A Church to Saint Basil the Great



From time to time Päivi Kristiina Loikala, originally from Iitti (i.e. municipality of Finland), hears the question: "How did you end up painting Byzantine style frescoes in the middle of Tavastia in Finland?" Here we hear Päivi Kristiina answering this question. We hope that someday the former X-ray room will be covered all over by frescoes and will be consecrated as a church dedicated to Saint Basil the Great.


Päivi Kristiina Loikala:





PART I: "The Beginning"

PART II: "A Woman from Iitti"*

PART III: "The Praise"*

PART IV: "Save, o Lord, Thy people..."

PART V: "Without Me, you can do nothing"

PART VI: "Painting with an Athonite"*

PART VII: "Oh, holy martyrs"

PART VIII: "Lazarus"*

PART IX: "Entry into Jerusalem"*

PART X: ...*


(*translation still in progress)














In the premises of Athos-Foundation there is a small X-ray room. When people were pondering how one could use the room, there came an idea to change it into a church. My sister Minna had an idea that sounded good: maybe there will come a volunteer, who will be ready to paint the room's walls. So, she asked me to do the job. I thought about it long and hard, "over night", as the saying goes in Finnish. And I came to the conclusion that it'd be nice job. First, however, I wanted to hear what Mr Alexander Wikström thought about the idea. He had been my icon painter teacher in New Valaam Academy and it was there where I met him. He encouraged me to take up this opportunity.


So, my journey to Lammi began. What kind of place would it be like? On my way there I met my father confessor and after discussing with him, I continued to Lammi. The place was HUGE! Parks and buildings everywhere. Fortunately, I knew Mr Hannu Pöyhönen from previous encounter with him when I was taking part in a pilgrimage in Cyprus. After viewing the future work place, which at that time had a ball pit and strange light pillars in it and after wondering at all the plans for the future, I was all mixed up.


A new acquintance was Mister Constantine (Konstantinos) Xenopoulos. He was present when I first visited Lammi. Together with Hannu they looked at some of the photographs of my works. At that point I did not have very many of them! After viewing my work, they promised that I could start painting the church. Because I did not have any experience of painting a whole church, we agreed that Hannu and Xenopoulos would be my instructors. The models and the overall plan of the picture program would be send from Greece. I could also attend the courses held by Mr Xenopoulos so that I could learn his methods.




So I had accepted the job. Then came up the business of sorting out the practicalities because at that point I was unembloyed. There we ran into difficulties and time went on... Finally, in December 2013, I met a office clerk who sorted out the matter in 15 minutes! So, I could begin painting with the help of work experiment money. I am not sure if I understood what I was getting myself into when I traveled to Lammi and my man with dogs and cats and a child was left back home as keepers of the house.


During the autumn my sister Minna had moved to Lammi and started the work in the X-ray room. When I arrived in December everything looked already quite nice. Xenopoulos held an icon painting course and showed us how to fasten the fabric into the wall, and next week we were already in a fabric shop buying a whole bolt. And then we just began fastening the fabric into the wall – some people aren't afraid of heights! - ”learning by doing”. And it was a miracle: it worked!




Then I began to magnify the first pictures into real sizes. The models came from Greece to Hannu's e-mail and from there they were printed in size A4. Just barely was there room enough in the icon painting studio where I drew the pictures into real-size models. It was quite a task to fasten the loooong papers into place on walls and start making the picture in its place in the church. First time there came into my mind the question: ”What am I doing... really?”



It was also interesting to choose the best colour for the backgrounds. There are no windows in the room so there is also no natural light in it. Colours that were beautiful elsewhere, were not suitable in the interior of the church. Hannu decided that I would make colour models and after that we would together decide on the best ones. There were seven people present. At first we put away all those colours that nobody liked. A few suggestions was left behind. In silence everyone thought of their own favourite on their own. Then we said which colour would be the best one – and we had all come to the same conclusions, so that was it.


It was the turn of January to Februaby 2014 when I felt enough courage to paint the first colours to the white surface – exciting!!





So my work began. I was excited and painted the background and walls to the Annunciation.


It was nice to see, how the white wall was slowly covered by paint. Soon I could paint the angel and... everything!
The flowing garments of Archangel Gabriel - how do they have so many layers? How do they set in place? And the hand, it also is too long.

In the chapel there is room to look from a distance and soon I notice that it's worth to climb down more often to see what I have done...
Visitors come and view my work. Questions. Questions. I notice that I know very little and yet here I am, up, near the ceiling with a brush in my hand! I am desperate: I feel that I am running after knowledge. Someone asks and I do not know what to answer. I find out about things. And my memory is not so good: even I find something out, I still don't remember it.
When I finish the Archangel Gabriel, a fresco painting course begins. Mr Xenopoulos makes us do the Last Judgment. He teaches us a totally different technique of painting the clothes! A thin layer, like a wash, shadows and lights! Many tiny disciples and all them have different shades. I get excited. I want to learn more. But can I use the new techique in the chapel as I have already started painting with another method?
The whole week is full of painting. I am nervous: What is Mr Xenopoulos going to say about the chapel? Nothing happens and I wonder: Has he even been there yet? At the end of the week, once the course is over, he says that I can continue with the new style even though I began the work with another techique. So, I can continue... He did not fire me!
I start to paint the Virgin Mary. I try to use the new technique. It is not working out so well. Everything gets muddled up, and the wonderful jump start ends in downhill. The work requires sweat and tears and everyhing in my head revolves around painting. I keep making mistakes and fixing them, and time is running... I paint the Holy Spirit as a dove, it descents towards the Theotokos. This becomes a topic of conversation: what one is allowed to paint and how? Maybe also the name of the work raises questions. It is "Ilosanoman tuominen Jumalansynnyttäjälle" (i.e. bringing of the Good News to the Theotokos) - not the more familiar "Neitsyt Marian ilmestys" (i.e. Annunciation/apparition of the Virgin Mary). A headstrong woman from Iitti is testing the boundaries!
My work experiment ends at the beginning of June and the upper part of the wall is then finished. I am all worn out, I have exhausted all my strength. I drag myself to my home. I am very tired. I only want to stay at home to gather my strength. In the fall we shall see how things will turn out...
But, it is still summer when my sister, Minna, calls me. "Come here and see... There are special quests coming from Greece! Monks from the Holy Mountain, priests and other quests from Greece and Finland. I head for Lammi, where there is a hustle and bustle going on. Over one hundred guests have arrived to hear Elder Ephraim speak. It is quite amazing: I cannot go into Athonite monasteries but people from there come here!
There are pieces of clothes on one table - a shirt, a hat and something else. I am surprised: "What are those? Is this some kind of small second-hand-shop?" Anna explains to me that the clothes belong to Elder Paisios. What on earth?? You mean, THAT Elder Paisios?? A long time ago I bought from Valamo a book of Father Paisios and I almost always carry it with me. When I encounter a problem, I open the book and read for a while and soon I will get an answer to my problem and a feeling of relief. It is also a miracle.
Anna says that I can put on the hat of Elder Paisios if I want to. Well, of course I do! Something happens to me - I start crying without stopping.


When I return to Lammi in the late fall of 2014 there are many things in my mind. I start to paint the Church Fathers on the wall. First, St Nicholaos. I ponder and wonder: How can I, who know nothing, paint Virgin Mary and the saints, who have all had exemplary lifes and struggled all their lives? And how can I paint Christ, our God...?
It is a blessing that a priest blesses all that I am painting. Thus, all my mistakes, my ignorance, my lack of concentration and my short comings on the work morals of an icon painter - are wiped away by prayer. Then, there is left only the image. What can an image be - colours, shapes, a style? Unless the painter is so spiritual that the the power of prayer transmits from the painter into the work. Beauty or ugliness is then but a triviality. An image can be very beautiful, and still nothing happens. And another time there can be a great blessing in some "piece of wood" even thought it would not otherwise meet with the requirements of art.
I paint and paint. I paint all the epitrachilions that remind me of Karelian embroidered linen (käspaikka). Few picture models had them and I liked them very much. 
Sometimes someone comes to the chapel: "Oh, how wonderful!" Or: "How talented you are! Are you doing all this by yourself?!" What can I say? Is pride rearing is ugly head? I become so sick that I am already wondering if I can finish even one wall - that is nothing to brag about. I do not know how to deal with praise. The situation is difficult. In a way I miss the praise, because as a person I am uncertain, but I fear the pride... TO BE CONTINUED....
Most Holy Trinity, have mercy on us.
Lord, cleanse us from our sins.
Master, pardon our iniquities.
Holy God, visit and heal our infirmities for Thy name's sake.




Now we start to hunt for a grant. There are many things to do. I have to make a CV. I have to advertise all my doings. A good friend helps with the application. But, no such luck!
Another application. Hannu makes a letter of recommendation. At first, I do not know of whom the letter is about, it is crafted so wonderfully. Plenty of beautiful words and great metaphors arise from the paper in front of my eyes. I feel dizzy. I take a copy of it to myself so I can read it when I have a bad day.

I have little money, more would not hurt. But then a thought comes to me: What if mercy then dissappears? Until now work has proceeded like a miracle, it has been miraculously guarded. It feels like a protection, even though I am just a beginner in this kind of work.  

The first wall is almost ready. In the middle there is the pictorial topic of Christ, the Lamb of God. In it Christ-child is in a Chalice (i.e. cup for Holy Communion). It is a more rare model of the Holy Communion in Finland. At the end, I write the texts to the scrolls of the Church Fathers in whole - they are so good.

My heel hurts so much that I am unable to finnish the text of Chrysostom. I cannot stand and the letters are bobbing to and fro. The texts of St Athanasios the Great and St Jacob, the brother of the Lord, are still to be done. St Jacob is now my favourite Father because in his text there is the troparion of my home church: "Save, o Lord, Thy people..."

When I began this work, I did not understand what would happen... what would be the results. If I would be ten years younger and doing this, I would be in ecstasy - in 7th heaven - perhaps I would burst. But now, it is good to do...  TO BE CONTINUED.







The first wall was finished in spring 2015. All in all it took a little over a year - with breaks and all. Quite good. I thought at first that it would take a year per wall - and then the ceiling. 

Then started the wait. The suggestions and topics we had planned with Hannu were evaluated by Mr Xenopoulos. Nothing is heard from him. Luckily, it is spring. I can spend time outside gardening. But at the same time I wonder why nothing is happening. I try to ponder: maybe something relevant is missing, has it been left undone,

i.e. Have I done something wrong?

One part, a whole wall, is finished. I am at the same time proud and sad and relieved. Really, I still do not understand what am I doing. Many would not have believed that I can finish even one wall. But there it is! I wasn't sure myself that I would be able to finish it, and therefore I get to beg for help. "Without Me, you can do nothing," says Christ. This is the most relevant truth to a painter like me, who just does and tries to learn everything at the same time. Great is the guidande and the help.

Just when I am complaining to my sister that the work has come into a halt, the telephone rings. Models and instructions arive, funding was arranged. My head is spinning and thoughts are sailing to and fro and bump into each other. I can go on with the work. Veikko receives the instructions on how to immure three doorways and he makes recesses in them. The wall gets a totally new look.


I start from the first corner. There will be painted St Basil the Great and St Gregory the Theologian. Somehow it is quite exciting to start a totally new wall. Bit by bit the whole space becomes different. There are pictures and stories about the Foundation in the magazines and always there is mentioned also the chapel. Acquaintances remember that I exist. Nice surprises come in my way and make me happy.

We decided that I would paint some of the pictures at home. There I conquer the empty childrens' room as a working place. We also decide to change the working hours so, that I would spend two weeks in Lammi and two weeks at home. Then the travelling won't take up so much energy and I can still have time to concentrate on painting on both ends.  
The first picture to be painted at home will be St Gregory Palamas. It is so nice to retreat to my chamber and close myself in with the saints. The rooster is crowing outside and the dogs are barking. My man with the cat peeks from behind the door - Is it possible to get any food today??


Holy God, here in the middle of a forest it is very hard sometimes to see oneself in relation to events of the world. It is very difficult with one's own tiny understanding and little knowledge to make decisions. Thank You for the father confessor, who guides when I ask and understands to guide even I forget to ask! 
This life is a great gift. Give me strength and Your help to use this gift in good way. Help me to grow worthy of this gift. The growth and value be then the talent, which I return to You - because I do not have anything else.






... There is a television group coming to film us... film me. Phew! Now my mind comes into a halt! Never ever! I, however, call my friend Anna-Leena, who takes the matter into her care. She says that I cannot be away from the pictures because the movement and doing comes from painting. She is adamant about it. My sister just says that I should think about the reasons why I do not want to be filmed. I wish I were a hermit...


... Then comes the feared Day of the Television. Two men with television cameras come here, and the interviews go on by themselves as we are engaged in conversation. Hannu does the talking - this was agreed upon earlier as I fear I would say something silly. I paint a little and then we drink coffee. And that was all. I had feared it like going to a dentist...

... Father Joseph from the Holy Mountain and monk Dositheos come for a visit. I get to help Father Joseph to paint the walls of the cafeteria...









O holy Martyrs,
who have fought the good fight and were crowned as victors,
do intercede with Christ our God
to have compassion and to save our souls.
At home I drew the forty holy martyrs of Sebaste. The group was a source of amazement, because I could not count their number even though I put a number on each one of them. "Be as you are," I at last decided. It was a hard job to get everyone in the picture. And now I didn't even know how many people were standing in my cold streams of water. I had looked forward to this job, and finally I can do it!

After working for a long time, the martyrs are finally ready. Only Christ and the crowns were missing. A hard job - many work phases and trials. A terrible tiredness and emptiness covers everything, I can hardly do anything. Even my poor head is empty. A dreadful doubt takes over all my thoughts and my whole being. How long will this last? How long and how much will I be able to endure?
All in all, the beginner's enthusiasm has transformed itself into an expecting silence. Will anything come out of this? Will we become a laughingstock? A cautionary example? We all work like crazy and already in the morning we wake up weary. Oh, Holy God, how do we move forward? Will we have any future? It is like being in the cold streams of water - will we all just stay here?
Oh Christ, You who blessed and crowned all those who endured the suffering, help also us, who are weak, in this anguish and give us strength to bravely endure this struggle.
My sister, Minna, stops by and together we glue to the wall the holy Apostles which I painted. It is nice to work together, and the gluing comes out nicely. It settles on the left side of the holy martyrs and I can then paint an arched vine over Christ as an edge.  



It is also nice that in an instant the whole wall changes and gets a new look, only one piece left and then the whole corner is ready! Now I can also paint the crowns because I can see how they can be placed in the picture. And the ornament, that will be in the middle and divide the upper from lower part of the wall.

Archbishop Leo is coming to visit us, and all are busy doing their jobs. The atmosphere is excited. What will happen? When he steps in, the excitement reaches its peak. We all stand in line like in a parade. Together with the Archbishop we walk around the area, see the chapel and the churches where we have services. When we finally sit down to eat and drink coffee, the atmosphere is relaxed. Perhaps the Archbishop is also relieved, that is how I see it.

Summer is on its way, and I intend to spend a lot of time outside. Last summer I spent painting indoors and already in the fall I felt exhausted. I miss the soil and the seeds in spring, my own carrots in the fall, so I have energy to work! Bodily work is a must, it gives strength and resilience. There's a saying from Iiitti: "Feet on the ground, hands working and heart in Heaven."







Why is it that the Orthodox Elders only see the good in other people... no matter what? Elder Paisios blesses even the evil-doers when they try to struggle, work on themselves... it they have a good attitude... but if you don't, then you are again facing a downhill...


St Lazarus is like in a cocoon with his shrouds, his whole presence speaks to me. How do you feel? Where were you before you were called back? I paint the face with great care, pale.


When I finish the whole scene with all the people in it, I realize that I have actually been at the grave of Lazarus in Cyprus...



After I had finished painting St Lazarus, I started to draw and paint Christ's Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday...








At home all the fall work awaits for me. We should take the fixed tilling machine to our cottage. The grass needs cutting, the compost needs our attention, etc. etc. Many days are spent doing the work that needs to be done. My conscience is digging me, because I get paid for painting and here I am digging and tilling the soil. That is why I work like crazy so that I can then at peace start painting.

I continue to paint the holy Apostles to the vine and I notice that I have no proper measurements of the next wall. I take the measurements of the opposite wall and compare the new drawings to them - hopefully they will fit. I tell my sister Minna about the matter and she promises to take the measurements from now on. She used to be a cartographer so the job is easy for her. We have been planning to do this work together in the future so now is an excellent opportunity to rehearse the scene. The work continues...
Minna takes the measurements and I paint. Together we will glue the fabrics into the walls. Minna is planning to make the mosaics into the floor and paints ornaments. It is nice to work together. Can this really become something we could do for the rest of our lives? 


I have to exchange the order of the drawings because... TO BE CONTINUED...