Father Theophan: Ego Spots

Icons created by Fr. Theophan. Photo by Fr. Theophan

By Father Theophan
Saint Job of Pochaiv Orthodox Church
Los Alamos

Over the past few months, my work in the pottery shop has been on hold. I have however been working on my iconography practice, and it looks like I’ll have a show of it in July at the Library. All the more reason to keep at it.

In an icon, painted (or written) in the medieval Russian style, the first layer of pigments are the darkest. It’s called the “roskrysh”, which translated means uncovering, the image begins to be uncovered. The painting moves from dark to light, hopefully reflecting and symbolizing our own journey toward enlightenment.

The pigments, suspended in egg tempera, are applied at this stage very loosely, almost like watercolors. And the pigments settle out in random, unpredictable patterns. What can result, however, are dark spots, where too much pigment settled out too quickly. My instructor, Father Mefodii, likes to call these “Ego spots.” If the painter gives their ego too much reign, it is reflected in an over-abundance of these spots.

There are those who believe (and I have little reason to doubt it) that all of one’s passions, one’s weakness and sins, become evident in different and specific ways when creating icons. Whether that is true or not, it is definitely a journey of spiritual self-discovery.

My current icons are covered with ego spots. I am realizing that the work on myself is not nearly as far advanced as I had hoped.

This also has become evident concurrently while I have served on the Art in Public Places Board for Los Alamos County. While championing an artist and commission that I believe would be a great addition to the County’s collection, I have become defensive and combative; much more so than I ever have about things of the Church and spiritual nature. I have said and written things that I should not have, and in ways, without charity, that I should not have. I beg the forgiveness of anyone who was offended by my words.

Iconography, as is our life, an additive process. Mistakes are made and passions are revealed, but there is no place, no possibility for erasure. We can’t go back and unmake the mistakes; we can’t actually take back the words and actions that cause injury. We can only continue to do better in the next steps.

The roskrysh is the beginning and there are lines to come, three highlights and three floats, final highlights and final lines. God willing, there is more to come, and we should not be defined by our worst day. God willing the icon will turn out beautifully even with the ego spots, tempered a bit, and so will my life.