“Every Painted Icon as a New Step in My Life…” by Matushka Larissa Nezhbort

The icon-painting studio of St. Elisabeth Convent recently finished painting the icon of Saints Joachim and Anna. Our parishioners really longed for this icon and on June 11th 2017 the icon was blessed and is not located in our church in honor of St. Elisabeth, where people can now venerate the Holy Icon. Matushka Larissa Nezhbort was the one who worked on the image of the parents of Theotkos shared her experience while painting the icon:

“It just so happens that I have had the honor of painting all of the icons that are located within the walls of the church in honor of St. Elisabeth (with the exception of the iconostasis, which was painted by Father Sergius Nezhbort and a few of the monastic sisters). The first icon was of the Elders of Optina – which I started working on in 2000. Back then, the monastery was still under construction and our icon painting studio was located in a half basement in one of the sections of the hospital nearby. 

Since I do not paint quickly, the process took me through a large portion of my life. Every icon that I completed marked an important step in my life. It is natural for an iconographer to have the image pass through the heart. The saint, whom you are depicting, becomes an image that is close to you and you begin to feel the saint’s works in your life. As I recall, when I was painting the icon of the Holy Royal Martyrs, my family with Father Sergius was going through a difficult time. Moreover, I was relying on the help of the Royal Martyrs, since in a way they can be considered as patron saints of family. Father Andrew (Lemeshonok) also comforted me and said that they would of course help! Soon after the icon was completed, Father Sergious was ordained a deacon. It was not exactly the answer that I was expecting, but God often acts in indirect ways.

The icons of Saint Ignatius Bryanchaninov and Saint Sergius (the spiritual father of the convent in honor of St. Martha and Maria) were made in remembrance of the reposed relative of one of the convent’s donors. When I was finishing the icon, we had all of the documents ready and approved to adopt our two sons, Father Andrew referred to these icon as my last work because he felt that having children would make it difficult for me to continue working as an iconographer. Nevertheless, as my children grew up I was able to return to painting icons although I still have a lot less time.

When our parishioners began to gather donations to paint the icons of Saints Joachim and Anna, many questions came up: “Why are they being painted for so long?” It nearly a year and with pauses. This was all due to the constant illness of my children. After that, you have a lot less spiritual strength, as the children require constant attention. On the other hand, the icon may have come out the way it did because of my new experience in parenthood.

At first, it was planned that the saints would be painted from the waist up. However, when I started making the sketch I realized that I wanted have a more detailed context of the life of Saints Joachim and Anna. I wanted to show the peak of their earthly joy, the feat of their patience and their trust in God. I am not a fan of the term that every saint is classified by certain “needs” but still every saint has certain feats and “being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted”. Saints Joachim and Anna suffered because they could not have children, which is why people often turn to them with prayer askin for help in giving birth and raising children and the overall family well-being.

We visited the Ferapontov Monastery in the Vologda region of Russia several times. Currently, it is functioning as a museum. I highly recommend vising it if you have not been there. Nature is very beautiful there but the main features are not in the environment. The most unique features are found in the ancient Russian frescoes of the 15th Century ( perhaps even the one ones of their kind!) which have been saved and kept in the full capacity! The church was painted by one of the well-known ancient Russian iconographers –  Dionysius. The soul truly freezes in awe from its beauty!

Our spiritual father – Father Andrew (Lemeshonok) told us that he visited the church in his youth in the 1970s before he was baptized and while living the life of a hippie-traveler. Back then, there was no museum and the monastery was simply under lock and key but the guard let the future priest and his friends inside to enjoy the view of the beautiful frescos. 


Father Andrew remembers one of the images that truly amazed him and which he could never forget. He kept thinking who this wonderful saint was. Later he learned that it was Saint Nickolas the Wonderworker (I would also like to add in my opinion that this image has a very merciful look towards human suffering. It is an image when a photo cannot capture because Saint Nickolas is depicted with his raised hands on an oval part of the wall over a small portion of the altar and when you stand right in front of the image of the saint it seems as if you have fallen under his embrace.) About 20 years later Father Andrew helped build the church of Saint Nickolas – the first church constructed in St. Elisabeth Convent

It’s important to note that the frescos of Ferapontov Monastery are dedicated to the Holy Theotokos, and the monastery is named in honor of Her Nativity. And amongst the many frescos there is an episode which was always close to my heart called the “The Virgin given affection by her parents”

I had a chance to see the same image in Constantinople (Istanbul). There are only two churches left in the city with ancient Christian mosaics: Hagia Sophia and the Chora Church. Now it is a museum where large crowds of tourists pass through. The Chora Church has an entire cycle of mosaics dedicated to the Nativity, childhood and youth of the Holy Theotokos. Among them is the image of the Mother of God with her parents. You cannot look at this image without a certain tender feeling. Next to it is another image called “First seven steps of the Virgin”. In this image, a servant is holding the young Girl who is making her first steps with outstretched arms towards her mother – Saint Anna.

This was my inspiration when I painted the icon. Of course my fellow icon painters may say that it turned out to be another “innovation” and the result of a “woman’s creativity”. But what can I say – it may be just that. But I tried as hard as I could… I hope that through the faith of those who pray, God will work miracles through this icon as well!”


Avatar photo

About the author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Know everything about Orthodoxy? We can tell you a bit more!

Subscribe for our weekly newsletter not to miss the most interesting articles on our blog.

Spelling error report

The following text will be sent to our editors: