Iconography at St. Andrew's Greek Orthodox Church restored
Images more than decoration, priest says
Nikolaos Labropoulos, from left, Nick Giannakakis, George Papastamatiou, and Marko Malanowksi stand before the restoration in progress at St. Andrew's Greek Orthodox Church in South Bend. All except Giannakakis are with Byzantine Artworks, LLC of Newtonville, Mass. (Tribune Photo/BARBARA ALLISON)
But the purpose of this sacred art is often misunderstood, according to the Rev. George Konstantopoulos.
He is priest of the church on North Ironwood Road filled with countless icons, or painted images, of Christ, the Virgin Mary and other holy individuals and events.
“Many Protestants have a misconception about iconography,” Konstantopoulos says. “They are convinced we use them for idolatry, that we worship the images.”
The reality is quite the opposite, he says. The iconography “is an instructional tool of the church, not just to decorate the walls but to teach theology of the church.”
He said that among other things, the veneration of icons functions as a means of worshipping God.
One thing there is no mistaking is the importance of the icons to the church.
That's why master iconographer George S. Papastamatiou of Newtonville, Mass., a native of Greece, spent this week restoring the iconography on the ceiling dome of Saint Andrew.
Papastamatiou, co-owner of Byzantine Artworks LLC, was the original iconographer on the dome who repaired leak damage 25 years ago.
At that time, imitation gold was placed on the dome. This time, 23-carat gold was applied in the form of 15,600 gold-leaf squares.
Working from extensive scaffolding high above the pews, Papastamatiou and his crew removed from the dome the canvases containing the paintings. They restored the wall and then put the canvases back in place.
They also touched up the paintings, following Byzantine guidelines that date back to around 500 A.D., according to the “Guide to Byzantine Iconography” by Constantine Cavarnos.
George Panagakos, general manager of Byzantine Artworks, says “there is no allowance for personal expression in this kind of painting because there has developed over the centuries certain theological meanings within the icon.”
He said iconographers follow a prescribed framework. However, Panagakos notes the rules are not so rigid that all painted icons are exact duplicates. “There is personal expression in various things with the iconographer and you can distinguish the work of different iconographers,” he says.
The Rev. Konstantopoulos says the practice of venerating icons has existed “since the inception of Christianity, when early Christians were tortured and martyred.”
He says Roman Catholics understand the role of icons. “They share the tradition.”
Like many of the first generation of worshippers at Saint Andrew, Konstantopoulos was born in Greece and came to the United States as an 11-year-old.
He has been priest at Saint Andrew for 11 years after serving 20 years in Tampa, Fla.
The parish itself is 85 years old, and the current building is only about 35 years old.
The church's icons are not on the dome only; they are everywhere you turn in the form of frescoes and mosaics; never statues.
The focal point of the dome is what Konstantopoulos calls the “all-ruling Christ as the judge.” He is surrounded by angels, and below them are prophets and evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Leading a visitor through the church, Konstantopoulos explains the meaning of every icon from the vestibule in the rear of the sanctuary to the holy altar.
At the front of the nave, or sanctuary, is an iconostasis, a wall of icons and paintings. On top is the Mystical Supper (“not the Last Supper,” Konstantopoulos says, “because it is the beginning of the establishment of the holy Eucharist”). Beneath that are icons of Christ, the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist.
Smaller icons depict some of the images of events in the life of Christ, such as the raising of Lazarus, Christ entering Jerusalem and the crucifixion and resurrection.
More icons and relics are in the holy altar.
Of the role of icons, Konstantopoulos says “for the orthodox Christian, the consecrated church becomes heaven and earth. Everything that surrounds him in the church reminds him of wherever God is, wherever Christ is.
“… He is not distracted by anything he leaves behind in a secular world. It becomes a true communion between the Christian believer and God.”
Staff writer Kirby Sprouls: firstname.lastname@example.org 574-235-6233