Sts Martha and mary; Theory and practice needed to tame the Dragon

A custom order that turned out as an ideal metaphor, combining two concepts that have long occupied theologists and philosophers on the Christian world Vitta attiva and Vita contemplativa, theory and practice – Sts Martha and Mary and the legend of their life in  France (you may read a previous post related to this Saints Mary and Martha in the Legends of Provence)

Saints Martha and Mary taming the mighty dragon of Tarascon

First my background, I almost used perspective in the sky and the mountains behind, there are some lines that indicate movement in the clouds- the same was my choice for the river ( I never knew about river Rhone, lucky choice) I played with the notion of something ominous in the background (like Leonardo Da Vinci 🙂 I know…I am becoming delusional right now) , something unsettling, and contrast with the sisters that have postures that are tall but relaxed. They are tender in their movements and totally serene.

The background has also something “vague” – There is no real detail in it, there is nothing solid- The detail is focused in the sisters- the background is like a mirage (my version of maya) – the sisters are the only thing that is true (with the white “light” line around them that I so much like in frescoes)

In icons, usually the Saints are looking at the viewer but not always…. I played with the ideal of combining theory with practice -so Martha and Maria are looking at each other discreetly- They are connected with each other even from a distance and that is the ideal for theory and practice.

Byzantine icon with the sisters of Lazarus- Egg tempera on wood


The Myrrhbearer or a contemporary painting of a Myrrh-bearing woman

Contemporary icon of the Myrrh-bearing woman

I consider female saints an essential part of my work, a theme that I very much like working on and exploring their imaging. In orthodox tradition there is a basic core of 7 women  that are called the Myrrh-bearers. The Myrrh-bearing women (Sts Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha of Bethany, Mary of Klopas, Ioanna, Salome Susanna and many more)  were following and were disciples of the Lord, and stood by His side all times, in situations of peril even when all others have abandoned every effort and hope.

The “Myroforos” egg tempera on wood

 This icon of the “Myroforos”was an opportunity for me for an experimentation that I hope it paid out. So I drew inspiration from personal images and created this “saint” with modern clothes and a sober grey background, the background of the crucifixion.

A painting of a young woman, not knowing with her head, only with her heart, loving and not knowing, walking to the grave of the Lord in the darkest night.

The icon was hand painted, with several layers of egg tempera, on a canvas that was wrinkled attached on a wooden panel, and then covered on edges with a special plant dye that gives the icon an antique patina. Finally the icon was sealed with traditional wax varnish (or keronefto in Greek made with turpentine and wax) something that makes the light colours even more brighter

Versions of St Mary Magdalene


Saint Mary and St Martha- Legends of Provence

It is believed that later in life Sts Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus- reached the shores of Provence, where they lived until the end of their lives.

Sts Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus
Saint Mary the Hermit

They stood true to what they always represented [(Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her. Luke 10:42]

Martha represented practice- Mary was theory- Martha was Vita Attiva and Mary Vita Contemplativa- Two life’s examples that influenced Christianity for the centuries to come- A perennial dilemma for the spiritual man, a theme of an actual and philosophical debate that lasted for centuries.

St Martha of Tarascon

Saint Mary chose the life of a hermit in  Sainte Baume – while saint Martha established and led a religious community in Tarascon. There are a whole series of legends in this regions connected with the two sisters and the mighty dragon of Tarascon and how they two have help people to be free of that menace.

The two  saints are pictured at this stage of life- St Mary dressed as a hermit, holding the cross with the inscription Sainte Baume (liberally translated in Greek as holy balm) and Martha as a religious leader holding some leaves of basil to sprinkle holy water onto  the faithful.

Martha and Mary of Bethany in their later life


Unconventional St Mary of Bethany – but what was it like to do something for Christ?

St Mary of Bethany (her feast day is today June 4th) anointing Jesus feet with expensive nard perfume. Judas objected to her extravagance, but Jesus defended her action saying:

 “The truth is, wherever the Gospel is proclaimed, she will be remembered for what she has done for me. John in 12:3

Saint Mary of Bethany original painting in Egg tempera by angelicon

As a friend says: “that is that every act of love, no matter how small– matters–for eternity–even things other people may dismiss (like the apostles did with Mary)” . An act that spreads and expands like the ripples in the surface of the water in this painting of mine. A painting to remember always her act and to wonder- What was it like to do something for Christ?

What is it like to do something for Christ?- St Mary of Bethany