Iconographer Matthia Langone in her Vancouver studio. Langone, said Barb Dowding of the archdiocese of Vancouver’s Office of Stewardship, is a wonderful example of using a God-given talent to build the kingdom of God on Earth. (Photo from B.C. Catholic)

Encountering the icon’s mystery, meaning

By  Laureen McMahon, Canadian Catholic News
  • September 7, 2011

VANCOUVER - Embracing the Christian life is a sacred mystery and icons possess a mysterious power to draw the spiritual seeker to Christ, says iconographer Matthia Langone.

Icons are artistic “written” images of Jesus, Mary, the saints or angels that offer a living theology and experience of prayer. Iconographers not only offer their creative charism to God, they offer their whole heart, mind and soul.

“It is a transformational experience, a vocation,” said Langone.

She should know. When she encountered Russia’s most prized icons while attending an ordination in Moscow about 15 years ago, she was so struck with the stunning images, the course of her life was changed.


“It was the first Latin-rite ordination since the fall of the communist regime,” she said. “It was very hot, and the seminarian’s family arranged several tours, which included a grand tour of the Kremlin. After three hours, I had no intention of seeing any icons, but when I went into the churches in the square I had a huge experience which I can only compare to receiving Communion. So much power! Each icon affected me, one after the other; I didn’t know what had hit me. I even felt kind of afraid.

“I knew that I had to try to understand the power of the icon to affect so many through the centuries.”

When she returned home she began to research icons, determined to learn all she could. Eventually she embarked on a course of studies at the Prosopon School of Iconology under Russian master iconographer Vladislav Andrejev to learn his “liturgical method.” The master’s teachings include the practice and theory of the ancient Christian art of icon-writing in the Russian Byzantine tradition which considers icons the “Gospel in light and colour.”

“I began to see that icons are a spiritual way,” said Langone.

The iconographic method of the school is characterized by a multi-step process that is concrete and definite, similar to the liturgical services of the Church. Only natural materials are used: wood panels, gold leaf, egg tempera with ground pigments and linseed oil finish. The icon writer, while focusing on the image to be created, is also intent on personal spiritual growth and discipline within the guidelines of Church teachings.

Originally from Boston, Langone’s early artistic ambitions had been frustrated, so it was only later, after her encounter with the icons in Russia, that she allowed her talent to fully flourish. After beginning to paint her icons, often focused on the face of Christ and John the Baptist, she travelled to Europe, including Florence and pilgrimage sites.

During the 2000 Jubilee Year she went to Rome for an artists’ jubilee celebration, having become somewhat discouraged about the progress of her work.

“I asked God for a sign whether I should continue. I decided that, if I could be in a photo with the Pope, that would be my answer. So I was amazed when I was not only photographed with the Pope, but he blessed my icon and the photo was on the front page of L’Osservatore Romano! I was even on television! I felt that the Lord was honouring my spiritual life.”

She is thrilled to see the great increase in devotion to iconography.

“It has become popular culturally, but often in a superficial way, so you have the dilemma of art historians qualifying exactly what icons are. They are more than art; they are a prayer, which is to love God with your whole heart and soul and your neighbour as yourself.

“When you approach an icon, you are seeking the image of Christ in that particular saint, or Christ’s image or Mary’s. I can love God with my whole heart and soul while I am working because I am always seeking His face,” said Langone.

(The B.C. Catholic)

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