The open house at St. Cyprian Church was a great success, with over a hundred people stopping by to view the completed work over the course of the evening. The church was able to welcome in many close neighbors for the first time, as well as folks coming from the greater Richmond area (thanks in large part to the article in the Richmond Times Dispatch that morning). Parishioners answered questions and provided food and drink for the newcomers.
During the second half of the open house, I gave a talk on iconography: describing what it is, how it is done, and the significance of the particular figures and scenes depicted on the sanctuary walls at this church.
At the end, a man asked about the expressions on the faces of the saints. I said they usually come without a lot of planning on my part, but that throughout the history of iconography there is a common theme. It is sometimes called “joyful sorrow”, or “bright sadness”. It sounds paradoxical, but I think this is something we all experience. It is like the joy of family and friends, with the sorrow of separation. It is a joyful awareness of God and the pure good in our lives, with the sorrow that comes from seeing how far we still are from home.
Three days after the open house, my wife, two kids, and I moved out of our Virginia house. Only fourteen months ago we had moved in, leaving behind another wonderful community in Maryland. This time we hauled everything up to an apartment on the campus of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, where I start classes in a few weeks. With a life so full of leaving – and arriving – we are always learning about this “joyful sorrow.”