By Fr. Ray Douziech, C.Ss.R.
Let your face shine on us and we shall be saved!
We have a new icon in our chapel. It is the face of Christ. It is a copy of the oldest known icon of Christ, which hangs in the monastery of Saint Catherine in the Sinai Peninsula. What I find striking about the icon are the eyes of Christ. When I first spent time looking at the icon I felt intimidated. I felt vulnerable and exposed to those penetrating eyes. Christ’s eyes seem to look into the depths of my soul. His eyes looked past my masks and seemed to see all my foibles, weaknesses, guilt and shame. Yet, the more I looked into His eyes the more it felt that His eyes were not judging me. In fact, they were embracing me with tenderness and compassion. The more I allowed Him to look at me, the more I was able to trust that he was looking at me with love. I felt fully and lovingly seen.
St. John of the Cross, speaks about God looking at us. Saint John maintains that there are four effects from being seen by God. God’s look cleanses us, enriches us, endows us with grace, and enlightens us. Being seen by God transforms us.
Being seen by Christ transforms us. The gaze of Christ grasps us and his eyes allow us to enter into the mystery of the Incarnation. Half of His face reflects the human dimension and the other half the divine. As we look upon the icon we are moved to contemplate the mystery of God’s love poured out in Jesus, the mystery of our Redemption. Jesus becomes the mirror of God’s compassion in our midst.
We were fortunate to have met Ria Kinghorn through her husband Deacon Robert Kinghorn who has helped us with pastoral placements for the novices. Ria is an iconographer. Visiting Ria is a treat as it offers an opportunity to see her work and appreciate her exquisite skills at writing icons. We were so impressed that we asked Ria if she would consider writing an icon for our chapel. She readily agreed.
We decided that the Christo Pantocrator was the icon we wanted with a focus on the face of Christ. The result was an expression of devotion and skill. The halo alone required more than 3,000 tapings. The gold was imported from Europe and the frame commissioned to McMaster Gallery here in Toronto. The icon is mounted on plywood painted with acid free black.
The icon is paired and is the same size as the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. We decided to remove the frame on OLPH and mount the icon on a black backing so that both icons match. We were reminded that icons are not framed pictures. Therefore, we needed to mount them in such as way that the icon stood seemingly apart from a frame. The outcome is that our chapel is now graced with the tender eyes of OLPH and those of her Son. Both embrace us with the assurance of God’s love.
By MC Havey, Archivist
On the Feast of Christ the King, an icon of Christ Pantocrator was blessed in the chapel of the Interprovincial Novitiate in Toronto.
The creator of the icon, Ria Kinghorn, a Toronto iconographer and her husband, Deacon Robert Kinghorn of nearby St. Margaret’s church, attended the special liturgy, presided by Novice Director Fr. Raymond Douziech.
In Christian iconography, the Christ Pantocrator is the oldest existing icon and was written in the sixth century. Preserved at St. Catherine’s monastery in Mount Sinai, Egypt, it portrays Christ as the ruler of the universe, a righteous judge and lover of mankind.
The Toronto icon, which measures 21 inches in height and 16 inches in width, is a head-and-shoulders portrait, which Mrs. Kinghorn sought to create as a compassionate, majestic image. She noted: “The facial characteristics of icons are exaggerated to show that they are from another reality since we have no other means to express this dimension which is why the eyes are larger and the nose longer and mouth smaller. It’s also interesting to note that in this particular Icon of the Pantocrator, the face has two distinct styles if split down the middle, to suggest the humanity and divinity of Christ.”
She explained her technique: “The board is prepared with a gesso base; then the background only is in fact gilded with 2 layers of 24kt. gold leaf that is burnished to a high sheen. The actual painting of Jesus is done directly on gesso.”
In consultation with Frs. Douziech and Ronnie Bonneau, assistant Novice Director, the book of Gospels was not included. The design of the halo is a copy of the Icon in the chapel of the Redemptorist retreat centre in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.
The commission to write the icon came as a friendly challenge from Fr. Douziech during a conversation at an event of Friends of the Street, a support group organized by her husband, which members of the novitiate attend at St. Margaret’s parish. Upon hearing of Mrs. Kinghorn’s upcoming retreat at Oconomowoc, Fr. Douziech suggested that she examine the Christ Pantocrator icon in the retreat center chapel, adding: “If you can paint that, I’ll commission you.”
An iconographer for a decade, Mrs. Kinghorn, who has worked at St. Augustine’s seminary in the diaconate program, was introduced to the art by the wife of a diaconate candidate. Her first icon, Our Lady of Tenderness, was completed during a week-long session in the wife’s basement studio. To gain experience and expertise, courses and training have followed, including attending a session by Brother Dan Korn on a visit to Toronto. She constantly consults with other iconographers, especially a Russian mentor, discussing colours and techniques. Of iconography, “I fell in love with it,” she simply stated. “It’s a passion.”
The pictures below show the icon through different stages of the work.