The first Ottawa International Byzantine Arts Symposium wrapping up at the beginning of this month surrounded the work of master iconographer George Kordis with an exhibition, 2 concerts and an icon painting workshop. I had no idea what to expect going in to this event. I had been contacted by the event organizer, Lesia Maruschak only 2 months before, at a time when there was yet no website, no facebook page and I had never heard of Studio Ikona, the organization behind the event. I know how difficult it can be to pull all the elements together into both a useful and successful event so I was of course watching with some curiosity. The event did indeed come together in those few months and upon the fateful evening of the show I traveled to Ottawa with my icons in the car.
I was looking forward to meeting Kordis, who almost in contrast to his bold and virtuoso icons, surprised me by his gentle spirit and his warm meekness. The evening was a wonderful success, pulling in many people from all over Canada and many from the US, embassy representatives from Romania and Greece, clergy from at least 5 different jurisdictions (but who’s counting) including a Metropolitan. And of course present were the 22 students who had signed up for the icon workshop. The opening evening was a wine and cheese type exhibition with sale of icons. Kordis had agreed to sell archival quality reproduction of his icons with proceeds going to Blood Cancer, a cause very close to the event organizer who was diagnosed with blood cancer a few years ago and has been a tireless advocate of the cause ever since.
I know many people are suspicious of showing icons in the manner of an art exhibition, of using the gallery concept to display sacred images which are meant to be venerated and part of liturgical life. I have some sympathy with those views myself. But at the moment of the official presentations, I suddenly became very much aware of how this type of event “outside” the church can act as a sowing, as a Pentecost of sacred image, where those icons displayed artist by artist with little tags announcing their technical information could act as flickering flame moving out into the world. And so it was a joyful surprise to hear both of the embassy representatives discuss icons as being much more than art, but rather living witnesses to our faith aimed at the glory of God. I’m pretty sure a Canadian or American embassy representative would be fired for saying such a thing at a public event!
The event continued with a four day icon painting workshop. In hearing students’ comments, I was surprised to find out that Kordis has all his students draw their own pattern following his instructions rather than having them simply trace a pattern which is usual for many icon workshops. But this fits nicely with Kordis’ view of how iconography must be an organic and living continuation of ancient work. Kordis told me of one student who had put down a very beautiful drawing and to his surprise finding out that this student had never painted or done any drawing before.
Part of the event was also two concerts, one at St. Elias Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral and the other at Christ the Saviour Orthodox Church during which Kordis produced an icon as the choirs were singing. Lesia Maruschak told me of people coming to tears upon seeing the face of Christ take shape before their very eyes as the concerts came to a close.
I have to say it was a great joy to see such a professional and enthusiastic event in Canada and I am quite looking forward to seeing this initiative grow as it continues in the coming years.