His spiritual legacy
Work and instrument of God
Revered guests, esteemed internet community, honoured friends of the icons, dear Sisters and Brothers,
Kindly allow me to present to you some introductory explanations and thereby provide you with a better understanding of the following texts, fundamental narratives,
profound and exultant interpretations, controversial theses, evolving substance of thought and the ever-changing perceptions of life and God of one who sought God, doubted God; who was God’s
servant, craft and tool; a repentant sinner, a poor mite, a very special yet simple man who was, as we all are, “a child of his and our time", with all its strengths and limitations - the
blessed and brilliant iconographer,
Alexej Alexandrowitsch Saweljew.
We have given this introduction the title “His Spiritual Legacy“. Saveliev himself said: “It will be difficult for Western society of today to
comprehend the mystery of the icon. More than seven hundred years have elapsed - a deep abyss separates us from those times. Who can deal today with the concepts ‘transfigured
world’, ‘mystery’, ‘consecration’, ‘God’s presence’? Yet God is Life, God is Love, Love is Life – without God there is no life, no eternal
Life, no culture.” These are the principles by which Saveliev lived and worked here since 1983, withdrawn, modestly, in certain respects like a modern-day hermit. He was an outsider and
eccentric, a stateless person and a brilliant, unequalled iconographer, an ‘outsider’ with a Russian soul. He was admired, avoided, held in esteem, misunderstood, rejected and
scorned. He himself could be stimulating, rigorous, uncomprehending, soft-hearted, fiery, doubting, shrewd, sharp-tongued, full of spiritual, affectionate humour depending on the circumstances,
with shining or tired eyes; like a “thorn in the flesh” , a daisy at the wayside or an edelweiss on a rocky outcrop. He lived here amongst us in the idyllic village of Kautenbach,
which itself lies embedded in magnificent unspoilt countryside.
Alexej Saweljew was defined by his deep and special love for flora and fauna, for all God’s creation or what he called the “studio of creation”.
This manifested itself in his language, his ideas, his conceptions and his work. For Saveliev, the writing of icons was a liturgical act, a divine service, which he commenced and concluded with
prayer. If he did not have a spiritual connection to the saint or holy person to be represented, he was unable to paint the icon - his icon. He could receive visitors for hours on end,
without paying any attention to his physical needs, talking animatedly or in heated debate, at times even throwing them out or closing the spiritual door on them.
It was his profound and passionate belief, his love for God, his visible inner conflict that enabled him to create - to write - these beautiful and unique
“new” holy icons, to bring God’s holy word to the people, to us. His love seemed never-ending, yet his own experience of love during his lifetime had been inconsistent and, in
the end, disappointing. That experience most certainly influenced his character, his behaviour and his doings. During the final years of his life, Saweljew was filled with fear and doubt,
brought on also by his illness and the question of the survival of the Icon Centre. He described himself as being surrounded by “baroque, materialistic, unworthy people” and went so
far as to believe he had to destroy the “Living Icon Centre” in order to save it – “they are making a murderer out of me!”. But God had other plans for his
redemption, as he was to find out just before his death! Since the Sixties Saveliev’s goal had been to establish a School for Icon Writing, where the old techniques could be learned and
applied in the writing of “modern” icons. Unfortunately, he never achieved this goal. With the Living Icon Centre and his wonderful icons, he wanted to bring the icon back to
Germany and to Western Europe, and with God’s help he was able to achieve this goal at least. After the set up of the Icon Centre with its representations of the most important components
and master builders of the one Church of Jesus Christ, he had planned to write about the nature and importance as well as the use of the icon in the context of God's mercy and love for mankind.
But he didn’t succeed, it was not to be. Finally, at the end of his life ("the time has come for me to die”), he was reconciled with his surroundings and the people he
knew. He passed away on 27th December 1995. But the doctors, bound by their professional oath, would not allow him to die peacefully or, rather, to move on to eternal life. Alexei Saveliev had made provisions for his gravestone (Orthodox cross) and the inscription (“Pray for God’s servant“). He was buried in the graveyard of the little Church in the Traben-Trarbach suburb of Wolf. Many of those who knew him, who had shared in his life, admirers and critics alike, even friends, had turned away from him during his later years. Only a very few remained grateful for having known him. We, not least myself, are thankful to have met him, to have had the opportunity of accompanying him for another four years. He opened, not only for me, many a spiritual door. Many a “Yes, but … “ became simply, irrevocably, "Yes! How? Who? When else?!” He was, as observed in the life’s story of many another chosen or called individual (see ‘The Holy Icon’), someone very special, a seeker of God, servant of God (and all too human), who created something “magnificent and unique – something divine” and bequeathed it to us. It is on this background that we have published the existing original writings of iconographer Alexei Saveliev, knowing full well that besides admiration we will encounter opposition, rejection and divided opinion, and that these seeds we have sown will not always fall on fertile ground. Words and pictures will not always take root and the fruits of our efforts will not always be sweet. The beauty and colour of the blossoms may not please everyone’s eye and heart; the divine light may shine, but will not always banish all darkness. Nevertheless, inspired by eternal hope and timeless trust in the mercy and love of God’s holy Trinity.
GŁnter Oberle, August 2001