Paul Azkoul began painting traditional Byzantine style icons in the 1980s, attempting to folllow the stylization of Photios Kontoglou.

Paul Azkoul / Traditional Byzantine Iconography


“We do not change the boundaries marked out by our fathers; we keep the traditions we have received. We beseech you therefore the people of God, the faithful flock, to hold fast the traditions of the church. Unless by the gradual taking away of what has been handed down to us, we should undermine the foundation stones, and would in no short time overthrow the whole structure” Saint John of Damascus, On the Divine Images.

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The reason for this paper is because there is a misconception among many non-Orthodox who believe that simply because they wish to be iconographers and to paint icons they are permitted to do so. There is also a misconception among some Orthodox Christians who believe that simply because they hold membership in the Church they are entitled to become iconographers and paint icons.

The non-Orthodox must understand without the Faith “Once delivered to the Saints” (Jude 3), it is not only impermissible, but impossible to paint icons. Likewise the Orthodox must remember “writing icons” requires more than artistic skill or interest, for iconography is a divine “calling” that allows some Orthodox Christians to paint the icons, a “calling” which is reserved for those of God’s choosing.

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I would like to discuss, as an Orthodox iconographer, why the religious art that comes from Western secular societies seeks to simply portray images of Christ, Mary, the Theotokos, and His saints as naturalistic beings, bereft of any special dignity, or divinity, that is, their depiction of these holy men and women, ignorance of the true theology of what Christian art really is and how it is achieved.

These secular works of such men as the German artist, Mathias Grunewald [1475-1528], depicted images of Jesus Christ, and the Theotokos, in such a naturalistic manner that they suffer having no spirituality whatsoever, [I use “spiritual” in the Orthodox sense of the word], no sanctity, and no grace.

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“Moreover, we decree that from henceforth the image of the Lord Sabaoth shall no longer be depicted or made into an icon, for no one has seen the Lord Sabbaoth, that is, the Father, in the flesh.”
[Decree of The Great Council of Moscow, 1666]

hy do certain Orthodox continue to accept and to paint false images of God the Father, and why do others except this calumny especially when it is clearly told by the Holy Fathers, the 7th Ecumenical Council (see below), the decree of the Great Council of Moscow in 1666, Council of Constantinople in 1780 that it is forbidden?

This icon is based on a passage in the book of Genesis concerning the visitation of three angels [chapt. 18]

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In the original Greek, the word for “image” (imago, Latin) is “icon.” Iconography began in the Old Testament. Images were indeed permitted in the Scriptures. God forbade the Hebrews to create images of God, because no one had ever seen Him: “And the Lord spake to you out of the midst of the fire a voice of words, which he heard, and ye saw no likeness, only a voice.” [Dt.4:12] “Take good heed to your souls, for ye saw no image in the day wherein the Lord spake to you in Horeb in the mountain, out of the midst of the fire.” [Dt.4:15]
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In 1943 he began to write about this sacred art in an extensive and authoritative way, wishing to explain its features and to show its enormous value. In 1960 he wrote Ekphrasis – the explanation of Orthodox Iconography. This book is a valuable guide for the iconographer to learn the technique of painting the icon according to byzantine tradition. Also, for the general reader “to penetrate to the deeper, spiritual essence of the icons done according to this great tradition” (C. Cavarnos).
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