The mosaic workshop of Saint Elisabeth Convent is known well beyond the borders of Belarus. In the spring of 2021, its artisans commenced a mosaic project at the Church of St. Panteleimon of Oasa Monastery, deep in the mountains of Romania. Oasa monastery stands near a large lake in a sparsely populated mountainous area. During the post-war years, it was a convent. Eventually, the nuns abandoned it, finding the local conditions too harsh for them. At present, Oasa is a centre of cultural and spiritual life. Every summer and autumn, it hosts a youth camp. Up to 5,000 young people, including many students, stay there every season. The monastery of Oasa has about 20 monks. They run the place successfully with God’s help and with the support of a handful of volunteers.
The monastery had invited us on the recommendation an iconographer and a friend of Abbot Silvanus. He found us on the Internet via our website, gave our details to a few monks from Oasa monastery who visited us in Minsk. We showed them around the workshop, they inspected our mosaics and churches and seemed to like what they saw. They appreciated our well-rounded and holistic approach and wanted to have something similar in Oasa.
We came to Oasa to decorate its main church, dedicated to the great martyr and healer Panteleimon. It is small but beautiful. It was built in old Byzantine style with a local flavour. The monks at Oasa have deep respect for ancient traditions and asked us to make our mosaics in the Byzantine tradition. We had already gained some experience with Byzantine techniques. Today, many artisans achieve the desired effects with modern polymer materials. But they are not suitable in all situations. We had spent a lot of time and effort researching the ancient know-how, and this knowledge did us a good service, by helping us create a moving and highly expressive work.
The monks trusted us to complete the entire project. We started with the mosaic of the Mother of God above the altar. Then we proceeded to work on the image of Christ the Pantocrator. We had done our homework. In 2020, we completed all the sketches, selected the colours and prepared the smalt cubes at our workshop in Minsk. We even laid out the full-size mosaic and made the needed adjustments. Once finished, we dispatched pieces of the mosaic to Oasa monastery and affixed them to the walls. To do the work well, we needed to complete extensive preparations of the wall surface. First, we prepared the gesso from broken brick, flax fibres, eggs and bovine bile, and put it on the mortar base of the wall, using nails and wire for reinforcement. It was difficult and time-consuming.
The brothers of Oasa gave us a warm welcome. We worked in an atmosphere of trust and goodwill. To us, they were like old friends whom we had not seen for some time. We are almost all the same age. They were our kindred spirits, and many were painters just like us. Despite the language barrier, we still communicated well enough in English.
At 1000 metres above sea level, summers at Oasia are not hot, and the scenery is magnificent. What we found most impressive was the colour of the sky, and how quickly it was changing. Looking west, we observed the gorgeous outlines of the Carpathian and Transilvanian mountains.
We did not find many differences in the order of worship. Visiting pilgrims and students contributed by reading the Psalter. The number of young people there was impressive - just like at Saint Elisabeth Convent in Minsk. On church feasts, people flock to the monastery in large numbers. Many wear national costumes, which looks quite unusual by Belarusian standards but had a lot of similarities with Greece. Like in Greece, many wear national costumes even to church. On its patron saint's day, the monastery was having many visitors. Everyone was welcome and at home. We saw ourselves as a part of a close-knit family, and it was a nice feeling.