Icons are the art of prayer

Each painting is a lesson in prayer, obedience and dedication.

And then more prayer.

Which is why the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge has titled its Sunday program “Praying With Icons: Bringing Art and Faith Together,” which is being held in the St. Aloysius Catholic Church hall.

The program will feature eight Byzantine icons, some painted by local iconographers, along with a presentation by New Orleans iconographer and teacher Raymond Calvert.

“And then people will have the opportunity to sit with one of the icons in prayer,” says Rebecca East, a member of the program committee.

East is St. Aloysius’ director of Rite of Christian Initiatives of Adults. She also is an iconographer, having learned the process from Calvert.

“The dioceses is presenting this program in connection with the Year of Faith,” East says.

Pope Benedict XVI declared in 2011 that the “Year of Faith” would begin Oct. 11, 2012, and conclude Nov. 24, 2013. According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the “Year of Faith is an opportunity for every Catholic to turn towards Jesus Christ, encounter him in the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, and rediscover the faith and Church.”

This program perfectly fits within those parameters.

Then again, there is no such thing as perfection when humans are involved, especially when painting icons.

“I’ve been painting icons for a long time, and I still have so much to learn,” East says.

“And though icons are supposed to be painted the same way each time, they turn out differently with each painter, because people are different,” Calvert adds.

Calvert, a New Orleans native, earned his bachelor of arts degree in English from Tulane University in 1971 and his master’s of arts degree in theological studies from Notre Dame Seminary in 1986.

He also studied icon painting with master iconographer Phillip Zimmerman, of Pennsylvania.

Calvert worked as a technical illustrator for the Boeing Co. early in his career. He later worked as a graphic/medical artist for the LSU School of Dentistry, but has devoted his talents to teaching and painting icons since his retirement in 1999.

His icons, as well as banners and stained glass windows he designed, can be seen in St. Augustine Episcopal Church in Metairie and Christ Church Cathedral, in New Orleans; St. Joseph Cathedral, in Baton Rouge; St. Joseph Abbey Christian Life Center, in St. Benedict; St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, in Metairie; and St. Monica Catholic Church in Edmond, Okla.

“I will be giving a PowerPoint presentation that will cover three points: tradition and history, spiritual and aesthetic, and bringing art and faith together,” Calvert says.

Prayer, then light refreshments will follow the program.

Calvert will show his icons of St. Raphael the Archangel and Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

The program’s featured icons also will include “St. Helena” by Ginnie Bolin, “St. Mary Magdelene” by Augusta Waguespack, “The Prodigal Son” by Mary Martinez and the Rev. Donald Blanchard’s “Our Mother of Perpetual Help.” All are local iconographers.

“We’ll also be featuring a 500-year-old icon, ‘She Who Points the Way,’” East says. “It was a special icon given to the sisters of St. Aloysius. They left it to the church, and now it hangs in an office here.”

The icon shows Mary holding the infant Jesus.

The painting is named for the position of her hand, which is pointing to the infant, signaling that Christ is the way to heaven.

“We will be featuring a total of eight icons,” East says.

And each was created through a process of prayer, obedience and dedication.