Iconography to decorate S. Carolina sanctuary

Phjoto by www.thestate.com
During the first service when Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in South Carolina moves back to the new sanctuary next month, Father Michael Platanis might look out upon a sanctuary full of chins. It will be hard for worshippers to take their eyes off the work of iconographer George Kordis 65 feet above on the dome, and on the edge of the dome, and on the windows, and on the walls. The stunning Byzantine-style images cover nearly every available space in the $6 million church’s sanctuary, using idealized images to tell the most important stories of the Bible.

Kordis and four associates have been climbing intricate layers of scaffolding since July 6, braving heat that grows more stifling as they near the top of the dome. Working in the hottest layer, at the very top of the dome, also required neck-aching contortions.  “It’s OK,” the soft-spoken Kordis said when asked about the difficult conditions. “We did it.”

These sorts of projects are a passion for Kordis, a Greek who lives in Athens. In addition to studying art, he has earned a doctorate degree in theology from the University of Athens. He teaches art there and is a visiting professor at Yale. While in Columbia this summer, he found time to teach an art course at USC. His work graces numerous monasteries and churches in Greece and Lebanon, but Holy Trinity is his first iconography project in the United States. Platanis met Kordis years ago when both were at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Boston. He knew of Kordis’ work since then and asked him to create the iconography for Holy Trinity’s new building.

The church opened the new sanctuary in March, then moved back out in early July to make room for the scaffolding. The first round of Kordis’ three-year project will finish in early August, and the permanent pews should be in the sanctuary in September, said Pete Currence, the church’s parish council president. Additional iconography will be added throughout the sprawling church complex, which occupies the block surrounded by Main, Sumter, Calhoun and Richland streets. Kordis will return several times in the next three years. Currence declined to say how much Kordis is being paid.

When worshippers return to the new sanctuary, they will look up to see the Christ Pantocrator, a traditional icon covering the center of the dome.“When we want to depict God, we depict Christ because he is God incarnate,” Kordis said. 

Mary and Joseph are on the next level, with a section of the 103rd Psalm written in Greek in a ring under them. Twenty prophets adorn the first section of less sloped wall. Many Greek Orthodox churches feature versions of these icons, but Holy Trinity’s walls had room for more. “One reason we wanted George was his creativity,” Currence said. “When he saw this space (on the lower walls of the dome structure), he said to himself, ‘I have to paint this.’”

Kordis told church officials of his ideas for depicting the biblical story of creation. “They accepted, and they gave us the opportunity to do it,” Kordis said. “Maybe this is the first time it has been done in a church like this.” Kordis and his associates rough out the images in charcoal then apply water-glass paint, first created in the 18th century specifically for murals. It’s a shame few people will have the treat of seeing the dome images up close, where the visible brush strokes and details speak to the creativity of the work.

Currence said the leaders of other Greek Orthodox churches in the US considering new sanctuaries have plans to visit Holy Trinity to check out Kordis’ work. And while the public is welcome at Holy Trinity’s services, the church also plans to offer tours during its annual Greek Festival.

Read more: www.thestate.com

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