The Hand of God

This icon is in part a response to what I have witnessed in Syria for nearly six and a half years: a period of loss of the people we loved, whether they emigrated, were kidnapped, imprisoned, or killed. A time in which it was difficult to continue to live alongside all the losses in our hearts and in our lands. A time rich in pain for all those our country lost, whether it be their name, religion, affiliation, role in life, whether I met them personally, by chance, or saw them on television.

Each loss has made me lose a part of myself, has required a period of recovery which often was followed by another loss and a further iterance of pain. I confronted this period with caution and patience, skills I learnt in restoring icons and frescos during my 29 years of restoration work. Restoration has left a mark on my character and shaped my personality; it is no ordinary job.

My passion for art is not limited to icon restoration. At times, I’ve indeed felt the need to design an icon to express my internal conflicts and find an answer. I wanted to calm myself, to mediate, which could help me personally. Having just laid the final layer of color, I thought of an entirely new icon to express my message through art.

It has hurt me immensely that we are killing each other in front of the entire world…and with no reaction! I am tired of death and know all too well that many people throughout the world are, too. The worst thing, the thing that hurts me the most, is that this division is happening in the same country and on the same land between two opposing sides. Unfortunately, for the majority of people affected, this loss and this pain are holy. The adversary’s pain is not felt and some greet the death of the other as if it were merited and forget or pretend to forget that this person lost was very dear to their own family, their own friends, their small social circle, also to society as a whole.

At the heart of these events, one question plagued me, repeated for the most part by people on all sides: “Where is God?” In my humble experience with God and my relationship with Him—one in which I’ve tested His presence alongside me, above all in periods of crisis—I felt sadness for God, as He must carry the responsibility of our actions due to the enormous grace He gave us: the “freedom” to choose.

I therefore wanted to respond to this important question which can be our point of entry to the better life we seek. My response is my gratitude to God that He loves us all. I wanted to shout it so as to reach as many people as possible who await His mercy. This response could alleviate their cares. It is also difficult to endure the spiritual feeling of being alone. “He is with us,” He suffers even more than us in these terrible circumstances.

My response is expressed in this icon, where we see the Hand of God reaching down from heaven to reassure those still on earth. He offers His concern and protection to all the beloved killed throughout this difficult war without distinction or restriction: men, women, the young, the old, regardless of age, sex, or color of skin. The Hand of God is brown in color, composed of a mélange of all colors. It contains all men, whoever they might be. Some lean one on one top of the other, comforting one another. They are all dressed in white because there is no difference between the rich and the poor before God. If this color were to indicate anything, it would be the purity of their souls because they are united and equal, at ease in the Hand that holds them and binds them strongly in the affection of the One Father of all.

I wanted to paint the Hand of God, majestic at the center of heaven. This benedictory Hand, which we often see in icons extending and descending from heaven on high, today chooses to appear in a different way! It is large, sweet to the touch in its connection to the individuals it holds, loyal to all without exception.

He is the God we met in Holy Scriptures, who is happy to meet and comfort us with His presence in our joys and in our sorrows, who makes us feel He takes care of us even during our tribulations, just as He promised. The simple white flowers adorning the icon’s framing are the symbol of the Resurrection of all thanks to the strength of Christ, risen from the dead.

We hope His mercy extend forevermore to all those who remain on this earth. God is present with us and ready to do all the good possible for us. We would not be as His side if we did not make use of the freedom He granted us through each individual’s creation, to guide each one of us towards the good of all peoples, to become agents of peace in the heart of misfortune and humiliation in a country worn out by war, one which continues to this day.

Yes, this icon offers a response to the question “Where is God?” and where are our dearly departed? When we see His love for all, we may calm ourselves because they are united in the peace of the Lord. May this image strengthen and encourage our desire for peace on earth for the salvation of all.

Nada Sarkis