For artist Christi Jentz, painting is an act of prayer.

Christi Jentz, a professional iconographer, poses in her Brookfield home studio with one of the icons she wrote. She describes her vocation to do this form of religious art as meditative prayer. (Catholic Herald photo by Ricardo Torres) Beneath the bristles of her brush, the faces of Jesus, Mary and the saints emerge with each layer of acrylic or egg tempera, their flesh tones framed by rich crimson, jade and indigo. A bit of rubbed-on gold leaf halo adds a holy sheen.

Jentz, a professional iconographer, creates or “writes” the sacred images and instruments of meditative prayer usually associated with Eastern Orthodoxy.

Among her works, the Brookfield resident has written an icon of the Mother of Mercy based on one of the dome windows at the Basilica of St. Josaphat and plans to do more as time allows.

The term ‘writing’ is preferred to painting because it is a representation of God’s story in pictures. 

“I have dedicated my vocation to developing this talent and skill and to go where it leads me and I think that keeping it limited to religious art makes life more interesting,” she said. “Most people wonder why I do this because I don’t make a lot of money, but when I paint these, I go into a spiritual meditative state and become one with what I am working on.”

Even if she is not actually saying a prayer, Jentz said, she is praying, “because I am immersing my whole heart into what I am doing and am able to come into contact with the Divine by the very virtue that I am working on an icon and writing it at the same time.”

Jentz, a member of the Basilica of St. Josaphat, is one of few Americans who practices the art as a vocation.

For more information or to sign up for the Byzantine icon workshop, June 13-17:
Redemptorist Retreat Center
1800 N. Timber Trail Lane
Oconomowoc, WI 53066
$570 for classes and materials
Lodging/meals extra.
For more information on the work of Christi Jentz or the upcoming workshop

She recently collaborated with Greek master iconographer Theodoros Papadopolous to create a commemorative roundel icon of Mother of Perpetual Help or Theotokos of the Passion in the traditional Byzantine style.

“This is the Year of Mercy and the 150th Jubilee of the restoration of Mother of Perpetual Help and after attending one of his classes last year, I picked up a small book on the Mother of Perpetual Help devotion and had forgotten about this icon and set the book aside. I had gotten the idea to have Theodoros come to Wisconsin to give a workshop on iconography; and I remembered this icon,” she said. “We had wanted to do a pretty icon that people would relate to, like the Blessed Mother, so this was perfect.”

As part of the celebration for the 150th anniversary of the Redemptorists receiving the icon of Mother of

Christi Jentz was selected as a finalist for the “Apocalypse Prize” competition 2015. The winner will be announced June 1. Click the link for more information.

Perpetual Help in the Church of St. Alphonsus in Rome, Pope Francis has granted a plenary indulgence for those who make a pilgrimage between June 27, 2015 and June 27, 2016 to the Church of St. Alphonsus or to any Redemptorist church to venerate the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. A plenary indulgence removes all of the temporal punishment due for sins.

Jentz asked the Redemptorist Fathers in Oconomowoc, who are dedicated to Mother of Perpetual Help, if she and Papadopolous could host a retreat at the indulgence site and promote the Mother of Perpetual Help. They agreed and Papadopolous and Jentz discussed ways the image might look if a Greek iconographer had done it. Two weeks later, he emailed a photo of the image.

“I thought, ‘Wow, he just created a new icon that no one has ever seen before, the Mother of Perpetual Help in a roundel,’” she said. “We wanted something to reflect the Year of Mercy and here we have Jesus and Mary, the two faces of mercy that we will be immersed in studying. Mary is in Byzantine blue and we did the Byzantine red around the exterior and added Byzantine decorative elements.”

Each student will work with Papadopolous to write his or her own icon of Mother of Perpetual Help while

what is iconography?

According to Theodoros Papadopolous, Byzantine iconography is not just an “art,” it’s a sacred art. It is not “painting,” it’s theology. It is not “artistic expression,” it is an expectation of salvation.

It is not “decoration,” but it is meeting with the Divine. It is not “a picture,” but “Communion with Christ.”

The word ICON etymologically comes from the Greek word EIKON (Icon), which derives from the verb “ico” which means “likeness” (or image), namely an imprint of the characteristics of the prototype. This means that an icon does not have its own hypostasis (being) but its value exists in the likeness with the prototype.

The word iconography means icon painting and it is a compound word containing the words icon and graphy which both are Greek. The second word “graphy” comes from the Greek “γραφή” which means writing. Thus, iconography is the writing of the icons.

meditating on his new icon as the subject.

He is also making a 14” x 12” board for each of the participants to paint using a traditional custom cut and rendering them in a classical manner using egg tempera.

“The way he teaches it, the participants won’t have to mix their own paint so that will be very convenient,” said Jentz. “The students will be immersed in the class and there will be some religious background people and other iconographers as well as those in the basic levels. He is a master instructor and can easily teach all levels.”

From Larissa, Greece, Theodoros Papadopolous enrolled in art classes at the Municipal School of Fine Arts in Larissa. After a visit to Mount Athos in 1991, he became interested in the art of hagiography (studying the lives of the saints) and viewing early icons.

“I felt as if I wanted to have more in-depth knowledge of orthodox iconography and artistic philosophy so I studied and became initiated into the Byzantine painting system,” he explained.

After returning to Mount Athos several times to study the icons and murals, Papadopolous painted and wrote his own icons. For 23 years, he has served the church with his icons and murals.  

“Painting a church is a hard and long work which takes years to finish,” he said. “In the beginning, without the colors of the murals, all the interior walls are white. There are huge surfaces that the iconographer has to put in an artistic order. The most important thing is the proper study of the architecture of the church in order to achieve a perfect harmony with the completion of the final painting.”

Throughout his work, Papadopolous discovered many around the country were interested in studying iconography. To meet that need, he offers intensive classes in Larissa.

“During our times and the blossoming of the study of iconography, I have witnessed the growth in love for writing icons,” he said. “Contemporary artists, having fully gained the necessary knowledge, can and should as an obligation, become guardians and undertake the creative continuation of the long tradition that is called the Orthodox Iconography. After a workshop, I often tell my students, ‘Be happy, be grateful for every single brushstroke you make, and say, this brushstroke was the most beautiful thing I have ever done!’”

A limited number of spots remain for the June 13-17 workshop.

“It is going to be wonderful and he is a wonderful and kind man,” said Jentz. “Students will want to stay at the Redemptorist Center to be able to go to meals and get back to the workshops and study in the evenings. We may also have some additional evening presentations for those who cannot attend the workshop, but still want to hear Theodoros speak. This will be such a fitting experience for the Year of Mercy and the Jubilee year of the icon restoration.”