More than 100 years after its construction, this local church is getting an artistic facelift
POCATELLO – One of the oldest Greek Orthodox churches in the United States is in Pocatello, and thanks to the generosity of the community, it’s getting a new paint job.
The ceiling, walls, and interior of the 104-year-old Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church will soon be adorned with icons depicting people and events in the Bible.
A team of five iconographers from Athens, Greece began the project earlier this month.
“This is going to be the only orthodox church, perhaps the only church, in the Dakotas or the Rockies where iconography will fill the entire sanctuary of the church,” Father Constantine Zozos tells EastIdahoNews.com.
George Kordis, the lead iconographer on the project, says the artistic renderings play a pivotal role in the church’s worship service.
“Icons are the most clear evidence of a historical person or event. If someone (or something) can be depicted, that means it was real. We use the icons as evidence of evangelical events,” Kordis says.
Kordis and his team are painting the images using a Byzantine style of art. The artists drew all the icons freehand before filling them in with a powder pigment from Germany, mixed with adhesive and water. And according to Zozos, it’s the same pigment used in the White House.
“We start with warm, dark colors and then we apply colder and lighter layers on that. This way, we build volume and create an energy that emanates from the surface towards the spectators,” Kordis says. “There are approximately seven or eight layers (to this project), but that’s not standard. It can be modified according to different conditions.”
Once the project is complete, there will be a total of 40 different individual icons, and dozens more depicting scenes from the life of Jesus Christ and many others. Some images will depict people and places known in history before the Bible was written, Zozos says, and will include some distinct characteristics.
“Faces (hands, ears, mouths, and so forth) are different than the natural faces of humans that we know because they represent the person from a glorified position,” says Zozos.
Worship services typically incorporate each of the five senses to help church members feel a closer connection to God, Zozos says, and icons are just one element used to aid in the spiritual experience of church members.
“We utilize icons to help us in our spirituality, our growth, ’til we connect with these individuals,” Zozos says. “People think that we worship icons. We do not worship icons. We only worship the Trinity. We venerate icons, the prototype, the person that it depicts.”
Incense and hymnography are other elements used in the worship service.
The roots of the Greek Orthodox Church can be traced back to the time of Christ, Zozos says, and members believe it is a continuation of the historic Christian church he established. Kordis says having a sanctuary filled with religious icons will bring a whole new level of spirituality to the worship experience.
“In the icons, we can see the faces of Christ, the Apostles or any other person (depicted),” Kordis says. “Since the icon carries the form of a person, it is already a Saint, a holy item.”
Zozos says the holiness and sacred nature of these icons is evident in the behavior of the artists during the creative process.
“They do things in a very spiritual way. They chant while they put these drawings and paintings on the walls. They pray. They fast. They’re wonderful individuals and we’re blessed to have them in our midst,” he says.
Kordis and his team first came to Pocatello in 2014 when the church was renovated in preparation for its 100th anniversary. Religious icons had never been included in the church up to that point, and Zozos felt it was time to change that.
The iconography project gained momentum because of Danny Thiros, a member of the church who passed from illness in 2017. Thiros was passionate about getting an icon placed on one of the walls. Zozos and others came together to raise funds for the project in his memory. Overwhelming support from the community led to the development of a much bigger project, and Kordis and his team were invited back to complete it.
Painting the icons is a labor love for Kordis and his team, and he says the rewarding part of it is the chance to help others feel more connected to Christ.
“If the people like what we do, and can pray better, consecrate (themselves) and serve better, that’s the best thing we can get from this work,” Kordis says.
The icons are slated for completion at the end of the month. Church members will experience the first worship service with the icons Sunday, Nov. 3. Zozos is planning a consecration ceremony and public viewing later this year.
“When you walk into an orthodox church, you definitely walk away from the secular world we’re in (and step into) a heavenly sphere. There’s no doubt about it,” says Zozos. “It’s quite moving and we hope that we will have an opportunity for people who are not members of the parish to come and see these (icons) and be inspired by them.”
To view the icons or attend services, visit the Blessed Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church at 518 North 5th Ave. in Pocatello. Services begin at 10 a.m. on Sunday.