Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

Saint Peter Roman Catholic Parish

CHRISTIAN

CHURCH

The Twenty-Three Stages of Icon Writing

There are twenty-three stages to writing an icon. The stages are meaningful both symbolically and practically. The physical materials represent artistic processes and are symbolic of spiritual principles.


1

The first stage is the preparation of wooden panel – It represents the three trees of Paradise: The tree of life, the tree of knowledge, and the tree of beauty.


2

The second stage – the linen:

Has three symbolic meanings: The Old Testament robe of righteousness, The New Testament swaddling clothes to wrap the new born Christ, and the final meaning the representation of the linen to wrap the body of Christ after he was taken down from the cross and put into the tomb.


3

Gesso

Mixture of chalk, marble dust, and glue represents the purity of life, free from darkness. – The original light of creation.


4

The Sign

Transferring of the image: relates to the principle of the will – our will – or – the will of God.


5

Graphia

The lines are etched into the gesso. Relates to the commitment and deepening of our faith.


6

The Clay

Represents our physical nature. Refers to the first stage of the creation of Adam. The Clay is smoothed, sanded and burnished; it is under the halo and on the outside of the panel. The halo is prepared to receive the gold.


7

Gold.

Relates to our neotic, or angelic nature. The gilding process requires that the iconographer breathes on the clay in order to adhere the gold leaf - this too is symbolic of the second phase of the creation of Adam where God breathes the spirit of life into Adam. The first seven steps are a preparation for the journey.


8

Alpha

The beginning of the journey into the creation of the icon. The Red Crown. The red line encircles the gold halo; this represents the start of the journey.


9

Roskrish : The Opening: the journey itself.

This is the first colours establishing the journey: The first colours are the revelation of light gesso; the gesso bounces the light through the colour. The colours on the journey proceed from darkness to light. The symbolic ascent towards transfiguration. The method of painting is very loose – and so represents chaos.


10



“ You are a chosen race,

a royal priesthood,

a consecrated nation,

a people set apart to sing

the praises of God

who called you out of darkness

into his wonderful light.

Once you were not a people at all

And now you are the People of God…


” 1 Pet. 2:9-10

Icon by Renee Forrestall




When we enter St. Peter’s Church we are able to see many artistic signs and symbols that help us to pray by directing our hearts and our minds attention toward Christ. Holy images draw our attention toward our Savoir, reminding us that we are not alone, and that we are part of a Church that spans both Heaven and Earth. These signs are a way of uniting ourselves to Christ, and opening ourselves up more fully to his grace in our lives. Christ’s love is transforming, it moves us towards holiness and the fullness of joy. That is the purpose of our new icon of St. Peter, patron of our parish community. The beauty of this icon reveals to us the particular glory of God manifested in this holy man's life. Icons inspire us to meditation, uniting us in prayer with the Word of God, Jesus Christ. As we gaze upon this icon of St. Peter, we seek to understand our call to Christian holiness found in the Word made flesh. Icons are holy images, which are prayerfully written by iconographers. Only pure and natural materials are chosen for the writing of icons. The materials include: solid wood, gold leaf, natural ground and raw pigments, as well as the use of holy oils. Prayer and contemplation by the iconographer envelop each phase of the icon writing process; everything involved in the writing of an icon has spiritual significance rooted in Holy Scripture. Writing an icon is a spiritual journey between God and the iconographer. This icon is a spiritual tool that helps us to unite ourselves to Christ through his Saint. It provides us with material for our meditation, representing St. Peter himself, urging us to mature in our faith as he did. We give glory to Christ as we venerate St. Peter and seek his intercession for ourselves, our parish, and all the Church. As we meditate on his life may we all receive grace to achieve holiness in our own lives.


This original work was undertaken by Iconographer Renée Forrestall

The ICON of Saint Peter



The Line: Propis

The Lines bring order to the chaos. The lines symbolize the Law. The next 6 stages are alternating layers of floating paint with highlights of increasingly lighter layers. These stages represent the Baptism as much water is used to float the ground pigment over the underlying images.


11

First Highlight

God act of creation – where God separates light from darkness.


12

First Float

This represents the first veil- it represents turning off the first highlight in order to reveal the next light.


13

Second Highlight

This is the opening of the inner light- to reveal the soul itself. This method is to create facets of light – like a diamond. The new inner life – the life of the New Testament.


14

Second Floating

This represents the inner life of the soul being revealed.


15

Third Highlight

Represents the angelic Celestial Hierarchy: were angels surround God in contemplation.


16

Third Float

The harmonizing veil of all the colours of the icon – this is the most transparent layer – it should bring some surprise with unexpected colour as it blends with the previous colours.


17

Final Lines: Propis

These lines symbolize the restoration of the whole person.


18

Details

This stage is the contemplation of uniting the visible and the invisible in one image. The details are what make our life profound. The journey is nearing completion.


19

Ozhivki ( A-jiv-ki) – The Enlivening.

This stage is the final, white lines that enliven the icon. This stage represents the Transfiguration, which must happen before the resurrection.


20

The Omega – The white crown

The end of the journey. The white line that surrounds the outside image and the halo. This white line brings us back to the beginning of the white gesso. The journey is complete.


21

The Olifa – (A-lifa)

The firing of the icon, using warm oil – the icon is anointed with a layer of oil – The floating is symbolic of the Baptism with water. The Olifa is symbolic of the anointing and gift of the Holy Spirit as in Confirmation.


This brings the icon to the final place of no return – the icon cannot be revised – it is fixed. The iconographer must move on to a new icon.