In the realm of the sacred (as distinct from the realm of the computer), the word "icon" has been used for centuries to refer to images of holy subjects painted on wood. The painting and veneration of icons is an ancient tradition, well-developed by the third century AD.

Only after patient study and prayerful reflection do these ancient icons begin to speak to us. When they do connect, they speak to our inner heart searching for God. Their artistic tradition was developed to communicate religious truths to the faithful and to provide in pictures what sacred scripture provides in words. They are rich in symbolism and meaning, attempting to give us a window into the divine rather than a realistic portrayal of earthly scenes.

Iconographers follow ancient rules and prototypes when they paint icons. Their goal is to render the sacred images faithfully, not to express their own artistic creativity. The process is akin to the translation of holy scripture.

The book of Ruth in the Old Testament was written by the prophet Samuel and describes with beautiful simplicity the story of a Moabite woman who converted to Judaism and became the great-grandmother of David (in about 1100 BC). Ruth is one the "historical" books of the Hebrew canon and serves to illustrate how God takes care of those who put their trust in Him.

This icon presents to us the two women, Ruth the young Moabite and Naomi, the Israelite mother of her dead husband. Ruth is handing to Naomi some sheaves of barley she gleaned from the field of Naomi's kinsman, Boaz. Naomi calls upon God to bless Boaz' generosity: "Blessed be he by the LORD, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!" (Ruth 2:20)

Naomi is dressed as all biblical women are dressed in iconography, in a dress and a hooded cloak called a maphorion. Ruth's garb is clearly different, with hair exposed and an Arab-like head covering reflecting her Moabite origin. Their faces are drawn in symbolic iconographic style, rather than with an attempt at realistic portraiture. The noses are long and slender, conforming to Byzantine ideal of nobility. Their eyes are overlarge and soulful, indicating spiritual depth. The mouths are small and closed in the silence of contemplation. Within these constraints, Sister Marie-Paul has nevertheless managed to convey the extreme beauty of Ruth coupled with her gentle humility that so readily captivated Boaz and the depth of wisdom and faith in God despite adversity possessed by Naomi.

Near the summit of the Mount of Olives, overlooking Temple Mount in the heart of ancient Jerusalem, is a small convent of French-speaking Benedictine nuns. They are self-supporting like all Benedictine communities. Their work is of two kinds; they provide room and board for young girls who attend convent schools in Jerusalem and they write beautiful icons.

Their master iconographer is Sister Marie-Paul, born in Egypt of Palestinian and Italian descent. She paints in the Byzantine style, following faithfully the ancient patterns and colors.

For more information contact:

The Printery House
Conception Abbey
Conception, Missouri 64433