I am currently enjoying exploring the connections between art and faith through the creative gifts of artists who live in Eastern Europe. Enjoying artistic freedom denied for over 40 years under communism, their art displays a vibrant spirituality, often exploring styles from the eastern orthodox tradition.
One such artist is Bulgarian born Julia Stankova, who worked for 12 years as a mining engineer, before taking a degree in Industrial Design, followed by an MSc in Theology. This period of study in the early 90s coincided with the end of communism, allowing her a spiritual freedom unthinkable in her younger life.
She speaks about coming to faith through her work restoring Bulgarian icons from the 18th and 19th century. The simplicity of the forms painted on wood, and the faith of the iconographers, stimulated her to read the stories behind the icons, leading to her own encounter with Christ. From this continuing experience, she developed a symbolic imagery of her own. She talks about painting the healing of the man born blind from birth, as her own spiritual sight being restored; painting Lazarus as she experienced her own soul’s resurrection from death to new life; painting Mary anointing the feet of Jesus, expressing her own worship and adoration of Christ. (www.juliastankova.com)
As we journey towards the end of Lent moving ever closer to Jerusalem, the story of the anointing found in John 12, forms the bridge to Palm Sunday and Holy Week beyond. It recalls Mary’s act of extravagant holiness as she brings a pound of costly perfume, pure nard, and anoints the feet of Jesus, before wiping them dry with her hair.
Julia Stankova’s icon depicting this event captures this sweet moment of stillness and reverence, amid the gathering storm of hate. Mary’s actions seem to be saying, here is Jesus, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, the suffering, serving Son of Man, who for a little while gave us the opportunity to sit at his feet. An extravagant, dramatic, excessive, costly and unrestrained action but nothing compared to the unrestrained and committed action of Christ to come.
Rev Julia March 2016