Russian Orthodox iconographers teach workshop at St. Paul’s Lutheran
Tatiana Berestov was trained in Russia as an engineer. When she moved to New York and painted her first religious icon, which are used in the Russian Orthodox Church, she followed a new career path. You could say it was by accident, she said, or by providence of God.
“Once I started painting icons, I couldn’t stop. It revealed the meaning of everything for me,” said Berestov, who is in Durham this week teaching an icon writing workshop at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church with her husband, Dimitriy Berestov. They are both professional iconographers and instructors at the Prosopon School of Iconology in New York.
Tatiana Berestov said she had always liked art, but her first icon was a revelation. The Berestovs travel to teach icon writing workshops to those interested in the experience. Expressing the teaching of the Orthodox Church can be for any denomination, she said, because icons are images of God.
For the class held at St. Paul’s this week, participants worked on the Archangel Michael, chosen for beginners. At the Prosopon School, Berestov said, there is a liturgical progression in paintings of God.
“We approach something sacred in a series of steps,” she said. “Archangel Michael begins because of all angels, he helps people in the beginning of faith. … He helps in the beginning of our journey.”
The process of icon writing includes inner iconography – finding an image of God in ourselves, Berestov said. “You don’t need to invent anything. It’s all within us. And the method is simple.”
On Tuesday afternoon, students were painting the base layer on their Archangel Michael icons. Later, they would add several more layers of fine paint and light, she said. The room was quiet, with low music in the background.
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church has an interest in the liturgical arts and wanted to expand its offerings to the community, said member Tina Bessias, who organized the workshop and participated as well.
Bessias said she’d keep her finished icon in her house. “I think this is as much about the journey as the project. It’s not as if in one session you can create an artistic icon,” she said. “I think it will be a reminder of an experience.”
Alice Barnes signed up for the workshop after being reassured she didn’t need to be an artist to create an icon. This is her first week of retirement from Duke Energy, and Tuesday was her 66th birthday. She was excited to share her new experience.
A member of St. Paul’s, Barnes said Lutherans don’t use icons the way the Orthodox Church does, but her church has a rich tradition of liturgical arts.
“From a belief perspective, it’s all to connect one to God and God’s creation,” Barnes said. The workshop has included meditation and contemplation as well as painting, she said, and the icons, like stained glass windows, bring out another sense.
“Some people have a devotional space in their home. This will be a nice way to start a devotional area for daily practice,” she said.
Another student, Angela Tawfik, 16, is a rising junior at Trinity School in Durham and did an honors project last year on icons. Her teacher told her about the workshop.
“I love it. It’s fascinating,” Angela said. “It’s one thing to read about stuff or hear about it from an iconographer I interviewed. That’s not the same as doing it yourself.”
She said she really liked the theological meaning of each step in the icon writing process.
“There’s a lot of stuff I don’t know. It’s really interesting,” Angela said.