and adults)

Cards with original artwork (children and adults)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

spiritual/religious cards

spiritual/religious cards

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

kitchen bulletin board (with some of our 2016 photo cards) will stay up until next year's cards arrive!

kitchen bulletin board (with some of our 2016 photo cards) will stay up until next year’s cards arrive!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much to everyone who was thoughtful enough to send us a card and/or a Christmas letter this year. I hope you are enjoying this tradition as much as we are!

The Altar and the Portico: Gallery Art and Icons

The Annunciation. By Aidan Hart. 2012.

The Annunciation. By Aidan Hart. 2012.

Just read an amazing (but very long) article in The Orthodox Arts Journal:

“The Altar and The Portico (pt. 2): Gallery Art” by Aidan Hart. Subtitles tell more: THE SACRED AND THE SECULAR… The Relationship of Orthodox Iconography and Gallery Art.

Hart was a secular artist before becoming Orthodox and pursuing iconography. He worked as a sculptor within the Anglican/Episcopal church. Here’s a bit about what was driving him:

As a Christian I wanted this spirituality to embrace the material world, not to be a flight from it. I felt that this incarnational approach was all the more important in a secular age which worshipped matter and where one could not assume any prior knowledge of Christianity.

Portrait of Jeanne Hebuterne. By Modigliani, 1919.

Portrait of Jeanne Hebuterne. By Modigliani, 1919.

Hart’s move towards iconography mirrors some of my own interests, although his was on a professional level:

To abstract means literally to “draw out”, and in its original meaning it denotes the discovery and manifestation of the essence of the subject, and not departure from reality as it tends to be understood today.

The art most influential for me at this stage was Egyptian and African work. Although perhaps too disembodied, too extreme in their abstraction, these sculptures helped me to reach some conclusions about how to indicate the spiritual. Most notably I learned the importance of a strong vertical axis or elongation; stillness rather than agitated movement; and emphasis on the eyes. Constantine Brancusi and Modigliani were also influences.

I’ve always been a fan of abstract art. I’ve never thought about why I like Modigliani so much, but I also liked his work before I studied iconography. Hart eventually visited some Orthodox monks in New Zealand—one of who was an iconographer—and found what he had been searching for. He became Orthodox in 1983 and began writing icons. And then he began to wonder how spiritual art could find a place in galleries:

For me personally there are two types of artwork that do this: that which depicts suffering but with compassion, and that which suggests the world transfigured by light…. So first, compassionate art. Such works can help us see the divine image beneath suffering, and even behind ignorant acts. They show us that what makes us capable of suffering is also what makes us human.

Then he writes about the world transfigured by light:

Another form of threshold art is the art of illumination. Ascetic writers both East and West describe three stages in the spiritual life: purification, illumination and union… Icons indicate this luminous grace symbolically by such things as gold lines on trees, furniture and garments, and of course also haloes and golden backgrounds.

I’ve only touched on the treasures in this article, so I hope that if you’re interested in art and/or spirituality, you’ll give it a read. There are also lots of terrific illustrations of Hart’s work in the article. Enjoy!

Faith on Friday: (God’s) Family Matters

Icon of Saints Joachim and Anna at St. John Orthodox Church, Memphis

Icon of Saints Joachim and Anna at St. John Orthodox Church, Memphis

In the Orthodox Church, today is the feast day of Jesus’ grandparents, Saints Joachim and Anna. Being a grandmother (of four little girls, ages one, four, six, and seven) is one of my greatest joys. Although I live over a thousand miles from my granddaughters, I think about them every day. I pray for them. I smile as I look at their pictures all around my office each day and on the refrigerator. I send them letters and gifts. I look forward to Face Time with each of them, and I often wonder what they will be when they grow up. And yes, I imagine spending time with them more often if we retire to Denver in a few years, picking them up from school and taking them to soccer or dance or art classes, having them for sleepovers, taking them shopping, to bookstores and the theater.

Since I couldn’t have biological children, my husband and I adopted our three wonderful “kids” who are now in their thirties. We waited seven years after we got married before an adoption agency would grant us our first child. At the time, those seven years felt like an eternity to me. All our friends were having children, and my empty womb cast a sad shadow over many of those early days of our marriage. And then God’s blessings began to come to us as He gave us Jonathan, Jason, and then Beth. I was only 34 when we adopted our third child, but we had been married fifteen years by then, and I remember feeling a bit old. Couples were getting married and starting families younger back then.

Imagine how Anna must have felt. She and Joachim had been married for fifty years and were barren. They were often ridiculed by the community—many even said it was their sinfulness that caused Anna’s fruitless womb. (I know that feeling.) Joachim was a faithful Jew who went to the temple and offered sacrifices regularly, giving a third of their income to the poor, a third to the temple, and only keeping a third to live on. Finally God blessed them with a child in their old age. And not just any child—their daughter was Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Saints Joachim and Anna with their daughter, Mary, the Mother of Jesus

Saints Joachim and Anna with their daughter, Mary, the Mother of Jesus

The Orthodox Church (and the Catholic Church) venerates Mary, the Theotokos (the “God-bearer”) very highly, as it should. But it also holds her parents in high esteem. At the end of every divine liturgy, we hear the priest say these words:

“May the risen Christ, our true God, with the prayers of his pure and holy Mother, the power of the precious and life-giving Cross, the protection of the spiritual powers of Heaven… the holy and righteous ancestors of God Joachim and Anna, and all the saints whose memory we celebrate have mercy on us and save us.”

As blessed as Joachim and Anna must have felt by this amazing gift, I can’t imagine how difficult it was for them to let Anna go and live in the temple at a young age, where she would remain pure, preparing herself to become the mother of Jesus. They gave up the joys most parents experience in having their children live at home with them. And they both died before experiencing the miraculous joy and incredulous pain they would have known watching their grandson grow up and become the Christ, who would eventually suffer crucifixion before his miraculous resurrection and ascension to Heaven. Their mission as His grandparents was over early, but will forever be a cornerstone in the Church’s history. And so we sing to them on this day:

“As we celebrate the remembrance of thy righteous grand-parents, through them we beseech thee, O Lord, to save our souls.”

Faith on Friday: Icons and Street Art

Saint Charitine by Fikos

Saint Charitine by Fikos

This wonderful article in the Orthodox Arts Journal, “Contemporary Byzantine Painting: Street Art and the Icon in Convergence,” introduces the reader to the Greek artist, Fikos. Fikos started painting as a child— comic book strips, landscapes and, yes, icons. At age 13 he was studied under the renowned contemporary iconographer George Kordis. His work is beautiful, but it’s his approach to art—both street art and liturgical art—that drew my interest.

‘I was born to love, not to hate,’ by Fikos, 2013. Acrylics on wall, 12×5 m. Kolonos, Athens.

‘I was born to love, not to hate,’ by Fikos, 2013. Acrylics on wall, 12×5 m. Kolonos, Athens.

Street art and liturgical art have something in common? But isn’t graffiti historically a youthful act of rebellion? And what does the graffiti writer and the icon writer possibly have in common? In this interview with Fr. Silouan Justiniano, we learn more about this:

Can graffiti possibly bring us to remembrance of our common humanity, meant to aspire towards a higher life of blessedness? Perhaps… If so even graffiti, or at least some of its more positive strains as found in recent Neo-muralism, can be seen as an attempt to imaginatively transform our bleak post-industrial environments ̶ to offer an alternative vision ̶ by infusing them with images suggestive of a far richer, living and higher reality, imbued with beauty, lyricism, joy, rhythm and hope. So similarities with the icon in fact begin to arise…

That’s what Mare tries to do, in my novel, Cherry Bomb. Along with the street artists she meets in Atlanta, who are protesting poverty and corrupt landlords and the ugliness of the lifeless buildings in the 1980s, Mare throws up images of the darkness she has lived through in her young life. And when she discovers icons and eventually visits churches and monasteries, she embraces the liturgical art of iconography in a way that both surprises and saves her.
Fikos’ work is beautiful—both his icons and his street art. The article is definitely worth a read if you are interested in either of these art forms.

Have a great weekend!

Faith on Friday: Axios!

On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have appointed watchmen; All day and all night they will never keep silent. You who remind the LORD, take no rest for yourselves—Isaiah 62:6

"Axios! He is worthy!" Father John Troy is ordained by Bishop Antoun in March of 1987.

“Axios! He is worthy!” Father John Troy is ordained by Bishop Antoun in March of 1987.

This weekend is a significant milestone in the life of our church—Saint John Orthodox in Memphis. Our pastor, Father John Troy Mashburn, is retiring, and our young Assistant Pastor, Father Philip Rogers, becomes our Pastor, bringing along his wonderful wife Kathryn. (And—icing on the cake—Father Alex Mackoul joined us this summer as Assistant Pastor, with his wife Amanda.) An ordinary passing of the baton, right? In many churches this happens every few years, or at least every decade or two. But not in most Orthodox churches. And not at St. John in Memphis.

Web1a-1

 

St. John started in living rooms in the early 1970s and eventually moved to the Barth House (Episcopal Student Center) on the campus of the University of Memphis, before finally purchasing its current property in midtown in 1990. Father John Troy was there from the beginning. And he was still there in 1987 when the clergy were ordained and the people were Chrismated and the group became an official Orthodox mission, and later a parish. A few years later he retired from his secular job to become our full time pastor, which he has been now for over twenty years. I’m not checking the dates as I write this, but I believe he has been serving this group of people for about forty five years.

Troy Mashburn and Bill Cushman at a Sigma Chi formal at Ole Miss in 1969

Troy Mashburn and Bill Cushman at a Sigma Chi formal at Ole Miss in 1969

My husband, Father Basil Cushman, has served as Associate Pastor here since 1988, but our friendship with Father John Troy started way back in college, where the two of them were fraternity brothers at Ole Miss, and Father Troy’s wife, Pamela, and I were sorority sisters. Then in June of 1970, Father John Troy was a groomsman in our wedding. As we continued our journey to Orthodoxy in Jackson, Mississippi, the Mashburns were on a similar path here in Memphis. It seemed almost inevitable that we would end up together again.

New-Solea

 

The little group of less than forty people who were the original members of St. John Orthodox Church in 1987 has grown to over 350 members today. Our beautiful old (1920s vintage) building has gradually been transformed, especially the nave and sanctuary (altar area) with its wonderful iconography and recently installed hardwood floors. And this fall we begin construction on a new building next door, which will house our new parish hall and kitchen. (We’ll start by tearing down the duplex that stands there now, which the church owns.) Our growing congregation is full of young families and lots of children—a wonderful blessing to us all.

baptism

So now I’d like to wish Father John Troy “many years!” (an Orthodox blessing for many occasions) and say thank you for all you have done to help build this wonderful parish. I would love to know how many people you have baptized, Chrismated, churched and married over the years (I’m sure the accountant in you knows those numbers) and I’m sure many will join me in wishing you and Pamela many blessings as you enter this next stage of your life. I won’t go into all the ways you have helped me personally, but you know them. And even through our disagreements, I have always loved you.

Holy Week 2016

Holy Week 2016

And to Father Philip and Father Alex, our new pastors, “Axios!” (He is worthy!)

Kathryn and Father Philip Rogers, our new Pastor and his wonderful wife!

Kathryn and Father Philip Rogers, our new Pastor and his wonderful wife!

Father Alex and Amanda Mackoul

Father Alex and Amanda Mackoul, our new Assistant Pastor and his lovely wife

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