Gary Safrit, pastor of Lutheran Church of Our Saviour, Greenville, S.C., has expressed his religious beliefs through various art forms all his life. But it wasn't until 1992, during a period of struggle, that he discovered the medium he feels promotes the fullest expression of his faith. Safrit paints icons.
Although icons are normally associated with Eastern Orthodox churches, Safrit finds a significant place for their presence in the Lutheran tradition.
"[Icons are] more than paintings," Safrit says. "They are a point of connection. They are holy places." They can serve as "windows to heaven," drawing the viewer in through the intensity of the figures' expressions, particularly the eyes, he adds. Icons are designed to be transactional, to stimulate interaction between a worshiper and the figure depicted in the painting, whether Jesus, Mary or a particular saint.
Although he doesn't venerate icons, as Orthodox believers do, Safrit says painting an icon is itself a spiritual process. It involves specific preparation and a worshipful attitude. Safrit has painted more than 30 icons, some on commission, and his works have appeared in a variety of exhibits, most recently in February at St. John Lutheran Church, Salisbury, N.C. He also lectures on icons and maintains a collection — from contemporary icons to one nearly 1,000 years old.
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