|by Michael Haines, member of Saint John’s |
I had long wanted to give an icon of Our Lady to St. John’s in memory of my parents and of my dear friend, Father Lawrence Walker. Another friend was taking classes with Aleksander Kharon, a very well-known iconographer. I was told the Kharon would be the best possible choice for the creation of this icon, so I contacted and met him.
Kharon’s story is an intriguing one, as he grew up in Communist Russia and was taught atheism as a creed. However, he later met a staretz or wandering holy man, who converted him to Orthodox Christianity. At that point he began restoring old churches and learned the sacred art of icons. For this devotion, the Soviet government imprisoned him and tormented his wife and children. With the thaw under Gorbachov, he was released and left Russia for Rome, where he came to the attention of Pope John Paul II. He became iconographer to the Pope, who recognized both Aleksander’s piety and his great talent. John Paul wanted him to remain in Rome, but Aleksander’s dream was to go with his family to far-off San Francisco.
So the Kharon’s family finally alighted in our city where Aleksander became a noted writer of icons and a teacher of high reputation.
Everything he did was accompanied by prayer. I had the great privilege of joining him while he painted my icon, always with real devotion. This was far more than a commercial transaction. All the pigments were made by crushing lapis lazuli and other semi-precious gemstones. The creation of this work of art took some months. When I saw it for the first time I was in awe of the beautiful result, made all the more meaningful by the devout spirit with which it came into being.
On the Feast of St. Mary the Virgin, August 15, 2006, Father John Kirkley welcomed and blessed the icon and I carried it in procession to its place in the Mary (or Lady) Chapel.
It is called Our Lady of the Kiss because in it Jesus is kissing His Blessed Mother. The Greek writing indicates Jesus Christ and Mary, the Theotokos or God-Bearer.