Here we shall discuss Michael’s experience in the creation of an icon that depicts the patron saints of cooks, Sts. Martha and Euphrosynus.
Christ Between Sts. Martha and Euphrosynus
This icon reflects a composition giving glory to Christ in the midst of serving and asking Him to bless the hands of those that prepare the food, “For I was hungry, and you gave Me food: I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink: I was a stranger, and you took Me in” Matthew 25:35.
The Venerable Euphrosynus the Cook of Alexandria was a monk of the ninth century at one of the monasteries in Palestine who had been translated to Paradise while fulfilling his obedience as a cook. His feast day is September 11.
Saint Martha, hostess of our Lord Jesus Christ, was born of a royal kindred. Jesus liked to stay at the house of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, his friends at Bethany, when he was in Judea. One of these visits has ever remained dear to Christian memory. On that occasion Martha, busily serving the Master, asked Him to persuade Mary to help her. Without in any way reproaching Martha, Jesus explained to her that certain souls, called by God, should choose a better part still — the primary duty of listening to Him and contemplating Him. Feast of Martha and Mary June 4.
Michael actually had difficulty understanding how new compositions are designed and accepted into the tradition of patterns defining canonical Byzantine iconography. In the case of the icon we are discussing here, we used the prototype of Christ the Teacher as an appropriate archetype to enhance the topic of the two patron saints of cooks. The work of the saints depicted is given fulfillment in Christ and supported by the biblical text. The olive leaves signify peace, prosperity and new life. I asked Michael to research prototypes and arrange the images in a balanced and harmonious composition, Christ always being the focal point of the icon. He designed the pattern below which offered a starting point in the design of the final outcome.
Michael’s greatest struggle throughout the entire study was switching from his spontaneous style into the practice of a very structured and intentional cultural and spiritual discipline. I relied on educational materials such as painter’s manuals, history of Byzantine painting books, classical art books, theology of icon painting books to support his technical challenges. Michael exhibited enormous potential for development in the cultural context of a contemporary experience, while yet continuing to be challenged in the aesthetic principles and spiritual participation governed by canonical parameters. This challenge is not indifferent for many artists conditioned in their own personal style transitioning into the practice of Byzantine iconography.
The following pictures share various stages in the work of this icon: