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News Section: Religion

Icons transport and remind us of the coming Easter celebration

Published Sunday, February 28, 2010 8:00 pm

SARASOTA -- Transport yourself during the Season of Lent and journey through St. Barbara’s Greek Orthodox Church experiencing the transformative medium of icons.

The painted dome ceiling of St. Barbara's Orthodox Church serves as a stunning

example of iconic artistry.


Icons, in essence, date back to the first century because there was no written gospel. But at St. Barbara’s some of the oldest Biblical stories can be – literally – seen.


They are the great storytellers of the Bible, and pastor in residence Rev. Fr. Andrew J. Demotses said icons came to be regarded as a channel to God, prior to literacy. 


“Even though the gospel was translated orally, it would not have been of much use,” he said. “Most Christians were illiterate.”


Demotses added that when the scriptures that make up the Bible were placed in a definitive text, they were transferred into writing through the scribes and it was a very expensive service.


So, artists began to take the gospel stories and paint them.


“This is why iconography and icons have been a part of the church since early Christianity,” he said.


Walking through St. Barbara’s domed cathedral, one gets the sense that you could be anywhere, anytime. But that sense is, in a way, intentional.

Rev. Demotses said an iconographer can't just paint an icon, they have to follow a set of rules to create

the work of art.

He stands in front of "Resurrection."


Iconography dates back to early Christianity and the iconic images have been painted over and over, just in various artistic styles 


“First of all, you should know two things about icons,” Demotses said. “There are certain rules about painting an icon and an artist can’t just paint whatever they want.”


He said, pointing to the "Resurrection of Christ" icon in the church’s side chapel,  there are certain ways an icon must be depicted. Although, every iconographer has their own style.


For example, while observing the bold, clarity of colorful icons at  St. Barbara’s in Sarasota, you may notice that they were either painted or created through mosaic design.


But at St. Barbara’s in Connecticut, all the same iconic imagery was painted in soft, pastel colors.


“Both artists depict the icons in the same way,” the pastor said. “But each artist puts his own style into the creation of the icon.”


The mosaics in this local church were installed when this church was built. Although, the church people had hoped to have the entire sanctuary filled with mosaic icons, the expense was too much and the remaining icons were painted.


“They maintained the style using the same shapes are the same and borders identical to the mosaic icons,” he said.


But most importantly, the plan for the icons and their placement was of utmost important.


As you walk through the church, the first icon you see is the incarnation of the Virgin Mary, then stories of God’s revelations, then the Birth of Christ, Jesus Christ’s baptism and his ministry, the crucifixion, the resurrection and finally Pentecost.


“The icons finally end with Pentecost Sunday and the founding of the church,” he said. “The iconography has a plan to it and takes you through that very journey.”


Off to the right side of the church is a small chapel, adorned with stained glass icons and mosaic icons.

 The front of the church is lined with painted icons and mosaic icons of the saints that surround the "Virgin Mary."


In the front of that chapel is the icon of the “Resurrection of Christ” and the whole story behind the resurrection of Jesus Christ.


“When you have an icon, Christ is always dressed in royal purple and red,” he said. “Those are the colors of kingship.”


The only time when Christ is not painted in those colors is in the “Resurrection of Christ.”


“He is, instead, in blazing light - victorious over death and rising out of his own tomb,”  Demotses said.


In this icon, Christ is pulling Adam and Eve with him and on the other side of Christ is John the Baptist.


Profits and kings are also in the icon, joined by the gates of hell, where the souls of the departed have been freed through the “Resurrection of Christ.”


This magnificent icon tells the full story and reminds us of the Season of Lent and the upcoming Easter celebration.


“That’s why the early Christians found it so edifying to look at icons,” he said. “They could live through the images of the icons and the icon became a vehicle of grace for them.


“They add to the spiritual experience and transport us to another world.”



Video: St. Barbara's Orthodox Church Greek Glendi Festival



Erica Newport is a daily reporter for The Bradenton Times. She covers art, culture and community. If you have a story that might interest Erica, please e-mail her using address.  She also takes your questions related to our weekly theme days and provides advice and opinions for our readers.

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