(Icon by Mirra Meylakh, whose work can be seen here: http://holytrinityorthodox.org/iconography/index.htm)
Writing icons is the perfect Lenten discipline. The parallels to the spiritual life and to the Lenten journey are striking, as anyone who has painted an icon can testify: the laborious and repetitive preparations, when one patiently puts down the dark colors that form the base, the gradual brightening as one moves from dark to light with highlighting, the discouragement that almost inevitably occurs in the middle of the project, and the dramatic effects of the final touches of bright color and then the final glory of gold leaf.
And not least, there is the fact that no mistake is irreparable, though there are some, in the last stages of gilding and varnishing, that are a challenge. Iconography is very forgiving, unlike, say, watercolor or pysanky, the ornate Slavic egg decorating that I have attempted: if the wax comes out of the stylus too fast your egg is a goner. And of course if you drop the egg, it is Humpty Dumpty time.
Thank God, the spiritual life is more like iconography than pysanky.
I generally paint the obvious Lenten icons during the season; one year I did the Christ the Bridegroom which is in the upper right hand corner of this page. The next year I worked on the icon of the Resurrection all during Lent, finishing during Holy Week. Last year I hardly did any iconography, as I was working so much overtime.
This year, I have a commission to write an icon of the Mother of God of the Sign, not an obvious topic for Lent; it would be more fitting for the time before Nativity. This is a mystical icon; the Mother of God is shown, arms uplifted in prayer, with Christ Immanuel shown in a mandorla in her heart/womb. It is a beautiful image, but for Lent?
But pondering it, this is a perfect icon for the fast. After all, the goal of the spiritual journey is the remaking of the image of God within, a little Incarnation in the soul. The Redemption presupposes the Incarnation, after all. Brushstroke by brushstroke, it should be a meditative and fruitful subject.
Pray for me as I embark upon the journey of Great Lent, writing the Incarnation.