NJ Council on the Arts Awards Vas Avramidis the Folk Arts Apprenticeship Grant to Study Byzantine Iconography
Sacred artist and Iconographer Vas Avramidis has been awarded the Folk Arts Apprenticeship grant as part of the NJ Council on the Arts initiative to preserve folk arts traditions. The award will be used to fund Vas Avramidis’ continued study of Byzantine iconography under the guidance of master iconographer Maureen McCormack of the the Princeton Prosopon School of Iconology.
“Icons play in important role on the life of traditional Christian communities, particularly those in the East,” said Avramidis, “however, the interest in iconography is increasingly breaking down denominational barriers and creating true communion amongst its varied practitioners. Icons have long been used in the Eastern Orthodox Church as an aid to worship, but their use predates the fracturing of the Christian community into denominationalism. Icons therefore are common to all Christian cultures, a fact that many in the west are beginning to rediscover. Going to icon workshops and exhibitions, I am struck by the diversity of the participants.”
Icons have a long and storied history, dating back to at least the third century AD, though many believe that they date back to the time of the Apostles. Eastern Orthodox tradition teaches that the first icons were painted by the Evangelist Luke, writer of the Gospel and Acts of the Apostles. While icons enjoyed widespread use among the faithful throughout the Byzantine Empire and beyond, they haven’t always been without controversy. During the 8th and 9th centuries, icons went through a period of turmoil known as iconoclasm. A powerful faction within the empire arose that sought to “cleanse” the church of idolatry and thus issued a proclamation against icons. A fierce persecution broke out that included the smashing and burning of icons, as well as the jailing and killing of those who possessed or created them. Many valuable and precious treasures were lost to this dark era of persecution.
The issue was one of fierce debate and in the end, the iconodules (lovers of icons) won out. In the 9th century, after much debate, the church deemed icons not only appropriate, but integral to the life of the Christian community. Since that period icons, have experienced periods of revival and decline. “Until recently, icons had been all but forgotten; relegated to the vaults of art history,” remarked Avramidis, “however, a revival of the art form is in its infancy. Christians of all cultures are once again discovering this lost art form, and seem to thirst for its quiet beauty, and its message of hope for the future. I believe that icons can once again being us together and heal the divisions that once separated us.”