The Transfiguration of the Lord Icon

Icon of the Transfiguration (Mark 9: 2 - 10)
God our Father in the transfigured glory of Christ your Son,
You strengthen our faith by confirming the witness of Your prophets,
and show us the splendor of Your beloved sons and daughters.
As we listen to the voice of your Son, help us to become heirs to eternal life
with Him who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.  

Each icon panel measure 36" x 54"
Church of St. James, Omaha, Nebraska
Fr. Richard Reiser, iconographer


TRANSFIGURATION OF THE LORD

A HISTORY OF ICONS

An icon is a religious work of art done in a symbolic and stylistic manner.   Its main focus is not with realism but with spiritual realities.  The icon was a favorite art form that developed in the early Church and became the preferred style of religious representation for the Eastern Orthodox Church.   In the Roman Catholic Church, mosaics and types of statuary were the prominent styles of art used for religious representation.
Realism or accurate perspective is not a primary concern in iconography.  The main purpose of an icon is to draw the viewer into the realm of the holy through contemplation.   An icon in this sense means to "see through to the divine," or to be a "window to heaven".  In icons, the details of the eyes should draw the viewer into a vision beyond the present.   The perspectives are more subject-centered as a way of focus, rather than relying on realistic horizon lines.  The icon does not, after all, represent the material world, but the realm of the Divine.
The stoic faces on the figures in icons suggest that the holy ones, whose lives of service work are now accomplished on earth, now contemplate and rest in the presence of the Divine (signified by the light [halo] which surrounds the heads of the holy figures).

THE TRANSFIGURATION ICON

The two-panel icon of the Transfiguration has been done in a contemporary method and should be understood as a religious painting done in an iconographic style since it was not written (painted) following the strict rules of traditional icons that included rigorous fasting, special prayers, and special mixing of pigments with egg whites.   This icon is written with acrylic paints.
The two oaken panels each measure 36" x 54", and their rounded tops echo the architectural detail found elsewhere in the church.  The event of the Transfiguration is found in Matthew 17: 1 - 8 and Mark 9: 2 - 8.  The naming of the icon (Transfiguration) is done in English, but in a contemporary Slavonic (Old Russian) style of lettering.
The images on the panels are of Jesus Christ, St. Elijah1, St. Moses1 St. Peter, St. James, and St. John.   Jesus Christ and St. James are larger than the other figures to give them prominence;   Jesus, since he is the main figure of the Transfiguration, and St. James, since he is the patron of the parish.   The icon is designed to invite the viewer to participate in the event of the Transfiguration by allowing the light coming from Christ in the first panel to confront the viewer, then, inviting the viewer to connect the light of Christ to the apostles in the second panel.   The rays of light that emanate from Christ were done in a stained-glass style that reflects the shape and colors of the stained glass found elsewhere in the church2.

THE MOUNT TABOR PANEL (at right)

The central figure of the right panel is Jesus Christ, clothes in white and surrounded by light in the traditional manner which depicts Him in glory, along with the creedal statement of "Light from Light."  The aureole (the gold-leaf background) which surrounds the entire body of Jesus.   Christ's halo contains the traditional Greek letters that identify Jesus Christ as "I Am," the title of God given to Moses in Exodus 3:14 and given human expression in Jesus as the divine Son of God.   The Greek letters to the left and right of the aureole are the traditional abbreviations for "Jesus Christ."   High right hand is raised in the traditional gesture of blessing where the two joined fingers represent the two natures ( human and divine) of Christ.   A scroll is held in Christ's left hand and is symbolic of Christ being the Word that became flesh (John 1:14).
The haloed figure of Moses to the right of the Christ figure bows in deference towards Christ who is the completion and fulfillment of the law.   Moses reverently holds the two tablets of the Ten Commandments without directly touching them.  They symbolize the law with the word Torah3 inscribed on them in Hebrew.   Moses is represented as the younger man than he was at the time he received the tablets of the law.   The garments of Moses are brownish red and blue.
The haloed figure of Elijah to the left of the Christ figure, also defers to Christ as the completion and fulfillment of the prophets.   Elijah was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind.  His garments are green and blue.
All three figures on the right panel stand atop Mount Tabor4.  The mountain suggests the place of God's revelation to Moses in the Old Testament when he was given the law (Deuteronomy 5), and the place where Elijah the prophet experienced the voice of the Lord in the gentle breeze (1 Kings 19: 8 - 13).   Icons of the Transfiguration show Jesus Christ as God's full revelation by being presented on a mountain.

THE APOSTLES PANEL (at left)

The apostles panel of the left is divided into three plateaus each supporting one of the apostles closest to Christ.   The center plateau is larger and bright and it supports St. James.   He is shown humbled on his knees, because of the experience of the Transfiguration.   He is reaching forward while attempting to secure stability and balance on the rocky plane.   He is presented with his hand shielding his face from the light.  His outer garment flows in the wind generated by the force of the transfigured Christ.   The trees representing creation also bend by the power of Christ's transfiguration.   He is attempting to seek Christ, but with difficulty.   The halo surrounding his head marks him as a saint.   His outer garment is purple and his undergarment is green.
The upper plateau supports St. Peter who is held back from the force of the Transfiguration by a ledge where his feet are supported.   His outer garments flows in the win.   As the leader of the apostles, he points to the light and to Christ.   The haloed figure is presented with the traditional gray hair and beard suggesting wisdom.   Positioned on the rock, he is named by Christ as the "Rock" on which Christ will build His Church.   His outer garment is the traditional gold, and his undergarment is green.
The haloed figure of St. John is the bottom figure.   He is the brother of St. James.   His right hand shield his face from the light.   His outer garment flows in the wind.   His left hand reaches forward clinging to the rock.   A ledge supports his forward right leg and holds him which his back leg waves freely with the force almost releasing his sandal.   His beardless face is the traditional way of depicting his youth.   He is said to be the youngest of the apostles.   His outer garment is green and his undergarment is blue.
The maize-colored border of both panels reflects the color and stained glass of the central rose windows in the church5.  The medallion on the right panel border holds a piece of rock from Mt. Tabor.   The medallion on the left panel border holds a relic of St. James.

THE INSCRIPTION
The inscription on the back of the icon panels reads:

The Transfiguration
Feast - August 6
Blessed by Fr. Richard Reiser
August 6, 2006
Donated by Colleen Mahoney
in memory of the
William and Colleen Mahoney Family


Fr. Richard Reiser, iconographer

1 In the Orthodox tradition, both Elijah and Moses are considered saints.
2 A similar technique with the fishing net was used by Brother Robert in the "Calling of James" icon in our church.
3 The first five books of the Old Testament' they present all of the 613 laws and interpretations that are central to Judaism.   In Jewish services the scrolls of the Torah are still extravagantly decorated and venerated with respect when they are proclaimed.
4 Mount Tabor is more of a geographical mound in the area of Galilee and not a mountain as such.
5 This border also is found on the "Calling of James" icon.