Personal witness: Artist raised in atheistic communist USSR finds Christ

Faith-themed exhibit now on display at COR at 220 East in Waterloo

I was born and raised in the former Soviet Union. I came to America in 1992 as a 21-year-old graduate exchange student, on scholarship to the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) where I received an M.A. in painting. At that time, such a chance was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

I am still amazed at the generosity of American people, who welcomed half a dozen Russians to experience the whole new world of studying abroad in the most desirable country on earth, the USA! My excitement about this country has not diminished at all, and my appreciation and gratitude for this gift has grown much stronger with passing years.

I learned how to paint back in Russia, but in America I became an artist. Somehow the essence of American freedom gave me the courage to show my art work to others and find my theme and my tune. The search for Christ began in my early teens. Most likely it was out of rebellion that I suspected a big lie in the Marxist teachings on materialism.

My parents, although not Christians themselves, contributed to the disillusion­ment in socialist reality: my Mom refused invitations to become a Communist Party member saying that all communists she knew were lazy, corrupted and ­power hungry; Dad was secretly listening to Radio Free America. My journey of faith was also fostered by the art history professor who referred students to the Bible to find out the meanings of pretty much every painting before the enlightenment. An old, kind lady on a train spoke to me so lovingly about Mary, mother of God. An assistant professor in after-grad school in St. Petersburg told us about Pantocrator, a depiction of Jesus in Eastern Christian art, in the series of lectures he designed, without the text books, to go along with the course. Looking back on earlier parts of my life from the distance of the decades that have passed, I can see now God the Father’s gentle way of revealing himself to me.

His last nudge that I felt on Russian soil came from my dear aunt who advised me to get baptized before I left for America. “It is for good luck,” she said, “There must be something there in the cross that Christians believe for so many centuries.” And so I did get baptized in a beautiful Russian Orthodox Church, but without a slightest idea about the mystery, just like an infant, unaware of the grace bestowed upon me.

I met a few Christians at UNI, one of them an English teacher, with whom I loved to talk about my budding faith. Another was my future husband, whose Catholic faith was so attractive. He took me to Mass on a date every Sunday. I cried in church for the first month, not knowing the reason behind the tears. He and his family were the most beautiful Christian people, inside and out. I decided all Christians are (beautiful), and I wanted to become one of them. My husband was instrumental in the formation of my Catho­lic faith, but also in my artistic career. He told me: “Do what you do best in life — paint!”

All my doubts and questions about why I should become Catholic were answered as I learned to speak and to read my new language. First, apologetics came from the saints: Padre Pio and St. Therese the Little Flower. Deepest devotion and love of Mary came from St. Louis de Montfort. And from there on it has been an avalanche of life changing circumstances, books, friends, joys and tragedies: the perfect storm of life. My father died many years ago in Russia, and my mother and my sister still live there. I have been a 25-year member of St. Patrick Parish in Cedar Falls, and I am active in parish life. We have four children ages 13-24. When my life is over, I hope to be in the light of the clear blue heavens.

Ivaschenko-Jackson’s art exhibit titled “God is Love” is now on display at COR at 220 East, 220 E. Fourth St., Waterloo. The gathering space is sponsored by the Catholic parishes of Waterloo. The show will run through the month of May. The gallery is open Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 9 a.m.-12 p.m. and Wednesday 9 a.m.-1 p.m. More information on the artist can be found at: tatianajackson.com. For more on other events at COR, call 319-349-6710 or email cor220east@gmail.com.

 

Tatiana Ivaschenko-Jackson is shown with her husband at the opening of her exhibit Feb. 14 in Waterloo. (Contributed photo)