To all of our loyal customers and friends:

The year 2020 has been an interesting year here at Damascene Gallery to say the least. In addition to the difficulties in supply caused by Covid, we unexpectedly have been experiencing our highest order volumes ever. One can easily imagine how complicated this makes things: when order volumes are extremely high and supplies are in extremely short supply you end up with something of a perfect storm. This certainly has been the case at Damascene Gallery and we wanted to use this opportunity as we prepare to enter into the Nativity Fast to address some of the challenges we have faced and what steps we have taken to ensure the shorter lead times that all of you have come to expect from us over the 10 years of our operation.

Generally speaking, we try to maintain lead times on our “made-to-order” icons (the vast majority of icons we ship) of less than 12 days (though we state on the FAQ page that up to 15 days is still within our normal operation). Due to the spike in orders coupled with constraints on certain supplies, there have been some periods over the last few months where this has slipped somewhat and we have taken significant steps to improve our lead times, steps that we believe have us well positioned to ensure delivery of icons for Nativity in time for the feast as we’ve always striven to achieve in the past.

These steps include:

  • The addition of one new production employee (2 if you include the fact that I am also frequently working on the production side as well)
  • The addition of a Customer Service Representative to answer phone inquiries
  • The purchase of bulk raw materials as they became available to prevent shortages during the holiday season
  • Working to further optimize our process to decrease lead times

We believe that these steps will ensure that we are able to upcoming orders in a timely manner and truly appreciate your understanding during what has been a challenging year.

This is clearly a time of growth at Damascene Gallery and many exciting things are happening (stay tuned for an update about our new chapel and the services we are holding there). Our growth and success over the last 10 years would not have been possible without your support and we are truly grateful for all of you.

Thank you and may God richly bless you all!

Fr. Jonah Campbell
Owner, Damascene Gallery

Christ the Healer icon by Brian Whirledge

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I think all of us would have to agree that, so far, this has not been the Great Lent than any of us imagined it would be. Instead of Orthodox faithful being able to participate actively in the extra Lenten services, in most places in the world, our faithful are joining in “virtually” through live-streams made possible by modern technology. While this is, of course, a blessing, we all feel a certain lack of being able to personally participate in the life of the Church and, after all, you can’t “virtually” commune of the Holy Mysteries. This is undoubtedly a heavy cross that has been placed upon our shoulders and I pray that we bear it with humility and fortitude and, perhaps most importantly, in a spirit of Christian sacrifice understanding that our efforts to keep ourselves healthy during this pandemic can have an incalculable effect on people that we may never meet.

Many have made reference to the pattern of the monastery in Palestine described in the life of St. Mary of Egypt, where the monks would go out into the desert for the period of Great Lent, seeking God in earnest. We all understand that this is a beautiful image for us to hold on to during this time, but what is perhaps most important to understand in this analogy is that is still entirely possible for us to pray and to seek God in earnest during this time when we find ourselves deprived of active participation in the liturgical life of the Church. This is a time for us to reinforce the spiritual connection that exists between our parish and our “home church”, the consecrated “desert” in each of our homes where we maintain the pulse of our personal prayers, which are so vital to our spiritual survival. Even though we may not be monks and nuns, we are called to keep the cycle of our morning and evening prayers by standing in our icon corners with diligence and attention and by “singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19).

I pray that God will give us all the strength to endure this temptation with patience and that He will quickly bring this epidemic to an end, keeping safe from all harm those who call upon Him. May the Lord give the blessing!

Damascene Gallery Operations
Many of our customers have contacted us and asked us if we are still operating during this time and, I’m pleased to inform you all that we are, indeed, still able to operate. Though we are not considered an “essential” business, the Damascene Gallery Workshop is located adjacent to my home in West Virginia and thus, there are no obstacles to continued to operation for the moment. If this changes at some point in the future, rest assured that I will send out an update and let you know.

A Temporary Change to Project Work (Including Church Beautification Projects)
One area of our work that has been impacted by the Coronavirus outbreak includes Church Projects that require in-person installation. For the time being, Damascene Gallery will not be able to work on any such projects, though we are able to continue to provide toweling, printed fresco icons and large format icons (including iconostasis icons) to churches that are able to do the installation themselves. We are very happy to work with you to give you specific instructions (including video conferencing with you during installation) to ensure that your installations go smoothly even though we are not able to be there in person to assist you.

New Icons of St. Nikephoros the Leper…
Additionally, we have been asked numerous times about the possibility of adding an icon of St. Nikephoros the Leper, who has been reported to have appeared in Greece and assured a pious Orthodox serviceman that he would intercede for all who ask for his prayers, “to be protected and healed from the Coronavirus”. For this reason, we expedited two beautiful icons of St. Nikephoros through processing and have uploaded them to our website. They can be accessed at this link. Numerous sizes of these icons have already been produced and are in-stock and ready to ship.

We owe all of our customers a tremendous debt of gratitude for supporting Damascene Gallery over the past 10 years of our operation and I hope that you will all rest assured that our small staff at Damascene Gallery is praying for you during these troubled times and calling upon God to have mercy on us all.

Fr. Jonah Campbell and the staff of Damascene Gallery

A Reflection on Being Thankful

“In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” I Thessalonians 5:8

In the Christian Faith, the idea of thankfulness is so central that the pinnacle of Orthodox worship, the reception of Holy Communion, is commonly referred to as the “Eucharist”, which is to say, “Thanksgiving.” What this signifies for those who have deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ is that we are called to be thankful regardless of the circumstances of our lives because we understand the loving way in which God is dealing with us, slowly bringing us to an awareness of our sins and preparing us to stand before Him at the end of our life when we will necessarily give account for how we have lived.

In our day, however, we detect the emergence of a new attitude in which gratitude for what we have is falling into the background and being replaced by a spirit of negativity and complaining, in which we specifically concentrate on (and complain about) what we don’t have. This approach is certainly very tempting because, undoubtedly, every one of us has been wronged in some way in our lives, perhaps even repeatedly and in a manner that is continuing to the present. We sometimes feel that if we express our negative feelings that this will give us a type of freedom… we are told that if we “bottle things up they will control us” and so we let it fly. We devote our energy to identifying so many things that are wrong in our lives and in society that need to be fixed and even consider that, perhaps, we are doing something to rectify these “wrongs” if we post about them on Facebook or complain about them to our friends. Sadly, this strategy for “release” from oppression only causes us to become more oppressed… more frustrated, more negative and less and less thankful. In the same way that the practice of the Jesus Prayer overcomes thought temptations (logismoi) by directing our mind and heart elsewhere, a spirit of gratitude alleviates the difficult things in our lives by focusing on what God has done and is continuing to do to bring us to Him.

The saints who came before us understood this well and endeavored to find the opportunity to be thankful even in the worst of circumstances (and they really endured some bad circumstances!). Think of the martyrs who did not fight their aggressors but, instead, embraced martyrdom freely, winning for themselves a martyr’s crown. We see countless injunctions concerning how to approach such things in the Scriptures as well such as where the Holy Apostle James enjoins us to, “consider it pure joy… whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (James 1:2-3). St. Paul says concerning struggles: “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Galatians 6:14). Thankfulness in the Christian understanding is according to a different standard, even as the Lord says in the Gospel of John, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you” (John 14:27). Peace according to worldly norms occurs when everything goes our way… when we are able to arrange everything in our life and we are in control… and, as a consequence, it is fleeting and short-lived. The Peace of Christ, however, abides in a loving heart and it continues even when we are facing trials and persecutions, when we are hated, when we are excluded, when we are mistreated. Our spirit of gratitude towards God should be similar… it should be deeply grounded in Christ and should be a reflection of our understanding of all that God is doing to bring us to our senses and to free us from our passions.

A few years ago, my confessor told me that Hieromonk Seraphim Rose told him that St. John of San Francisco held the American holiday of Thanksgiving in very high esteem despite it not being an Orthodox holiday precisely because of how critical it is for a Christian to remain positive and thankful, to have a truly “Eucharistic” faith, in which we approach our Savior with love and gratitude. I think of this every year on Thanksgiving and can’t help but do so again this year.

So, in the spirit of adopting a Christian approach to thankfulness, I will list a few of the things that I am thankful for this year:

  • I am thankful for all of the goods things that God has granted me of which I know I am undeserving
    • My Family, who are everything to me
    • My Church Family (the parishioners of Christ the Savior Church and the monks of the Hermitage of the Holy Cross), as well as my other brothers and sisters in Christ and all of those with whom I have been fortunate enough to forge friendships
    • My business, Damascene Gallery, in which I am blessed to occupy my time outside of my priestly work with producing beautiful mounted icons for Orthodox Christians around the world
  • I am thankful for God’s economy of salvation, through which He endeavors to save me through His Holy Church and, especially, through the Sacraments
  • I am thankful for the crosses that God has allowed in my life through which I know He means to save me
  • I am thankful that God does not always allow me to have my way… and that He sometimes allows me to be mistreated
  • I am thankful especially that God has allowed me additional time to seek Him in this life and to more thoroughly repent of my sins
  • I am thankful to be a Christian

Glory to God for all things, even those things which He allows in my life to chasten me!

When we don’t want to pray…

If we are honest with ourselves, we will acknowledge that praying is not always easy. In fact, it sometimes becomes apparent when we examine our hearts that we find that the real issue underlying the difficulty we find in saying our prayers is that we simply don’t want to pray. Perhaps there have been times when prayer was easy and we have convinced ourselves that if it’s not easy then something must be wrong. This could not be further from the truth. Such cycles are perfectly normal in the spiritual life and, in fact, are necessary for us to grow in spiritual maturity. Sometimes (or perhaps even oftentimes), prayer is hard work and many of us are tempted to simply throw in the towel at the first sign of adversity. If we wish to progress in the spiritual life, we must be aware that it will not always be easy and we must be honest with ourselves about what is required to cultivate within ourselves a deep and abiding desire for God.

Psychologists say that communication is the life blood of relationships and my experience is that this seems to bear out in practical life. I have been married for nearly 17 years and will freely admit that it has not always been easy to maintain a healthy degree of communication with my wife in that time. So many things enter into our lives that serve to distract us… we become busy, we have work obligations, church obligations, different schedules… the list goes on and on. The reality is that anyone who has been married for more than a few months will undoubtedly agree that healthy communication in a marriage is real work and, as is the case with the application of this principle towards prayer, modern people have cultivated a great deal of skill in getting out of work. At the end of the day, though, marriages (and lots of other types of relationships) will simply not survive if communication breaks down. Imagine for a moment that we decide to just stop speaking to our spouse for a week… what do we think would happen? Can we even consider what it would be like to wake up in the morning and not greet our spouse… to walk by them in the hallway and pretend as though they are not there? This is unimaginable. There are certainly times in married life where communication is difficult, but (generally) we intuitively understand that we have to put in at least some effort to maintain and cultivate relationships with those we care about, so we do the work even when we don’t feel like it.

One of the most common things I hear as a priest is, “Father, I’ve had a bad week… I missed my prayers almost every day.” When I hear this, I almost always think about the scenario described above where a husband ignores his wife for an entire week. I will often tell the person something like this:

“Imagine that you’ve been at work all day and that your spouse has been at home waiting eagerly for your return. You were in a hurry this morning so you were forced to rush out the door without even saying Good Morning. Finally, you come home, you open the door and you walk right past your spouse who is standing there joyfully waiting to greet you. As you walk inside, your spouse follows behind you trying to get your attention but you just ignore them, continuing on to your chair, plopping down and turning on Netflix and reaching for a beer… aaand, you repeat this pattern every day for a week until, finally, you wake up one morning and decide that today you really do love your spouse so you decide to throw them a party and invite all of your friends to show how much you care. Don’t you see a disconnect between your daily behavior and your professed beliefs??”

Orthodox Icon of Jesus Christ with St. John the EvangelistObviously, you can see the point that I’m trying to make. We have to begin to think of prayer as something more than a mere formality… Prayer is not so much an obligation in our Orthodox approach as it is the response of a loving heart reaching out to God in response to His constant reaching out to us. When we rush out of our houses in the morning without praying, we are ignoring our Beloved Savior who, ”stands at the doors and knocks” and longs to make His abode within us. When we fail to pray in the evening and throughout the day, we are undoubtedly turning a blind eye to the constant and loving efforts Christ is making to connect with us and bring us out of the prison of our own passionate and self-centered living. To crown this pattern of ignoring the Savior for an entire week, when Sunday finally rolls around we get up and get dressed in our Sunday’s Finest to come to church and attend the banquet of the Liturgy, only, once we arrive, we feel empty and incomplete. Should this come as a surprise to any of us??

I once heard that St. Theophan the Recluse said that the Christian soul flies to God on two wings: the wing of personal/private prayer and the wing of liturgical/communal prayer. This seems intuitively to be the case… if we wish to reap the harvest of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, then we must cultivate the garden of the heart continually, not only once in a great while. No successful gardner plants his garden and then ignores it completely until harvest time, and it is the exact same in the spiritual life.

St Theophan the RecluseAnother common thing that I hear is that, “I don’t feel love in my heart toward God and that’s why it’s hard to pray.” To address this, it is worth reflecting first on what it means to love. In our modern society, love is understood to be a feeling… an emotional sensation that we either have or don’t have and there’s not really too much we can do about it. Couples frequently cite, “we have fallen out of love” as the reason that they must get divorced. So often we hear, the feelings just aren’t there anymore, as if we are so very immature that everything that we do or don’t do is subject to our feelings and nothing more. The reality is that love is a conscious choice to sacrifice for someone, be it for God or for the people that God has put into our lives. In the Holy Gospel, we are commanded to love: “But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Here, our Savior is not commanding us to experience a certain feeling. Instead, we are being told to sacrifice for those who mistreat us, to take up our cross and follow Christ, following His ultimate example of love which was poured out for us all upon the cross… “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” This is not easy, but it is both possible and necessary for us if we hope to make any progress in the spiritual life. To connect this to prayer, a life in Christ requires us to come outside of ourselves and make daily sacrifices for God. Everything the Orthodox Faith has to offer is, in fact, centered on this principle. We pray, we fast, we attend services, we give alms, we show kindness to those around us because this is also how we show our love for God. Truly, there is no other way.

So, from this reflection we can see clearly that we must practice daily communication with God to have any degree of spiritual life and we do this as an act of love for God, sacrificing what would otherwise be our time in a desire to give it freely to God in the hope of cultivating closeness with Him.

Being the weak humans that we are, however, sometimes we need some extra motivation to bring us to the point where we are willing to choose God over ourselves. Thankfully, there are many opportunities to find such inspiration available to us in our daily lives. I can speak from experience that there have been plenty of times where the time rolls around to leave for vigil on Saturday evenings and I find myself beginning to resist. I think to myself, “I’m so tired… I won’t get anything out of vigil tonight” or “I have so much work to do at home… I should stay and do that instead.” Of course, in my case these are fleeting thoughts as I’m a parish priest and am not in a position to not come to church. What I have found by experience is, I think, noteworthy. Even on the days when I am extremely tired and/or distracted, a marvelous thing happens after I stand in church for a little while. It usually takes 20 minutes or so but eventually (and invariably) my mind and heart begin to calm and my life comes into focus. At these moments, I realize that there is no other place I’d rather be… standing in the midst of the Church is where I am most myself. It is where all other wants, desires, obligations, stresses, anxieties simply fade away. I become like Prince Rilian in CS Lewis’ “The Silver Chair” and finally, if only for a few fleeting hours, I become aware of what is truly important and meaningful in life and I wish to live like this continually.

What is the point of this little anecdote? Well, primarily the point is that if I had not forced myself to come to vigil even when I didn’t feel like it, I would not have had this experience. When you find yourself talking yourself out of attending church, stop and realize that this is likely the work of the enemy of our salvation who wishes to rob us of such opportunities to experience God in the Divine Services. I remember once I had a parishioner ask me, “Father, why do Orthodox services have to be so long??” I really didn’t have a good answer for him for a few days but finally it occurred to me… it takes time for our hearts to thaw. If we take meat out of the freezer, we can’t do anything with it until it has fully thawed, once all the ice completely melts away. The same thing happens to each one of us as we stand attentively during the Divine Services and allow the warmth of the Holy Spirit to restore our frozen, stony hearts to hearts of flesh.

Orthodox Icon CornerReferring back to how St. Theophan says that we fly to God on two wings, the wing of private prayer and the wing of liturgical prayer… realize that this same opportunity awaits us in our homes. Most Orthodox Christians have a designated part of their home where they keep their icons, lampadas, prayers books etc. This “icon corner” is, very simply, a domestic church, a place where the communal liturgical life of our parish intersects with our daily domestic routine. Sadly, I can say that I have seen many icon corners that are painfully underused. We go to the effort to purchase beautiful icons and other items to make our home icon corners beautiful and inspiring and then frequently choose to watch television or surf the web instead of communicating with God on a daily basis. As is the case with simply making it through the doors of the church, realize that when we don’t want to pray, perhaps we can muster enough strength to simply walk to our icon corners and light the lampadas and simply sit down for a moment, dwelling in the midst of the saints. I think we will find that if we do this, we will then take the next step and decide to go ahead and say our prayers and… I can assure you that it has never happened that someone regretted saying their prayers in such instances.

Holy Pentecost, the Descent of the Holy SpiritElder Joseph the Hesychast teaches that the Holy Spirit comes to us in waves… at times, we find it easy to pray and this is a sign that we are receiving a visitation of the Holy Spirit. At other times, we may find that we are more spiritually dry and prayer comes only with difficulty. Elder Joseph taught his disciples that in such times we should rejoice, because this is a sure indication that the time of sweetness will soon return to us. Likewise, when we are in the time of sweetness, he encouraged his disciples to gird themselves for battle as the time of God’s withdrawing from us is likely at hand. It is in this cycle of God drawing near to us and withdrawing that growth occurs and for this reason, we must become men and women of spiritual valor and endurance who do not simply cease doing what is right and beautiful in the eyes of God because it is no longer easy. If we can remember this, it can be an encouragement to us when we feel spiritually dry and, with God’s help, we can cultivate within ourselves the habit of prayer even when we find that we don’t want to pray.

May God strengthen us in our desire for Him!

The Icon Corner: Spiritual Hearth of the Christian Home

An Orthodox Family

Man longs for holy places, because the heart of man longs for God. The Orthodox Christian temple, the church building itself, is so arranged and ordered that it raises the mind to heavenly things. Some have been brought to Faith in Christ simply by walking into a parish or cathedral where the building is a prayer wrought in stone, wood, and precious metals. So too outside of Holy Orthodoxy, one often finds this inner longing for sanctified places powerfully expressed.

In a nearby Roman Catholic hospital, St. Mary’s, most rooms have a crucifix prominently displayed on the wall. This familiar image of our Savior, His arms outstretched in love and sacrifice for patients, staff, and visitors, is a moving reminder of the Lord’s compassion and solicitude for each one of us. The atmosphere in the otherwise ordinary hospital room is changed, colored by this reminder of the Lord’s presence. Many in our culture describe themselves with the now commonplace phrase, “spiritual but not religious,” and more and more deny the very existence of the spirit, soul, and God Himself. But even these people may comment that for them “church” is an autumn hike in the forest or a sunny day at the beach. Even that “fool” who “hath said in his heart, ‘There is no God,’ (Ps. 13 [14]:1)” who denies the existence of the Artisan, is drawn to the beauty, complexity, and wonder of the handiwork.

One anticipates the objection, “All of creation is sacred. Therefore we have no need, especially since the Lord’s coming in the flesh, of specially sanctified places.” Would that this were so! It would mean that each of us lived our lives in constant and unwavering remembrance and vision of God. But who among us can honestly claim this? We show that this is not so by our manner of living and our homes often reflect this.

television-angel-600In many cultures, the hearth was anciently the material and figurative center of the home. It was the source and symbol of heat necessary for physical well-being and sustenance. The phrase “hearth and home” still calls to mind warmth, good cheer, and familial love. This so even for those who have never lived in a dwelling with an actual hearth. When so many have exchanged the hearth for less visible (and less evocative) heat sources, have we thereby ceased having a focal point in our homes? If not, has the focal point of our homes become spiritual, or do we spend our waking (and sometime sleeping!) hours basking in the cool, blue glow of televisions, computer monitors, and touchscreens? Do we orient everything else in our homes towards our counterfeit “hearths.” Do we frequently think about these contemporary symbols of rest and relaxation even when we are otherwise engaged in school, work, and recreation?

800-trinity-rublev-16-800Orthodox Christian domestic life never needs to be so impoverished! The Christian family and their home ought to be a church in miniature, and the order and arrangement of our living space is an important aspect of this. An icon corner can serve as the spiritual hearth of the Orthodox Christian home. It is that holy and yet familiar place where we encounter each day, in the course of ordinary life, the image of our Lord Jesus Christ, His most blessed and all-pure Mother, his angels and righteous ones. The warmth of Christ’s perfect love envelops us, the light of His countenance shines on us, and our minds and hearts are called back to what is heavenly. Our home itself bears witness to the center of our true life, the Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Sadly, we often forget this. The icon corner that we set up lovingly upon moving into a new home, or on our conversion to Holy Orthodoxy, may easily become an afterthought. Our holy place starts to seem mundane, and we spend at best only a few perfunctory minutes each day standing before the icons to quickly recite our morning and evening prayers. God has worked wonders and healings, caused myrrh to stream even from “mere” paper icons, copies of the originals. Conversely, even the most beautiful hand-painted icons, masterpieces of faith and skill, can lose the attraction, the spiritual “pull,” they once had for us. This is not because of any deficiency on their part but because we harden our hearts to the action of God’s grace. The icons are ignored, at best occasional reminders of the life of prayer that we once strove for. Like a ruined temple, the “altar” of our own domestic Church is covered over by the cares of this world, a curiosity for those who visit us or forgotten entirely.

At this point we must consider whether the icons in our homes have become pious “decorations” for us rather than the windows to heaven they are intended to be. If so, how do we restore their true purpose to our daily lives? How do we ensure that the icon corner is truly the spiritual center of our home?

"The icon corner will only be this spiritual “hearth” if it is in fact a place where we pray..."

“The icon corner will only be this spiritual “hearth” if it is in fact a place where we pray…”

icon-corner-family-600The icon corner will only be this spiritual “hearth” if it is in fact a place where we pray. In addition to our daily prayers in the morning and evening, we may return there as time and circumstances permit to read a psalm or offer brief supplication and praise from the heart. We can find solace there in particularly difficult times or simply from the everyday noise and agitation of the world. We may venerate the icons and ask the Lord’s blessing before we go out of our home and at the time of our return. Children may learn reverence and love by seeing their parents’ devotion expressed in concrete action. Each year as the priest comes to bless our home after Theophany the icon corner is the natural starting and ending point of the service, and becomes a link between our private, family prayers and the prayers offered by the whole people of God. Our icon corner can even, much like our Christian temples, be a silent prayer in wood and pigments, and a witness to those as yet without Faith in Christ. Let us Orthodox Christians, who have seen the true Light, not neglect these precious, holy places in our own homes which ever direct us to the worship of the undivided Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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From our customers…

Would I recommend Damascene Gallery? Absolutely! This is not just a ‘product’… in my view, it helps even the smallest chapel to become a Cathedral. Every chance I get I tell other priests about Damascene Gallery and: yes… it is absolutely worth it.
Archpriest Alexander LogunovCharlotte, NC