Face to Face

International project for art and literature

This project of the Orthodox Academy of Crete (OAC) began in 1983, with an invitation, first, to artists in Greece and, later on, all over the world, to reflect on a spiritual text and express their understanding of it in a creative way.

The text is about Saint Abba Makarios of Egypt, the great 4th century ascetic of the desert. (Migne, P.G. 34, 257. Cf. Proverbs of the Fathers, Saint Abba Makarios 38, Athens 1961, p. 70).

One day, Abba Makarios came across a skull in the desert. The following dialogue took place (summary, free rendition):

MAKARIOS: Who are you?
SKULL: I was a priest of the pagans and you are Makarios. When you pray for us who are in hell, we are consoled. You are Makarios, the bearer of the spirit. When you have pity on the doomed and pray for them, they are consoled.
MAKARIOS: What kind of consolation do you feel? What is it like in hell?
SKULL: We stand in flames which reach up to the sky. And we cannot see each other, because we are tied back-to-back. But when you pray for us, the ropes become loose, and we can see each other again FACE TO FACE. That is the consolation!

This dialogue between the Saint and the skull is a compelling expression of the difficulty of human beings to communicate with the OTHER, their fellow human beings. Plautus stated that ‘homo homini lupus’ (Man is a wolf for man). And Jean-Paul Sartre put it in an even more tragic manner: ‘L´enfer, c´est les autres’ (Hell is other people). By contrast, Makarios’ text summarizes the Christian belief that hell is not the presence of the other, but the ABSENCE of the other, the lack of communication.

230 artists from all over the world created 350 works of art, inspired by this subject: Paintings, sculptures made of wood and steel, ceramics, collages, silk-printings and batik, but also poems, texts, theatrical plays, musical compositions and a TV-film. They present human beings going through many situations caused by their estrangement from their fellow humans, and in the long run, from the environment and God. Such issues still concern us, move us and hurt us on a daily basis:

War, torture, terrorism, the uprooting of people and nations, racism, hypocrisy, a lack of tolerance, solidarity and perspective, abuse of the natural environment through distorted development and industrialization are only some of the problems emphasized by the artists.

However, in most of the works there is the hope and possibility of salvation, a way out of this tragic situation. The hope that human beings can improve themselves and restore their relationships. Thus, topics pertaining to peace, love, prayer, solidarity, forgiveness, comfort and consolation are artistically expressed in
such works.

All the works produced in this program have been donated to the Orthodox Academy of Crete by the artists, and most of them have been exhibited in the OAC’s two conference buildings. Moreover, representative works were exhibited in Athens and abroad. In 1989 many of the artists were invited to come face to face personally, in the framework of an international conference and exhibition of their works.

The dialogue between Abba Makarios and the skull, as well as the entire program, are an expression of the work carried out by the Orthodox Academy of Crete, a place of inter-personal communication and discussion, which was founded and operates based on the conviction that dialogue is the most suitable means for resolving problems.

The text written by Saint Makarios, despite being so old, has been a source of creative expression for many people, and the works inspire and support many of the people who visit the Orthodox Academy of Crete as participants in conferences or as visitors.

The works originate from the following countries: Egypt, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Northern Ireland, France, Yugoslavia, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Greece, USA, India, Spain, Canada, Lebanon, South Korea, Cyprus, Madagascar, Great Britain, New Zealand, Netherlands, Hungary, Poland, Rwanda, Romania, Russia, Sweden, Finland, Philippines.

The OAC gratefully accepts, following agreement, further contributions from countries not yet represented in the program.

The Chapel of Saint Makarios

In honor of the saint, who generously blessed the program, the OAC transformed a little cave uphill north of its facilities into a small chapel, where his memory is celebrated (19 January).