Byzantine Iconography


The Byzantine School of Saint John Monastery was established in 2008. It came about after his Grace Bishop Emilianos of Meloa, who at the time was the Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Saint John, viewed a sample of the icons written by Mr Peter Kakulas, who had just completed a three-year Byzantine Iconography Diploma course with Academia Institute of Education and Culture. His Grace was suitably impressed by his icons and asked if he would be interested in offering courses of iconography. After a little hesitation he said “Yes, but only if God wants it.” His Grace said, “It’s not just God’s will, we also have to participate.” So, early in 2008, the classes commenced and everyone was pleasantly surprised with the enthusiastic response of the people. Throughout the year, the students were taken on a journey. Topics covered included the symbolism and spirituality aspect of an icon, together with the practical side of icon writing. The school now offers short eight-week courses throughout the year, held on eight consecutive Saturday afternoons. Please refer to Facebook for dates and times or contact the Abbot of Saint John Monastery, Fr Prodromos at .

The Course

Iconography courses are held on the grounds of the Monastery. These courses have been successfully held since 2008 and have given people of 10 years of age and above an introduction into the ancient art of Byzantine Iconography. Some students have continued to write some very detailed and indeed special icons. In the introductory course, you will be guided through a step-by-step process to write an icon using the traditional technique known as ‘egg tempera’ which has been used within traditional Orthodox Iconography from the Byzantine times.

Testimonies and experiences during the iconography course

“My eyes have opened; I now see icons in a different light…”
“Iconography has brought me closer to God…”
“It’s like the curtains have opened, I now see things differently…”
“Through Iconography I’ve learnt more about my faith…”

Course information

Location: Holy Monastery of Saint John, 280 Holmes Road Forrestfield
When: The course runs for 8 weeks comprising 8 x 3 hour lessons. Next course: To be advised
Cost: $330 for tuition and all materials; gold leaf, course notes, board, pigments, brushes etc. Previous students will pay for tuition and any required materials.
Prerequisites: No experience is required, you just need an open heart.
Reservations: To make a reservation or enquire about the course please contact Peter Kakulas, course teacher on 0417957688 or , open to everyone from the age of 10 years.

Some student icons

What is an icon?

  • “The icon has the ability to invoke in me the memory of the forgotten depth of my own being. It enables me to see my true face, it orients me towards my destiny in God and this vision, this remembrance, this knowledge fills me with unspeakable joy and profound consolation.” Archimandrite Maximos Constas
  • The icon has a distinctively charismatic function you would say. It bears the energy and the grace of the sacred person whose image it projects.” Archimandrite Maximos Constas
  • “An icon is like a fire, how can you walk by an icon and not be warmed by it?”  Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra
  • “The icon is not a work of art, it’s not reducible to a work of art but rather it is a work of witness, an encounter with the sacred that makes use of art.” Archimandrite Maximos Constas
  • “Icons are not simply portraits but manifestations of human persons in their new heavenly condition. They are images of the spiritual character of human beings reborn as it were in the womb of eternity.” Archimandrite Maximos Constas

Iconography Symbolism Posters

Click here to view a simplified icon writing process and an example of the symbolic language in the icon of The Nativity.
Click here to see how we depict Christ in an icon and an example of the symbolic language in the icon of Christ being tempted in the desert.
Click here to see why an icon is not a representation, but rather a reflection of its source and how the reflection is achieved.

The Byzantine Choir


The Byzantine Choir of Saint John Monastery was established in 2015 by His Grace Bishop Emilianos of Meloa, who at the time was the Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Saint John, Perth, Western Australia. Since its establishment, the Choir is developing with the Grace of God, teaching the traditional Byzantine language of Orthodox chanting according to the style followed in the Simonopetra Monastery of Mt Athos. Since His Grace Bishop Emilianos became the Chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia in 2019, the leadership of the Choir has been taken over by Mr loan Ancuta, who diligently and humbly teaches the members of the Choir the Byzantine language of chanting and prepares them for all upcoming liturgies of the Monastery as well as ecclesiastical events of the Archdiocese in Perth. The Choir is now accepting new students. For more information, please contact the Abbot of Saint John Monastery, Fr Prodromos at .

Byzantine Chanting

The hymns that are sung (chanted) in the Orthodox Church have been to this day a priceless treasure. They are poems which have been written by inspired writers, which have amassed over many centuries and are to be found in the liturgical books of the Church. With these poems, the hymn-writer (and by extension whoever sings them) expresses his feelings, tries to speak to God and opening his heart gives thanks, glorifies and asks things from God.

Chanting Stand
Chanting Stand

Every hymn is a prayer to God. Some hymns contain teachings of our Faith taken from the Holy Bible, apocryphal sources and as taught by the Fathers of the Church at the Ecumenical Councils. In the early years, the Christians did not have their own hymns in their meetings, but they were using the psalms of David and other improvised prayers. The first Christian hymns were written in the second century AD. Hymn writing reached a peak from the fifth to the seventh century at the hands of several great melodists or hymnographers. Melodists are those who wrote both the hymns and the accompanying music. Hymnographers however, are those who wrote hymns that matched with music or tunes already familiar to the faithful. Most of the hymn-writers are also Saints, such as Saint Romanos the Melodist, Saint John of Damascus (who also wrote the basic principles of this psaltic art), and Theodore the Studite.

The hymns cannot show their deep beauty and their spiritual content without music. They were written to be sung. Church music complemented and decorated Church worship. During the first Christian centuries, the melodies were very simple. Later, with the development of hymnology, the melody improved. This music ultimately acquired the name Byzantine Music because it was shaped and developed during the Byzantine Period. The roots of Byzantine Music reach back to ancient Greek music. In fact, there are certain ancient manuscripts which have early Christian hymns topped with ancient Greek musical notation. Influences from Judaic and Syriac music were also blended in and the Byzantines take the credit for developing the music with a systematic musical notation.

The music of our Church has always been exclusively a capella. It does not use musical instruments, because it is considered that the human voice is the most appropriate instrument to praise God. Furthermore, the music is monophonic; that is, the faithful chant to God with one voice, along one and the same melodic line. Orthodox Church melody seeks to create a contrite atmosphere. The Greek word here is katanyxis, which literally means being pricked at the heart. Its aim is more so to help the faithful to understand the deeper content of the hymns, and participate spiritually, rather than providing a form of entertainment.

Byzantine music has its own musical notation. The seven notes of the basic scale are derived from the first seven letters of the Greek alphabet. There are eight ways of expression which are called modes. The first, second, third, and fourth modes; and the first plagal, second plagal, grave and fourth plagal modes. The modes have different base notes, different combination of notes (scales), different colour or feel. Interestingly, most modes have a flexibility in their scales which has notes moving from their normal positions according to ascent or descent or proximity to a dominant note.

Originally, the hymns were chanted by all the faithful in one accord because they were simple. Eventually, with the development and embellishment of the music, practicality forced the music into specialised and trained hands – those of the psaltes (chanters), who very often today have small choirs formed around them.

Rev. Gerasimos Koutsouras, Parish Priest of St. George-Rosebay (NSW)

(Excerpt from Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia)