Story by Lois Rogers | Correspondent
Much time has passed since Father John Bambrick first encountered the glorious icons that once adorned the sanctuary in Our Lady of Mariapoch Church established by the Basilian Fathers of Mariapoch on Monastery Lane in Matawan.
Yet Father Bambrick, pastor of Jackson’s St. Aloysius Parish, has perfect recall of these moments that inspired him as an adult to pursue the ancient, prayerful and complex process of icon writing.
As he prepares to welcome iconographers of all skill levels to two workshops over eight days – May 31-June 8 in St. Aloysius Church with master iconographer Theodoros Papadopoulos – Father Bambrick shared the genesis of his own ongoing devotion.
Moved by Art
Growing up, Father Bambrick’s family belonged to St. Joseph Parish, Keyport, where the clergy were friendly with the priests at the monastery, which had large picnic grounds. “Our parish picnics were held there,” he explained.
In those days, the monastic church that opened in 1981 had yet to be built – instead stood a Basilian Community Center for spiritual renewal. “The fathers had a small, rectangular building on the grounds they used, and when I wandered off during the picnic, I found the chapel door, unlocked it and when in,” Father Bambrick said.
“That was when I saw the icons for the first time, glittering, gilded surfaces,” which captured the imagination. “There was also the smell of incense and the beeswax and the flickering of candles. It was a sensory experience. I felt like I had entered heaven.”
A visit to Father Bambrick’s current small studio on parish grounds offers an inside look at how he channels that experience today. Completed icons or works in progress line the shelves of his studio.
Among them are those of Christ, solemn and splendid and as the holy face of Jesus. St. Michael the Archangel, who will be the subject of the workshop, is there, as is St. Nicholas looking like the saintly bishop he was rather than the character he has become.
The Virgin Mary, so compelling in the Byzantine style as the most blessed among women and the closest of saints to God, is well-represented, too.
Water Gilding & Iconography
The workshops being offered are a two-day session on the intricate art of gilding, using 23-carat gold leaf to achieve a bright, mirror-like finish on the halo of an Archangel Michael icon. That will be followed by a six-day workshop where participants will produce the icon of St. Michael the Archangel.
Offering an overview of the process that the artists will follow, from preparing the surface to blending the egg tempera mix to selecting the pigments, Father Bambrick said he is looking forward to working with people as dedicated as he is to the art form. He noted that registrants so far include iconographers from the Diocese and around the country.
Whether participants are beginners or advanced, he said the workshops will offer all an opportunity to learn and refine techniques in the sacred art during which Papadopoulos – a master iconographer – will guide students step-by-step through the ancient techniques of Byzantine Iconography.
Papadopoulos, who is based in Larissa, Greece, founded the School of Byzantine Iconographers there. His website relates that he was drawn to iconography from his first visit as a young man to Mount Athos in northeaster Greece, which is known for Eastern Orthodox monasticism. He writes that he returned there many times to “refine my technique and understanding in painting Byzantine icons and murals.”
After further study in Athens, he went on to establish himself as an eminent iconographer known for works that reflect his love and devotion to the faith.