The icon of Saint Martial

St MartialThe icon of Saint Martial has just been completed. It was named on the feast day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Martial was an orphan boy who was adopted by Saint Peter after the intercession of the Virgin Mary with Her Son, Jesus Christ. Martial died in Rome as a martyr as a very young adult before Peter was crucified.

The red tunic Martial is shown wearing and the cross he is holding in his right hand indicate the manner in which he died. The royal purple robe indicates the inheritance he subsequently attained. The lilies on the right indicate Martial’s purity and innocence.

The dimensions of the icon are 9″ x 12″. The materials included wood with natural gesso, silver leaf burnished by hand and natural egg tempera in the Russian-Byzantine tradition. The icon will be varnished with olifa in a few weeks’ time.

In creating a work of art, the psyche or soul of the artist ascends from the earthly realm into the heavenly. There, free of all images, the soul is fed in contemplation by the essences of the highest realm, knowing the permanent noumena of things. Then, satiated with this knowing, it descends again to the earthly realm. And precisely at the boundary between the two worlds, the soul’s spiritual knowledge assumes the shapes of symbolic imagery: and it is these images that make permanent the work of art. Art is thus materialized dream, separated from the ordinary consciousness of waking life – Pavel Florensky, 1996, Iconostasis

To paint an icon is to bring about a transformation of matter that is only real as a result of a transformation of in the inner being of the painter – R. Temple in Doors of Perception.

The divine essence means the unknowable ground of divinity; the divine energies are those aspects of the divine life that are directed away from the Godhead itself, like rays emanating from the sun. It is through the divine energies that the act of creation is accomplished and that God is revealed and known as the Holy Trinity – J. Baggley, Doors of Perception.

Why are icons needed?

“The destruction of images [has] left behind a void, the wretchedness of which we are experiencing in a truly acute way. [It has become] a symptom of the crisis of man’s very existence . . . a blindness of the spirit” (Benedict XVI, The spirit of the liturgy). While “in the period of iconoclasm the Church struggled for the icon, in our time it is the icon that struggles for the Church” (L. Ouspensky, Theology of the icon) because the icon is embodied prayer. 



In the icon, we see a divine reality which goes beyond the dimensions of this earthly world, but which, at the same time, respects this earthly world because it is created by God to become transfigured in His Spirit. If the representation loses the character of God’s mystery, if it reduces this mystery to the sensible forms of matter, the icon loses its soul – E. Sendler, The Icon: Image of the Invisible.

Iconic light becomes incarnate grace, materialized, and it must be received as such in contemplation. Contemplation is not simply passive reception but requires all the dynamism of the spirit; the light of God must therefore be assimilated in order to be transmitted to others. Man thus enters into the divine eros. The knowledge of the intelligible light becomes illumination and thereby man moves toward the brilliantly shining darkness of the absolute mystery – E. Sendler, The Icon: Image of the Invisible.

The movement of love which proceeds from the Father spreads out His light on all creatures. By knowledge, episteme, and contemplation, theoria, creatures purify themselves of everything that blocks the realization of the likeness with God and thus elevate themselves to God to become deified – E. Sendler, The Icon: Image of the Invisible.

The goal of the icon writer is to externalize the sacred tradition and to enable the beholder to enter into the unseen world of the Spirit which transcends and yet interpenetrates the world of matter and flesh . . . The purpose of an icon is to take us into the world of the Spirit, where we can experience the transforming power of divine grace – J. Baggley, Doors of Perception.

Where do we begin to assess the authenticity of an icon? The extent to which an icon has entered into the life of the Church: the warmth of an icon’s reception by the faithful – only not in terms of aesthetic pleasure, but on the level of prayerful contact (I. Yazykova, Hidden and Triumphant).

The man who attains illumination of the nous becomes a real, natural man, entering into his true life’s work and climbing the eternal mountain – Metropolitan Hierotheos of Vlachos.