Mabou Coal Mines native draws patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church

Sarah Rankin found herself drawing on childhood experiences during a recent three-month European getaway.

The 24-year-old from Mabou Coal Mines packed her fine arts studies from Mount Allison University and an itch to travel in her backpack and headed for Greece.

“When I got there I said, I’m going have to do something,” Rankin said.

She met up with a friend who worked in a music store in Athens and hung out for a bit with him and his buddy.

“I started drawing something,” Rankin said. “I hadn’t drawn since I left (high) school.

“So I started drawing his friend’s portrait, and his mom saw it and said she wanted to commission me to draw the bishop. I said ‘OK, that sounds great,’ and they throw 50 euros at you ($75 Cdn).”

But the subject she was commissioned to draw was no ordinary bishop. It was Bartholemew I, the ecumenical patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church, also known as the Eastern Orthodox Church. There are nine Eastern Orthodox patriarchs, but Bartholemew I of Constantinople is considered the de facto head of the church, the first among equals of the patriarchs.

“I was getting ready to do it and they said, ‘actually it’s the patriarch of the church and they are going to give it to him.’ I said, ‘Oh my God, I gotta do a good job because he’s going to see it.’ So I did a bigger piece, fairly large. It kind of took off from there.”

The Eastern Orthodox Church has more than 200 million followers and is the world’s second-largest Christian community, behind the Roman Catholic Church.

Rankin’s commission was actually at the behest of a smaller church union group in Greece and the drawing was to be presented to the patriarch on the occasion of his 25th anniversary as patriarch at the end of October.

“They published it in a diary of his 25-year enthronement and then they sent me a couple of copies of it. They had a big showing of what they were going to bring to him as gifts in Turkey.”

Rankin was invited to make the trip to Constantinople, officially renamed Istanbul nearly 90 years ago, for the presentation of her drawing to the patriarch.

“I was working at the time and I didn’t get the time off to go out there.”

The drawing, a mixed-media work in charcoal and graphite, is nearly a metre high and more than a half-metre wide. Rankin drew the portrait from a photo of the patriarch, featuring his long grey beard, black cassock and a black clerical kalimavkion on his head.

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