Embroidery for the Modern Church

By Fr. Patrick O'Rourke on June 28, 2012

In 1995, a small unused room in the Icon Painting School at the Moscow Orthodox Theological Academy was converted into a studio for a single student interested in the lost art of church embroidery. This became the Pictorial Embroidery Department of the Icon Painting School housed in a larger facility within the famous Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra outside of Moscow, and takes on three or four students each year. Combining the spiritual guidance of the Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra, the expertise of the oldest iconography school in Russia, intensive personal instruction, and access to one of the finest collections of Orthodox liturgical art in the world (the Lavra’s vestry), the department produces some of the very best ecclesial embroidery in the world, and its graduates are true masters of their craft.

One such master and graduate, Olga Fishchuk, who oversaw a team of embroiderers that made the epitaphion below, will be coming to the United States from September 28 to October 3 with Hexaemeron to teach up to 8 students the basics of this beautiful and noble art.

Hand-embroidered Epitaphion

For several reasons, this is an important development for the Orthodox Church in this country. In a milieu in which iconography is the “brand” for Orthodoxy, the other liturgical arts suffer from underexposure and general indifference. There are very many amateur iconographers who don’t possess a full enough skill set to produce fine, traditionally painted icons for the Church. Ecclesial embroidery is a different matter. There exists a natural range of applications for embroidery which is not present in painted iconography. The less advanced skills can be used to produce beautiful and useful objects for the Church. Communion towels, baptismal garments, rushnyky (icon linens), and even altar cloths and vestments could be executed using the basic stitches and techniques Ms. Fishchuk will teach in her workshop. These skills could be built upon until the amateur reaches a true mastery of the art, producing such fine iconographic embroidery as these by Ms. Fishchuk:

Deesis on a velvet mitre.

St. Sergius of Radonezh

Archangel Gabriel for a bishop’s mantle.

North America has a strong tradition of embroidery and many people still practice the basic skills needed for its ecclesial applications. This translation of American embroidery into the lexicon of Orthodox liturgical art may be one of the clearest avenues toward not only beautifying our churches with hand-crafted embellishment, but also toward developing an indigenous American, Orthodox aesthetic.

Please read Ms. Fishchuk’s article about her art here, and be sure to look at some of the other gorgeous embroidery on her site.

Posted in ,


  1. Else T on June 28, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    Truly wonderful. As a needleworker, I know how much work these items take, but each stitch must bring great peace to stitcher and viewer!

Our Sponsors