As you follow the winding road from Pafos to the resort city of Polis on the Northwestern coast of Cyprus, keep your eyes open for something a bit out of the ordinary, when approaching the village of Stroumbi. A quaint figure in bas-relief, amid vine garlands, extends visitors a cup of wine from a welcome sign at the edge of town, while other multi-layered murals further along the highway display delightful vistas of village life and vineyards, peopled with saints and mythological figures.
They are the work of Resident Artist Charalambos Epaminonda, who also writes and illustrates children’s books, takes on icon commissions, and is building an art gallery next to his home on a hill above town, a dwelling place every bit as whimsical as the fantastic Byzantine structures in his drawings. Amid all these varied artistic activities, Charalambos remains calm and centered, a man at peace with himself, and a paradigm, for me, of a spiritually-centered artist, indifferent to commercial success or critical acclaim.
Compared with much modern Orthodox iconography, the work of Epaminonda exudes warmth and humanity, revitalizing old pattern-book imagery in exciting, innovative ways. Just the added touch of a floral pattern to the red background of his Virgin of the Sign underscores the maternal, caring side of this grieving Mary, who offers up her dying son to the World. His Christ Made Without Hands is actually painted on a woven cloth, suggesting the towel on which Christ left an imprint of his face to heal the ailing King of Edessa, according to the traditional Eastern Orthodox story of how this miraculous image came into being.
I asked Charalambos to paint a triptych, based on my three favorite parables from the Gospel of Luke, the Prodigal Son, the Sower and the Seed, and the Good Samaritan, giving him a free hand in the arrangement of the images. He came up with three separate paintings, united in composition and conception. Trained in both art and theology, the normally reticent artist spoke eloquently of what holds the triptych together--the notion of epistrophi, a Greek word, meaning “coming back,” “returning,” and in its New Testament variant, “conversion.”
Not only are humans reconciled one with another in these wonderful images, but the whole created order, animate and inanimate, water, plants, fish and birds are drawn toward the powerful central figure of Christ, the Sower of the Seed, the Renewer of Life. This schema is repeated in a different color palette is his lovely little painting, Madonna of the Woods.