Sandy • It was love at first sight for Father Anthony Savas.
The moment in 2018 that he saw what had been the Western Garden and Atrium at 9201 S. 1300 East, the priest knew it would be the perfect home for his burgeoning parish: St. Anna Greek Orthodox Church.
It took more than a year for the congregation to buy the 16,000-square-foot building and begin transforming a retail establishment that had sold seeds, plants and trees into a sacred space.
They began by adding a bell tower and two crosses to the roof, and a mosaic icon from Italy to the side.
Now Greek artisans are writing Byzantine iconography on the walls and ceiling of the inner sanctuary.
An icon is not “painted,” says Father Tony, as he is called by his friends. “It is written.”
In painting, the artist’s creativity and interpretations dominate, he explains. With iconography, those elements are removed.
The style and color of icons follow ancient traditions.
“The scenes are doctrinal,” Savas says. “They are the visual depictions of the mind of God.”
Thus, an iconography crew led by George Kordis, who earned a doctorate in theology and aesthetics at the University of Athens, has been hard at work since Sept. 15.
Kordis composes scenes mostly in his mind, then draws the figures by hand on the walls, while his teammates fill in the lines and colors from paint pigments they have brought from Athens.
Soon the figure of Christ emerges over the altar space. Below him is an icon of Christ and the Virgin Mary depicted in the burning bush on Mount Sinai. An arch surrounds them, with images of six Old Testament forefathers and prophets, witnessing to the Messiah.
The western wall and area above the doors are dedicated to scenes from the life of Mary — her birth, her entering the temple at age 3 to live until being engaged to Joseph, and her death (“falling asleep”).
Artists work over half-drawn apostles, winged angels and doves.
Maria Panou was Kordis’ student, who studied classical painting.
“I learn by working,” she says, while wiping off brushes on her clothes. “Every time it’s totally different — there is always something new.”
Through it all, Panou says, “I have a big love for Mother Mary, but all the icons work in the same way.
Kordis has been doing iconography for 50 years, and St. Anna is his 45th church.
Some specifics are standard, but there are also adaptations based on the space.
For example, Christ normally is in the dome, but this church has no dome so the team had to work around that.
“I love the way things are connected, harmonious and rhythmic,” Kordis says. “When I finish a project, I am very, very tired but have a sweet feeling that we have served the community.”
Within a month or so after these icons are completed, the handcarved woodwork, especially the icon screen and chandeliers are due to arrive from Greece.
The hope, Savas says, is that the congregation will be worshipping in the sanctuary by Christmas (they have been using a side chapel).
Steve Simos, the parish council president, walks among the workers with awe and astonishment at what is emerging.
“I am not sure,” he says modestly, “we feel worthy to have such beautiful icons.”