Many saw with their eyes through the icons things which God had performed and were changed heavenward. Such is the necessity for our beloved icons.
In 1995, while I was in Yaroslavl with a group of American students, a friend suggested I should take them to “Yaroslavl Icon”, an art gallery where there were icons, paintings and works of applied art for sale. We went, of course.
The gallery had been organized by Nikolai Mukhin to support the work of his team of iconographers who were addressing the monumental need to rebuild, restore, and recreate hundreds of ruined churches in the Yaroslavl region.
In his gallery I met his friends and saw his secular work which made an extremely strong impression on me. I asked his friends to please arrange for me to meet Nikolai before I had to leave the next morning.
By the time I departed Yaroslavl the next day I had met Nikolai, purchased a painting and started planning an exhibition of his work! I was (and continue to be) fascinated by the effect traditional iconography has on his secular work.
During the exhibit we organized in Holland in 1996, we talked about that aspect of his work. He told me then that his dream was to do iconographic work in an Orthodox church in the USA. I suggested that if he were really adventurous and creative he might want to make an offer to my home parish of St. Gregory’s, where efforts were underway to transform a Cadillac showroom into a beautiful house of worship. He was immediately interested and intrigued.
Some months later, he made the journey to Columbus. He was intrigued by the challenge presented and impressed by the parishioners and most especially by the senior priest, Father Daniel.
His proposal was soon made: an iconostasis to be carved in Yaroslavl and icons painted in Yaroslavl by Victor Morozov.
The frescos were to be painted in Yaroslavl by Nikolai himself on flexible panels, and then bent gently into place on the arched ceiling above the center aisle. The frescos in the altar were painted directly upon the walls in 17th- century Yaroslavl style, using Ralph Lauren paints. They were painted by Nikolai and his talented assistant Alexander who spent several weeks in Columbus in order to do the work.
One of the most dramatic moments of the project came during the festive opening of the crates which had been flown by Aeroflot from Moscow to New York, then on to Columbus. As they were unloaded from the truck, Nikolai spotted a large hole (careless forklift operator?) which went clear through a corner of the crate containing the 14 painted ceiling panels. He said with remarkable calm: “I really hope that hole didn’t go through all the panels.” I did not share his calm and was shaking by the time the undamaged panels were lifted from the crate. Praise the Lord!