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European artists paint icons at Orthodox church in Loveland

February 21, 2019

LOVELAND, Colo. (AP) — Christos Paleoxaris spent last Friday perched on a small scaffold platform 20 or so feet above the marble floor below, using a paintbrush to carefully fill in a larger-than-life painting of Jesus Christ.

Though the prospect of standing — never mind painting — at such heights might be enough to make many people queasy, this was just another day at the office for Paleoxaris.

Except that Paleoxaris’ office is, in this case, the nave of Loveland’s St. Spyridon Orthodox Church, where Paleoxaris was working with a team of Athens- and Barcelona-based artists led by iconographer Leonidas Diamantopoulos, who had been charged with painting a series of Greek Orthodox icons onto the walls above the altar.

The installation of the icons, which are a sacred tradition in Orthodox Christian churches, is one of the final steps in the church’s yearlong renovation that involved a major building expansion and an overhaul of much of the interior.

Among the images being painted by Diamantopoulos’ crew are those of Christ sharing a final meal with his disciples before his crucifixion, which is referred to as the Mystical Supper in the Orthodox Church.

Another image at the bottom of the grouping shows the mother of Christ, called the Theotokos, or God-bearer, in the Orthodox Church, holding the young Jesus while flanked by two angels.

The apse, a large semicircular recess in the wall that is reminiscent of a dome, will meanwhile contain an iconic image depicting Christ as the ruler of the universe called Pantocrator or “the Almighty.”

“Some people see these icons and think they are some sort of idol,” said Loveland resident Katy Vicory, an expert on Orthodox icons who attends St. Spyridon. “They are really supposed to bring the presence of the subject they depict to you so you are surrounded by saints, in effect.”

Vicory explained that the installation was a multipart process that began with the workers painting the icon figures onto flat canvases at their studio in Greece.

The canvases were shipped to Loveland, and the painters then applied them to the walls and painted in the rest of the backgrounds directly onto the surface surrounding the icons until they filled the walls.

The entire installation process took about four days. Earlier, the iconography crew worked on projects at two Greek Orthodox churches in the Denver area.

Paleoxaris, whose father was a priest, said he became an icon painter after realizing he had an artistic talent that he could “blend with religion to do this holy work.” As a result, the job is “not just work” but something more significant, he said.

“To be able to do this is our blessing, and we do it from our hearts and our souls,” he said through a translator Friday. “We do this because we believe and have the opportunity serve our Father in this way.”

To paint such icons, an iconographer has to learn not just to be a proficient artist but the traditions of the Orthodox Church and its iconography.

“You don’t just slap any colors up there,” Alenandros Charito, who began painting with the group five years ago, said through a translator. “There is a specific way we must do it.”

He compared them to icons on a computer screen, which are used to open programs.

“These icons are an opening to the mysteries of God,” Charito said.

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Information from: Loveland Daily Reporter-Herald, http://www.reporterherald.com/