Ever imagine what it must have been like to watch one of the great artists of the Renaissance paint the ceilings and frescoes that adorn the great cathedrals throughout the world? We sometimes forget that we are living in history, and during our own times, great artists are creating the masterpieces that will outlive us all. In the great Byzantine tradition of iconography, sacred art is being written and is hanging on the walls of Resurrections Catholic Parish in Tualatin, Oregon. Iconographer, Mary Katsilometes, is currently working on a multi-year iconography project for Resurrection Parish in Tualitin, Oregon. She was kind enough to spend some time talking with me about the process of writing icons, and she allowed me to photograph her and her students at work on an icon of the Pentecost.
Mary Katsilometes grew up in Southeast Idaho on a sheep ranch where she describes living “immersed in the seasons, the push and pull of life and death.” From an early age she felt drawn to the Divine alive in the beauty of nature and present in the ritual of faith. Her Greek father and his two brothers immigrated from the Sparta region of Greece, and together, ran the sheep business in Idaho. Her father married a Danish woman, a nurse, who was devoted to her Catholic faith. Mary Katsilometes grew with the rich religious traditions of both the Catholic and the Greek Orthodox faiths as well as the influences of the Sisters of St. Benedict.
Mary began writing icons in 1992 under the direction of Charles Rorbacher. In both 1993 and 1998 she completed advanced studies in France under Egon Sandler, SJ in Meudon and Publier (Chalet Darbon). Known for his book, Image of the Invisible God, Sandler is a renowned iconographer. In addition to her studies and work in France, Mary has traveled extensively throughout Europe and Russia in her study of the Icon and has conducted numerous retreats, workshops, and presentations. Among the icons she has written are those for the University of Portland, St. Mary’s Academy (Portland, Oregon), The Catholic Worker House (Portland, Oregon), Our Lady of Guadalupe Cistercian Monastery (Lafayette, Oregon), Queen of Angels Monastery (Mt. Angel, Oregon), and the Jesuit Native American Mission of St. Paul (La Conner, Washington). Her work was also included in the CIVA National Traveling Exhibit in 2000-2002.
Currently, Katsilometes is immersed in a multi-year project of writing five major icons for Resurrection Parish in Tualitin, Oregon. I visited Mary and two of her students as she was working on an icon telling the story of the Pentecost. Mary was kind enough to spend some time talking with me about her work. Katsilometes founded the Anastasis Studio of Iconography to share her passion and knowledge with others. For years Anastasis was located at Mount Angel Abbey, but is now located at Queen of Angels Monastary in Mount Angel, Oregon. Part of Anastasis is an Institute for Iconography.
The sacred art of iconography and icons is part of the great traditions and spiritual practice that Mary Katsilometes passes on as part of her calling. Mary Katsilometes described how iconography was, in part, about ‘unpacking sacred geometry,” an aspect of art that was long ignored and under-appreciated in Western art. Katsilometes first studied contemporary art at Idaho State University and the University of Oregon, but then began to explore the roots of the Byzantine tradition. Influenced by the works of Giotto, and the concepts surrounding the idea of the ‘fusion of the image of God as fully human, and fully divine,” she was fascinated by the human face as it was depicted in Byzantine art. She described the justification for depicting Christ in iconography, “Because God incarnated in the human form of Jesus, this is the only reason we can depict God in this aspect of the Holy Trinity.”
Passionate about her call to iconography, Katsilometes says art provides us with a sense of harmony. Art brings order out of chaos, and she says “we cannot be without harmony. It acts upon us. It informs us.” When talking about icons and iconographers, we refer do not say the iconographer paints the art; instead we say that icons are written through the hands of the iconographer. This language expresses the sense of iconographers being called and inspired by the Divine in the writing of icons. Currently, at Resurrection Parish, the icons hanging include: The Trinity/the Crucifixion triptych, the Annunciation, and The Resurrection. Currently, Katsilometes is working on a fourth icon, The Pentecost. A fifth icon will include the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptizer. For more information on Mary Katsilometes, iconography, and the project at Resurrection Parish, contact Anastasis.