Icon of Mary and baby Jesus

Immaculate Heart Retreat Center to hold icon retreat

By Matthew Kincanon

Immaculate Heart Retreat Center will be hosting its third icon retreat from July 17 until July 21.

It will be led by Rev. Damian Higgins, abbot of the Byzantine Holy Transfiguration Monastery, and participants will learn to paint icons throughout its entirety.

Sister Mary Eucharista, organizer of the retreat and program organizer at Immaculate Heart Retreat Center, said the retreat focuses on participants using a medium to gain access to “the grace of the retreat,” where they would paint icons in order to achieve that.

Eucharista described an icon as an image that is inscribed in to a piece of gessoed board (a board made of wood and covered with a mixture of marble dust and sometimes linen).

“Every color, every detail, all of the actions of the icon are something that is a religious event,” Eucharista said.

She said these icons include Jesus Christ, archangels, angels, saints and the Virgin Mary.

“When he’s [Jesus] gazing at you, boy it’s profound,” Eucharista said, describing the experience of making an icon.

“By reverencing that icon, you’re actually accessing the world of that icon or that spiritual world,” she said. “When Jesus is on the icon, the gaze of Jesus at you is a reflective gaze and as you are involved in painting or writing that icon that gaze is capturing your heart and soul and that’s where you in silence. . .are transformed.”

Eucharista said the icon participants make at the end of the retreat is blessed.

She added that the icon is an “aid to prayer” rather than an article of worship.

“The goal of the retreat is, on a spiritual level, to be transformed,” Eucharista said. “In other words, become closer to God and his work in our own souls.”

She added the secondary goal of the retreat is to have the icon finished by the end to have it blessed and have participants take it home with them to be reverenced or given as a gift.

Eucharista said she wants participants to “hear the voice of God in their own hearts because God is closer to them than they can imagine.”

“The goal of our lives, which is to become closer to our creator and to be able to deepen our own awareness of what it means to be alive,” Eucharista said. “And to have that purpose in life, which is to not only become the best version of ourselves but also to become closer to our creator, and have a deepened awareness of our place in this world and how we can our fellow men and women.”

Higgins, who has been studying iconography for 29 years, will be teaching participants about painting icons, particularly the Virgin Mary holding an infant Jesus.

“We tend to believe ourselves to be the viewer, the person in control of this viewing,” Higgins said regarding iconography.  “But in fact, what happens is that we are not the viewer, we are the ones being viewed, we are the object of God’s vision; God is looking at us.”

Higgins added that he wants people to understand that they “being loved by God through the icons as he recognizes something of his own glory in us.”

He added that Raymond Vincent, an iconographer from Sacramento, California, will be accompanying him at the retreat.

Other activities Eucharista mentioned include daily celebration of the holy Mass, meditation in the chapel and go on walks outside.

Eucharista said the retreat occurs every two years and that 16 people are expected to participate.  She added the center could take in as many as 24 participants.

Participants are invited to wear comfortable clothing and no prior art experience is required.

All supplies and materials will be provided.

There is a $100 deposit for materials required in advance, with the retreat costing $600 for the full five days.

Participants must register in advance by calling (509)448 – 1224, or online at www.IHRC.net by July 16.


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