Scenes of divinity: Greek iconography team to complete work in local church

March 19, 2019

A renowned Byzantine iconographer from Athens, Greece, and his team of four master artists will spend just a month in Pocatello when they arrive this fall to ply their ancient craft.

When their brief visit ends, the interior of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church will be completely covered by rich, distinctive works of art, embodying the core tenants of the early Christian church.

In the summer of 2014, in conjunction with a major renovation of the Pocatello church, George Kordis and his team spent about a month creating fresco-like spiritual scenes, covering the interior of the church’s dome and its central apse, which houses the holy altar. They’ll return this fall to finish their project — transforming the interior of the historic church building into a masterpiece of spiritual art, in the style of the fourth century.

“You’re not going to see anything like this in the Intermountain West,” said Father Constantine Zozos, the local congregation’s spiritual leader.

Zozos explained the artists work from early morning until late night, sketching spiritual scenes on the walls in charcoal. They work from memory, take no measurements and make no mistakes. They’re among the best at what they do. The head of their team, Kordis, is described on one website about Byzantine iconography as “one of the most important representatives of the revival of the icon.”

The church, located at 518 N. Fifth Ave., printed a pamphlet about the building’s enhanced interior for its 100-year anniversary. The pamphlet explains, “The art and architecture are designed to contribute to the total experience of worship, which involves one’s intellect, feelings and senses.”

During their previous visit, the team of iconographers painted the dome to represent “God having bowed the heavens in humbling himself to take on flesh.” The dome’s central icon is Christ the Pantokrator, which means creator of all. He is surrounded by ministering angels, and likenesses of prophets who foretold the coming of Christ cover the drum of the dome. Greek letters painted within the dome are translated as “God Almighty.”

Some forthcoming scenes will depict the life of Christ and his major feast days. Secondary icons of individual saints to adorn the sidewalls were chosen by Zozos and Kordis.

“They’re theology in paint, and most of them are scripturally based,” Zozos said.

The most prominent image in the central apse is the icon of the Virgin Mary, known as the Theotokos, with the Christ Child. The icon is titled “More Spacious than the Heavens,” recognizing her role in the “incarnation of the Son of God.”

The narthex, which is the foyer near the church entrance, houses a large icon depicting a story from Genesis, when Abraham and his wife Sarah were visited by three angels, representing God the Father, Christ and the Holy Spirit.

After the renovation, the church had its interior walls painted with a special paint made in Germany, designed to meld with the highly specialized type of paint the iconographers will use.

When the artists return, they’ll fill in any blank spaces with scenes from scripture and other holy images. They’ll add four angels to the ceiling, who will appear to be holding up the dome. The remainder of the ceiling will be painted with blue night sky and stars.

About 13 biblical scenes will be painted over the curved area where the church’s side walls meet the ceiling.

“Every area of the walls will be painted,” Zozos said.

The building, itself, is historically significant, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The parish is 104 years old, and Zozos said the church is one of the oldest buildings in Pocatello that’s still in use.

“Our church is the third oldest active Greek Orthodox church in America,” Zozos said.

For about a century, the interior walls and dome were plain. During the renovation, the parish repaired the ceiling and replaced the cracking dome with a new structure. The bell tower was also overhauled. Donations and funds from the parish’s annual Greek Festival have supported the project.

Members gathered in their adjacent social hall for services during the renovation. The social hall was a wooden military building that was relocated from the Pocatello Regional Airport in the 1940s. The church dug a basement and surrounded the social hall with brick. Zozos said the social hall is also planned for a renovation.

Zozos said the parish has about 125 member families, including life-long members and many who converted to the orthodox faith. Services are predominately in English.