Quality is the first norm for art, but its final norm is love and truth, the enriching of human life, the deepening of our vision.


Epaminonda, Charalambos - VM - John Kohan

  Charalambos Epaminonda: Madonna of the Woods  


   An Icon of Deep Incarnation 

by John A. Kohan 

 Joy to the world! The Lord is come,
Let earth receive her King

We are so familiar with these words from the much-loved Christmas carol by English hymn writer Isaac Watts we no longer hear their radical message. God took on human flesh and entered creation not just to bring you and me personal salvation or rescue the human race from sin and death, but to restore and renew the entire earth and all that is therein. Contemporary theologians in our age of ecological awareness call this concept “deep incarnation.” In the words of Fordham University Theology Professor Elizabeth A. Johnson, C.S.J.: “Nature is more than a mere backdrop for the human drama of sin and redemption, more than simply an instrument to supply human needs. It is God’s beloved handiwork, indwelt by the Spirit of life, with an intrinsic value of its own.”  

Cypriot artist Charalambos Epaminonda gives beautiful expression to this all-encompassing vision of deep incarnation in his acrylic on canvas painting, Madonna of the Woods. Trained in both theology and icon-writing, Epaminonda presents us with a strikingly new, “green” variation of the traditional iconographic prototype of The Virgin Hodigitria ("She who shows the way"). His image of Mary gesturing toward the Christ Child who sits on her lap is not one of serene stasis, typical of Byzantine iconography. Instead, God-Made-Man emerges out of a cubist background, teaming with life, where birds perch on wind-stirred branch and fish swim in flowing water. Like shifting forms appearing, then fading from view in a picture puzzle, the central holy figures seem a part of (and distinct from) all creation. 

Red and blue are the key colors of sacred art, representing earth and heaven. They are nowhere to be found in their pure forms in Madonna of the Woods. Epaminonda blends them together and mixes them with other hues to create a scintillating palette of maroon and magenta, amber and aquamarine, lavender and lapis lazuli, cerise and cyan, all highlighted in feathery brush strokes of white and gold. Heaven has joined with earth in a cacophony of color. 

This joyous image brings to mind the Apostle Paul’s description in Romans 8:19,21 (NIV) of the whole creation waiting “in eager anticipation for the sons of God to be revealed” so that “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” Madonna of the Woods not only celebrates the birth of Christ but also his future coming in glory, when “heaven and nature,” in the words of the carol, will have every reason to sing. 

 Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
let every heart prepare him room,
and heaven and nature sing!


Charalambos EpaminondaMadonna of the Woods, 2011, acrylic on canvas, 46 x 29 cm. The Sacred Art Pilgrim Collection, 

Charalambos Epaminonda was born in PaphosCyprus. He learned Byzantine iconography at Mt.Athos and at the Athens School of Fine Arts under Professor Constantine Xinopoulos. He also studied theology at the University of Thessaloniki. Epaminonda makes icons both for churches and private use. He paints wall murals, works in mosaics, and has written and illustrated ten books, mostly poems and stories for children. Epaminonda has a studio and art gallery in his home in the village of Stroumbi, where he designed, built, and decorated the St. Paraskevi Chapel. 

John A. Kohan worked at Time magazine for twenty-two years as an associate editor and correspondent. He settled in Cyprus in 1996, where he began collecting and writing about contemporary sacred art. He now lives in the U.S. and owns the Sacred Art Pilgrim Collection ( He is co-author of Beauty Given by Grace: The Biblical Prints of Sadao Watanabe (Square Halo, 2012).  

ArtWay Visual Meditation December 22, 2013