You Should Be Careful What You Pray For

I am Fr. Tomas Labanic, a Byzantine rite Catholic priest. When I finished my doctoral studies at ITI in 2009, I was asked to work in pastoral work as a vicar of the priest in Spišská Nová Ves in Slovakia. We moved with my wife and children to the new place, and my idea was that I would be forever working as a parish priest. However, my great love for writing icons was a question. I had an experience before going to ITI, while I was praying, that I would be able to do something big with icons. Later, after the first years of my studies in Gaming, Fr. Juraj Terek asked me if I was willing to help him to make a chapel for the Byzantine rite Catholics. That is how God responded to a simple prayer.

After making the Byzantine chapel in Gaming, I had a chance to teach an icon workshop for several semesters at ITI. My studies then finished and we had to move back to my country. Again I had this thought – I will never have a chance to do something with icons; the life of a priest in a parish is too exhausting and demanding. After that first year away, the president of the ITI at that time, Msgr. Larry Hogan, asked me to come and to do an iconography workshop for ITI students. It was a great success, students liked it, and I started to go regularly in the coming years to have workshops at the Institute. Nothing is impossible for God.

Because some students were coming also from different places, I had a chance to extend my iconography activities in Gaming and I got to know Franciscan University students and professors in Gaming. Later I was able to travel to the USA to give classes and teach students there how to write icons. The greatest thing about such work is that you don’t really teach, instead you guide people towards God. That is the greatest benefit of icon writing. People undergo the process of inner silence in the presence of God. And none of it would have happened if there had not been the Byzantine chapel in Gaming, a community of people who fervently prayed in the Eastern rite, and a sacred place that we were able to make come to life in an old Carthusian monastery.

I started with icons after entering the seminary in Prešov, Slovakia in 1997, and it was a love at first sight. (It still is, even after 22 years.) Nothing would have been possible if my wife and my family had not supported me. Many hours were spent in the chapel writing on the walls, and there were weeks of solitude and silence on my icon retreats. After several years, my bishop Vladyka Milan Chautur assigned me to a little village called Kojšov, and it was very similar to Gaming. There was beautiful wild nature, blueberries, mushrooms, local people, and a church with only one row of icons on the old historical iconostasis, unique in the whole surrounding area.

God responded to my iconic desire again. My task was to take care of my faithful, but it was also to fulfill their dream of seeing their beloved iconostasis as their ancestors had seen it in times past. Many icons had been destroyed, and we had to work carefully and conduct extensive research to find a second original iconostasis of that kind and by the same author iconographer in Hungary. After getting results, we started to look for finances to accomplish the uneasy task of expensive and difficult restoration under the guidance of respected renovators. In two years we were able to collect €47,000  from various benefactors and state institutions with EU funds. Significant help was also from the donations of local faithful. God blessed this work, and on the otpust – the church feast of Sts. Peter and Paul on the 24th of June 2018 and on the 650th anniversary of the village and 50th anniversary of restoration of the Greek-Catholic church in this village, we were honored to experience the presence of many priests and our bishop Vladyka Milan, all of whom had gathered to celebrate the liturgy and bless the iconostasis.

I always think that you should be careful what you pray for. God is an attentive listener, and He gives in abundance to the one who asks sincerely. I always had a very simple wish to glorify God with icons, to show the beauty of the Eastern rite and change the world by it. Iconography is the right path.  And I will always be grateful to be a part of it. As St. John Chrysostom says: “Glory be to God for all things!” And thanks ITI, for breathing with both lungs of eastern and western spirituality.