Ecumenical 'Year of Faith' Exhibit, “Icon: The Way to the Kingdom,” Opens at Villanova University Art Gallery

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VILLANOVA, Pa. Villanova University celebrates the special ecumenical Year of Faith proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI with an exhibit of sacred icons, vestments, chalices, Gospel books, and other liturgical artifacts at the Villanova University Art Gallery, located in The Connelly Center on the campus of Villanova University.  Entitled “Icon: The Way to the Kingdom”, the journey in art through two millennia of the prayer and faith traditions of the Eastern Orthodox Churches is believed to be the first of its kind in the Philadelphia area.  

A free public opening reception will take place on Friday, Oct. 26, from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Art Gallery.  An official ceremony, including an opening prayer service of thanksgiving to bless the exhibit, will begin at 6 p.m.  The Oct. 11 official beginning of the Year of Faith declared by Pope Benedict XVI marks the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council convened in 1962 by Pope John XXIII to address relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the rest of the world.

The seven-week exhibit will feature free public lectures by Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church leaders on the significance of icons and other sacred art in their belief traditions from the 2nd to the 21st centuries.  In collaboration with Fr. Richard G. Cannuli, O.S.A. (Order of St. Augustine), Director of the Villanova University Art Gallery and Curator of the Art Collection, the exhibit was conceived, the icons and other liturgical items gathered, and their display organized by the Very Reverend Archpriest John Perich, Pastor, St. Herman of Alaska Church, Gradyville, Pa., and Administrator, of St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral, Washington, D.C., Orthodox Church of America.   

Drawn from the Metropolitan Museum of the Orthodox Church of America located at the Monastery of Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk in South Canaan, Pa., and from private collections, some of the artifacts have never before been seen publicly.  The exhibit concludes with a closing prayer service of Thanksgiving on Sunday, December 16, 2012, at 3 p.m.

The free public exhibit, presentations by church prelates, and prayer services are Villanova University's response, as an Augustinian Roman Catholic institution, to Pope Benedict's call for ecumenical initiatives “to help Catholics rediscover the truths of faith and deepen their understanding of Church teaching.”   

The Year of Faith was declared by the Pope to give “renewed energy to the mission of the whole Church to lead men and women out of the desert they often are in and toward the place of life: friendship with Christ who gives us fullness of life.  Faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy,” the Pope stated in announcing the observance.  

Villanova University President, the Rev. Peter M. Donohue, OSA, PhD, calls the exhibit and public presentations on the significance of art in Catholic belief and worship “another way of building unity among Christians.” Enamels, manuscripts, vestments, icons, and other representations of scenes from Holy Scripture, lives of Jesus and Mary, and the angles and the saints, “attest the unity of ecclesiastical tradition and the faith of the ages in which they were produced,” notes the Church.   

The exhibit's Oct. 26 opening service will include a prayer service with a blessing of the exhibit, including the miracle-working icon She Who Is Quick To Hear depicting the Virgin Mary with Jesus.  Numerous miracles are attributed to the 10th century icon, a prototype of which is held by the Monastery of Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk, the oldest Orthodox Monastery in America.  

Icons in the Villanova exhibit will include Russian, Romanian, Cretan, Syrian, Coptic (Egyptian Christian), Greek, Serbian, Ukrainian, and Carpathian-Rusyn, an Eastern European ethnic group living in diaspora.

The visiting Orthodox Church dignitaries serve in Russia, the Middle East, England, and the United States. Dates, times and locations of the on-campus lectures may be found on the Art Gallery's website: artgallery.villanova.edu. Included among the speakers are: 

  • The Most Reverend Metropolitan Hilarion, who will be awarded an honorary doctorate in sacred theology by Villanova University for his work in building inter-church relations between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches.  A noted theologian, church historian, and composer, he is the metropolitan (comparable to a bishop in the Roman Catholic Church) of Volokolamsk, near Moscow. He serves as Chairman of the Department of External Church Relations and is a permanent member of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Moscow.  
  • Father Justin Sinaites, librarian of St. Catherine's Monastery, Mt. Sinai, Egypt, the world's oldest continually operating monastery (some 1,700 years): Fr. Justin oversees what is considered to be the second most valuable collection of religious manuscripts in the world, the Vatican's being the first.  One of Fr. Justin's major undertakings has been to photograph and post on the Internet the collection's 4,500 manuscripts (many illuminated), 7,000 early printed books, and some of the world's oldest Bibles.

In addition, the subject of the Icon of St. Elizabeth Greeting Mary, the sanctity of life exegesis on the “greeting” will be the subject of a panel discussion led by representatives from both churches.  Panelists will be The Right Rev. Bishop Alexander, Bishop of Toledo, Ohio and the Bulgarian Diocese, Orthodox Church of America; Very Rev. Dr. John Kowalczyck, Chancellor of the Diocese of Eastern Pennsylvania, Orthodox Church in America; Rev. Dr. Joseph Loya OSA, Villanova professor of theology and religious studies with emphasis on Christianity in Eastern Europe; and Rev. Dr. James Dougherty.

The Villanova University Art Gallery is open weekdays from 9 AM to 5 PM.  For weekend hours, and other information, telephone the Art Gallery at (610) 519-4612.   

About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others.  There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's five colleges – the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Nursing and the Villanova University School of Law. As students grow intellectually, Villanova prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them.