Icons at St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church in Watervliet
Icons at St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church in Watervliet
A local Ukrainian Catholic has released a hardcover book about the icons that cover the walls at St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church in Watervliet.

"Tales of Glory," a coffee-table-style book, is packed with full-color photography of the sacred artwork. Author Matthew W. Gaul considers the icons a tool for evangelism "through beauty.

"The modern world needs beauty," he told The Evangelist. "We live in a world that does not appreciate beautiful things."

Gazing at an icon, "you start to look at the rest of the world in a different way [and ask], 'Where can I go to become beautiful myself?'"

The book - which came about after years of reading and meditative prayer - dissects about 60 icons adorning the Watervliet church. One of Mr. Gaul's favorites is the scene depicting Jesus changing water into wine at the Cana wedding: If you look closely, the seals on the six water jugs show scenes of God providing sustenance to Israel.

"It's those little details," the author said. "They just pop. I loved finding out how biblically grounded a lot of this is - even the colors of things."

Priest's request
The administrator of St. Nicholas, Rev. Mikhail Myshchuk, asked Mr. Gaul to write a small book to explain the church's icons back in 2008. The author found the history and details "endless" and decided to turn it into "almost like a visitors' aid to any Eastern church."

Mr. Gaul has an English degree from Plattsburgh State University; his hobbies have included studying iconography and Greco-Roman secular art and collecting ancient coins.

"It's pretty meaty," he said of the book. "It's not a beach read. You leave it out on your coffee table."

Writing and editing "Tales of Glory" took about 400 hours; another parishioner did the layout. It was published by a small Catholic publisher and endorsed by the Catholic Writers Guild.

Mr. Gaul's research reaffirmed for him a lot of what he admires about iconography: "It never leaves its roots," having been influenced by Roman, Greek, Latin and Hebrew cultures, he said. "I really appreciate that sense of timelessness."

Iconography is not about ingenuity, the author said: "You're transmitting revelation through color."

West to East
Mr. Gaul is the son of retired Deacon William Gaul of the Albany Diocese. While the younger Gaul appreciated the Latin tradition in which he was raised, he sought out something different about a decade ago.

He called the process of checking out Eastern Catholic churches his "Goldilocks story," since Ukrainian parishes felt "just right."

Mr. Gaul said Eastern Catholic liturgies involve more incense, bells, gestures and repetitions.

"The first thing that hit me, besides the actual beauty of the churches themselves, [was] the poetry of the words [in the liturgy]," he said. "The east has a real understanding of the mystical value of the sensual in worship. Everything's longer, more thorough."

Beauty and wonder
The Eastern "mystagogy," he said, "precisely fit the hole in my soul that I always had but didn't know [I had]. You're just supposed to let all of this beauty wash over you. It forms you over the course of a lifetime."

The Eastern rite views God as very "other," he continued. "There's a sense of wonder and mystery. The Eastern Church has attained that ancient astonishment [and] preserved a sense of wonder."

He hopes his book can spread awareness about Eastern-rite Catholics and reconnect Western Catholics with "the mystical sense of liturgical life.

"There's a definite niche we can fill for the kind of person who's looking for something more rugged and timeless and slower - someone who's looking to step out of the fast-food culture [and have] that otherworldly experience they're not finding elsewhere."