The weather was beginning to turn, as summer gave way to fall; the last of the summer fruit was either harvested, or fell to the ground—left for animals to forage, or to return to the earth. Father Davidson was making plans for a quiet winter, and he let us know one evening, as we sat around the campfire together, that he would be wrapping up his story soon; we were welcome to stay at the orchard, and also to make fires in the evenings, but he wouldn’t be joining us any longer.
I was sad about this, as I had grown accustomed to our shared ritual—the evening story around the campfire—but as with everything in this life, insofar as it exists naturally, it isn’t meant to last, and its ending is always threatening to arrive sooner or later. I made my peace with this fact, as best I could—which was very imperfectly—and went to visit Amelia’s art store to distract myself from this disquieting reality.
As I entered, I was happy to see Father Seraphim, from the Orthodox Church north of town, standing inside, admiring the portrait of Amelia.
“Our discussion the other day reminded me of the unique beauty of this portrait,” he explained, as I came up beside him. “I had to come take another look, to refresh my memory!”
We admired it together for a moment before he exclaimed, “You know, there are more of Bezalel’s…Richard’s…icons here at the store. I showed you several that he had done, back at the church the other day, but there are some wonderful ones here…if Amelia hasn’t sold them. Come, take a look!”
He ushered me up the steps into the gallery portion of the store and then around to the back, to a small, well lit room. I remember having seen this room through the front windows, and had always intended to take a look inside it, but had never done so before. There were many icons lining the walls, and several more placed on a narrow table which ran around the perimeter of the small room. All were beautifully done, which didn’t surprise me, knowing Richard’s talent; however, about midway around the room there was a noticeable and sudden change in the icons—in the materials used, and in the quality of workmanship. “Are these done by a different artist?” I asked.
“No, they are all done by Richard,” answered Father Seraphim. “But I agree, there is a break between his earlier work, which you are seeing to the left, and his more recent work on the right.”
Just then Amelia joined us in the tiny room, and she added, “Those come from overseas…in fact, this one of St John of Damascus, just arrived yesterday.” She picked it up carefully and admiringly. I looked at it with curiosity and surprise. I was suddenly confused, “But…you say that Richard drew that?”
“Technically, he wrote it,” laughed Father Seraphim. “That’s the correct term.”
Amelia nodded, but rolled her eyes, “He painted it…that’s fine, you can say that. Yes, it’s Richard’s work…exquisite!” She placed it back on the table.
“But, well…I guess I thought,” I stammered, “…I guess I had assumed Richard died. I didn’t know he is still alive.”
Father Seraphim and Amelia both looked surprised, and she asked, “Why would you think that?!”
“Something you said a while back…something about him ‘being in a better place now’. You said that and I just assumed…well, people often say that when someone’s died, you know.”
She laughed. “Oh, of course! Well, that’s very funny. No, he is very alive. Maybe I shouldn’t have put it in that way.”
“But you can see, this is the reason for the change in his work,” interrupted Father Seraphim excitedly. “These here he did back while he lived and learned from me. They’re good…nothing wrong with them at all…in fact, they are very good. But he was learning…and the paints, well…”
“What is wrong with the paint?!” asked Amelia, with an air of feigned offence.
“Nothing at all, my dear,” replied Father Seraphim soothingly. “We bought the paints here, of course” he said conspiratorially, and then more emphatically, “But there is something extra…special about the paint in the old world. It is just…different. The raw materials they use…it gives it something…a quality. Anyway, he was good while he learned from me, but he exceeded my ability, and there was nothing more I could teach him. However, there is a master iconographer…a monk at the monastery of Mar Saba…in Palestine, east of Jerusalem…not far from it…and he could teach him a great deal more! He could teach him everything …there would be no limit to what Richard could do in his presence, I was sure of that! So, we sent him there…almost twenty years ago…he was reluctant at first, but he had nothing here…not really…to keep him. Well…Amelia, yes…and Josh also…so it was difficult for everyone, but it was for the best, I think.” He looked at Amelia questioningly. She nodded in agreement, yet with a trace of sadness in her eyes.
“We missed him, of course…we still do!” Father Seraphim continued, “Josh missed him so much in fact, that eventually he followed him all the way to the desert…half way around the world! But then…in time, Josh came back to us; but Richard…Bezalel…he found his home. His place is at Mar Saba, writing icons…creating beautiful things and dwelling with God there, and then showing us all the way…the beautiful way into that other, heavenly kingdom…through his work!”
“It almost makes me want to be Orthodox,” Amelia asserted. “Almost!”
“There is still time!” Father Seraphim replied joyfully. They both smiled, as if sharing a long-standing, inside joke.
“Yes, I can see it now, that it is the same hand that drew…wrote…all of these icons,” I interjected thoughtfully, as I squinted and leaned closer to the icon of St John which Amelia had just received. “They have that same quality…like his portrait of you, Amelia…it seems that he knows…intimately…the person he’s painting…and he brings out the depths of that person…it’s as if he shows us a private, profound glimpse into their soul…but at the same time, I feel as if I’m seeing myself…in some way too…it’s strange.”
“No, it is God…and the universality of man,” Father Seraphim quietly added. “That’s what you’re seeing. You see the individual, of course…but he has the ability to show us also…what unifies us all…the fact, that we are all brothers and sisters…the truth, that we all share the same Father. That is his brilliance…his genius!”
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