Windows to The Sacred

Fr Jim Nolan is the Parish priest of Davidstown/Coutnacuddy here in the diocese of Ferns. In addition to his priestly duties and interest in horses, he has recently taken up another unusual hobby – that of writing icons.

Fr Jim explains: ‘About two years ago, I began to attend iconography classes in New Ross that were being taught by Sr. Helen, a Carmelite Sister originally from Nigeria. According to Fr. Jim, this was far more than a painting class. He and the other students first had to learn the history and meaning of icons that have been established as a feature of Eastern Christianity for centuries. So for example, he learned that icons are not painted but written. This is because everything in an icon must be in harmony with the Word of God and express a mystery of faith contained in Scripture. In that sense, the icon is not observed but read. Each icon tells a story from Scripture where a drama is taking place. The icon is a visual expression of Scripture that expresses a deeper theological and spiritual truth. This truth is then contemplated by the reader.

According to Fr Jim: ‘I enjoy writing icons as a contemplative exercise. It soothes the soul and opens up a contemplative space which nourishes the spirit. As you paint, the artist becomes a co-creator with the Spirit in bringing an image to life. That is why iconographers pray and fast before they begin their work’.

‘All of us have a primal imagination which ignites the senses but we also have spiritual senses too. Luminosity is within all of us where we bond with the light reflected on the landscape, in people who reflect light, in art, music, poetry, in story and song. This is the light reflected in a smile or in a reassuring word and in the unlit roadways of our lives. In that visibility we can bring hope to other people’s situations and they to ours.

This is true of icons too. We look to them for solace and they never cease to look at us with blessing. Inside this encounter, we co-locate and co-create, we co-habit as we mediate the Godhead – our hands, our eyes and our hearts are his implements.

The central mysteries of our Christian faith are grounded in the Triune God – a Trinity of persons revealing the incarnate Son and his redeeming death and resurrection. We participate in these mysteries through the sacraments that connect us to God – to the Father as creator, to the Son as redeemer and to the Holy Spirit as the one who makes holy all God’s people.

As we venerate the icon, our inner self or soul is brought to a mystical union with the image before us. I feel when I enter a household or a gallery that a mystical chapel surrounds me. Icons from earliest times represent visual images of the Scriptures. Shortly after the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, icons enjoyed a newer appreciation or recognition after a difficult period. Now the Church urges the faithful to retain and venerate them as sacred objects’.

Pictured below are some of the icons that Fr Jim has written. Congratulations Fr Jim on using your talents by bringing the Gospel to life in such a beautiful way.

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