Seraphim O’Keefe
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About the Artist

Painting at the James River.

Photo courtesy of Becky Huddleston

Ilaria and I with the icons I made for our wedding

I was born in 1982 in New York City with the name Conor O'Keefe and I grew up in Richmond, Virginia. My father is a visual artist and I grew up expecting to become one as well.

At age 17 I met a painter, Jonathan Wurdeman, also from Richmond, who had gone to Russia in search of true teachers of realism.  Jonathan became the first American to complete the rigorous Surikov institute in Russia. He then moved to the Republic of Georgia, and married a great Georgian folk singer.

Jonathan invited me to come with a few other  Americans for an intensive summer painting course. The teachers were Jonathan and his friend Ilya Yatsenko.  I instantly connected with this school of painting and with the beautiful life in Georgia.  Jonathan invited me to come back after high school as an apprentice. So I got my education living alongside my teachers in Georgia and in Russia, working very intensely and experiencing the richness and beauty of their life.

The village of Sighnaghi, Georgia, looking out on the Caucasus. This is where I studied with Jonathan.

Seeing the life of my teachers and friends, visiting the ancient monasteries and churches, and meeting many great men and women of God, I joined the Orthodox Christian Church in 2002. At that time, I took the name Seraphim, after St. Seraphim of Sarov.  Father Gheorghe Calciu of blessed memory was my spiritual father, and an amazing blessing in my life. He would often ask me to show him my paintings. I brought a collection of landscapes and portraits and he looked pleased, only saying “God bless you --- God bless you to be an iconographer!” I did not know what to make of his blessing at that time.

Between studies, I spent time in monasteries in Georgia and in America. I became a novice in 2003 under Metropolitan Davit of Alaverdi. He gave me the blessing to learn iconography and brought teachers and materials for me. I only was able to endure fourteen months of the intense monastic life there, and then I went back to continue my studies in realist painting. However, the seeds of iconography had been planted.

A year before our wedding, my wife Ilaria and I spent two months at the St. Innocent’s Academy in Kodiak, Alaska. There I did many tasks relating to iconography, crowned with an unexpected blessing to write the icon of the Mother of God for their iconostasis. As we left the Academy, the priest there, Fr. Paisius, said “you HAVE to learn iconography!” Even though I think he was just expressing his enthusiasm for the work I had done, this blessing really resounded for me, and I felt a great zeal to take up this work in earnest.

The icon I wrote for St. Innocent’s Academy. This is in oil paint, before I had learned to use egg tempera.

Soon after, I went to the Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY, where they taught me to use egg tempera and showed me their technique. I have also had the honor of receiving attentive guidance from Fr. Andrew Tregubov, as well as the valuable advise and friendship of Dmitri Andreyev. Since Ilaria and I were married in August 2010, I have been working primarily in iconography, and it is a wonderful life!