Linthicum: Written on the wall - local man prays with paint at Holy Cross

SOURCE: Maryland Gazette


Seraphim O'Keefe.
Seraphim O'Keefe.
The interior of the 100-year-old stone church on Camp Meade Road has been painted many times, always pure white. But since July, many new colors have been appearing on the walls. Seraphim O’Keefe, an iconographer, has been filling the church with images of holy men and women from across the centuries.

Constructed in 1911 as the Linthicum Heights Methodist Church, the building has belonged to Holy Cross Antiochian Orthodox Church since 1997.

Orthodoxy is a faith of the Christian East, Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. The tradition of covering the inner walls of a church with icons, scenes and portraits from the Bible and church history has been practiced in the Christian East since the first centuries.

O’Keefe was raised in Richmond, Va. His father was a visual artist.

“I wanted to be an artist growing up,” he said. “And after high school, I lived as an apprentice to a pair of realist painters learning their art.”

It wasn’t until the early 2000s that O’Keefe converted to the Orthodox Church, adopting the name of his patron saint, St. Seraphim of Sarov. He was encouraged to take up iconography by his spiritual father, the Rev. Gheorghe Calciu, a survivor of communist persecution in Romania.

“Father Gheorghe Calciu of blessed memory was my spiritual father and an amazing blessing in my life,” O’Keefe wrote on his website. “He would often ask me to show him my paintings. I brought a collection of landscapes and portraits and he looked pleased, only saying ‘God bless you — God bless you to be an iconographer!’ I did not know what to make of his blessing at that time.”

In the Orthodox Christian tradition, icons are said to be written, not painted. The Orthodox consider making icons more a form of prayer than art, and they believe the iconographer’s hand is guided by God. They are written through prayer and fasting with the mission of making visible the unseen community of the faithful throughout time.

O’Keefe spent 14 months of austere living dedicated to studying iconography in monasteries in the Republic of Georgia and in the United States.

“I have traveled a great deal to learn iconography. I’ve spent time in monasteries studying and seen some of the work of the old masters,” he said. “This broad exposure to different iconographic styles increased my appreciation of the art form, which is more deeply a spiritual discipline.”

O’Keefe has benefited from the guidance of leading iconographers like the Revs. Andrew Tregubov and Dimitri Andreyev. His icons, which combine spiritual quality with human warmth, reflect the style of 20th-century iconographers Leonid Ouspensky and Fr. Gregory Kroug.

O’Keefe lives Linthicum with his wife, Ilaria, and 16-month-old son, Herman.

The church is open for worship at 9:30 a.m. Sundays, and the icons can be seen afterward until 1:30 p.m.


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