On the weekend of February 13, as president at North Carolina State University, I was lucky enough to host Fr. Anthony Salzman and Presbytera Christine from St. Philothea Greek Orthodox Church of Athens, GA (OCF spiritual advisor for the Southeast), Fr. Jon Emanuelson of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church of Wilmington, NC (spiritual advisor for our district), and our North Carolina district student leader John Shelton for a weekend with our chapters for our District Retreat. The theme of this weekend, which coincided with Valentine’s Day, was “Love Is Eternal” (John 3:16). The weekend was filled with fellowship, service, and worship as we all learned together the importance of loving ourselves, our neighbors, and our God.
We started the weekend a little early on Thursday with Fr. Anthony and Presbytera Christine having a table setup in the main Student Union at North Carolina State University. At the table, Fr. Anthony painted an icon of St. Paraskevi as onlookers approached the table with curious eyes and in awe of the beauty of the icon. Fr. Anthony and Presbytera Christine were actively engaged with the students at North Carolina State University and invited the students to join them in the lecture that would occur later that evening. Fr. Anthony gave a lecture entitled, “Byzantine Iconography: Theology in Color – The Meaning of Byzantine Iconography” which was a beautiful lecture dedicated to the history and uncommon elegance that Byzantine iconography has offered in the past and in the present. The Salzmans were also able to visit nearby Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill to talk with students.
For the Saturday event, students from all over North Carolina all came to Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church of Raleigh, North Carolina to spend time together to serve, pray, and worship in the church. We began the day with a beautiful lunch of pastitsio and spanakopita graciously provided by Philoptochos through our wonderful OCF liaison Katerina Knezevic. After our lunch, we introduced ourselves through icebreakers and games. Our next step was to journey into the church for our service project which consisted of cleaning the church, the altar, the narthex, and the solea.
After cleaning the church, we all took part in Fr. Anthony’s lecture with the theme, “Love Is Eternal.” Fr. Anthony discussed the importance of love and how it is manifest in many teachings of the church. We also openly talked about the importance which involves not going into the extremes in any of the cases we deal with in college, but rather having an equal balance of faith and fun. We then transitioned into a beautiful Vespers that was an intimate and pleasing way to wrap up our events of our day at church. After Vespers, we went to the home of Fr. Paul and Presbytera Mary Christy where we were treated to an extravagant meal by the hands of Yianni Theodorou, one of Holy Trinity’s chanters.
In the morning, we all attended church together in the first three pews and celebrated the Divine Liturgy served by Fr. Anthony. After his sermon, we thanked the community for hosting us and the Salzmans for being our special guests, and we enjoyed breakfast from the Philoptochos of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church of Wilmington, NC, who had sent treats with Fr. Jon. Overall, this weekend showed the importance of getting together and communing with the Orthodox mindset. We all grew together in the theme “Love Is Eternal” and cannot wait to meet up again at the regional WorkDaze retreat in March!
Gabriella Christy is a Senior Psychology major at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. The daughter of Father Paul and Presvytera Mary from Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, Gaby has been the president of the NC State Chapter for two years. Upon graduation in May, she will pursue graduate studies in the fall.
I’d be willing to bet, that if a poll were taken of the world’s most beautiful churches, the list would be of the great cathedrals in Greece, the Holy Land, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, and Russia. While of course the grand and stately churches and cathedrals we conjure in our minds are in fact beautiful, there are many more that are no bigger than a standard American two-car garage.
The following 30 photos take a tour of the theology of space, and how it gets really personal the smaller it gets. Enjoy!
1. Private Chapel in Turin, New York
This chapel in upstate New York was a labor of love for Charles “Ed” Scherneck, who spentt twenty years building it completely from scratch. Unfortunately, it was left unfinished at the time of his death in 2003, and was auctioned off in a state of disrepair last fall.
2. Holy Trinity Chapel, Antarctica
Built entirely of real Siberian Pine, this Holy Trinity Chapel was reassembled half a world away from its original construction to serve Russian researchers in Antarctica.
3. Athens International Airport Chapel
The chapel inside Athens International Airport, though officially nondenominational, puts a particularly tasteful spin on Orthodox modernism. Hopefully it provides much needed peace from the stress of travel.
4. St. John’s Monastery in Goldendale, Washington
St. John’s Monastery shows how a beautiful Iconostasis can go a long way – balancing Orthodox spirituality with some HGTV sensibility!
5. St. Paraskeva Chapel, Trans-Siberian Railway, Russia
This chapel is housed in the last car of a fully-equipped hospital train which makes monthly trips on the Trans-Siberian railway to serve communities with little access to either health or pastoral care.
6. Orthodox Military Chapel in Kandahar, Afghanistan
This chapel was built on the NATO base in Kandahar, Afghanistan based on designs of wooden Romanian Churches from Transylvania. It has served as the home parish for countless soldiers deployed to Afghanistan.
7. Holy Trinity Church, Holy Dormition Monastery of the Caves in Kyiv, Ukraine
This church sits atop the “Economic Gates” of the monastery hardly has enough room for a small car to pass below. According to ancient Ukrainian architectural custom, a church was built over every gateway into a fortress or city. This was done for two reasons: firstly, to remind a visitor from outside of the city that they were entering a holy place, and can thank God for arriving safely, and secondly, for people to pray for protection before venturing out into the unprotected wilderness beyond the city limits.
8. Church of the Mother of God in Biały Bór, Poland
This church was designed by Jerzy Nowosielski, a Polish graphic artist and iconographer in the mid 1990s. Critics condemn this church’s unconventional design, but Nowosielski dug deep into the theology of Early Byzantine Liturgical spaces. He was also inspired by the timeless drama he found in Liturgy, “as a person who is well nigh obsessively concerned with liturgical questions, I consider the Christian liturgy to be a transformation of the Greek theater.” As such, the arches, stairways, and columns directly allude to ancient Greek stages.
9. St. Seraphim Church in Walshingham, Norfolk, England
Built into the arches of the former waiting area of an abandoned train station, St. Seraphim also hosts one of the most sought-after schools of iconography in the United Kingdom.
10. The Russian Orthodox Chapel at Sylvanès Abbey, France
This charming chapel sits deep in the Pyrenees and sponsored by the local Roman Catholic Diocese as an act of good will to the small local Orthodox community. The wooden construction was built in Russia, then shipped to its current location in four modular pieces.
11. St. Nicholas Chapel on the battleship Gregorios Averof, Greece
Dedicated to the intercessor of sailors, this chapel sits inside of the Greek Navy’s flagship.
12. Holy Trinity Monastery in Bodenwerder, Germany
This secluded monastery hosts a beautiful chapel with some striking iconography in a really intimate space.
13. Church of the Three-Handed Mother of God in Tallinn, Estonia
Carved out of a medieval arsenal, this tiny church dedicated to the icon of the Three-Handed Mother of God has a beautifully rustic iconostasis.
14. Romanian Village church
This teeny church in Romania shows the best of religious folk art.
15. Chapel of St. Michael the Archangel in Hungary
This chapel was dedicated in 2001 in the attic of a formerly state-owned library in Hungary.
16. St. Olav Chapel in Folldal, Norway
The chapel was built in 2003 at Steinhaugen farm in Central Norway following traditional Norwegian farm building architecture.
17. Monastery of St Antony and St Cuthbert in Shropshire, England
This monastery chapel is a truly meditative place part of a monastery in the heart of rural England. The icons were written by the hand of Aidan Hart.
18. Emmaus House, Harlem, New York
The Emmaus House is a refuge for homeless in Harlem. Not only can they go to the Emmaus House to pray, it’s also the most active Eastern Christian food pantry in New York.
19. St. George Chapel in Jerusalem
This pilgrims’ chapel is misleading in size, but look at the Cathedra on the right, and it’s clear that a normal-sized priest wouldn’t even fit under the Iconostasis without bending his neck.
20. Monastery of the Transfiguration in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania
This monastery chapel achieves the intended effect of making the faithful feel like they’re surrounded by the mysterious and comforting presence of God.
21. Pilgrims’ chapel in Bethlehem.
Another pilgrims’ chapel in the Holy Land, this one is carved in a cave not too far from where Jesus was born.
22. The Shrine, Little Walsingham, Norfolk, England
Meant to be an ecumenical house of worship, the Shrine, as its known, hosts a series of small prayer rooms for members of various faiths.
23. Uzhorod Castle Chapel
This chapel offers an interesting social commentary on what it means to be royalty, and where the sanctuary is in relation to the nave.
24. Private Chapel to St. John Climacus in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine
A former rec room, this family decided to create a chapel to one of the greatest monastics in their own home. It gives whole new meaning to “the domestic Church.”
25. Private Chapel of Viktor Yanukovcyh at Mezhyhirya
The line between beautiful and gaudy was crossed by Ukraine’s former president when he built this chapel attached to his bedroom. Notably, he completely leveled what remained of a 10th century women’s monastery to build this monument to himself. Not all church constructions are well-intentioned, unfortunately.
26. Dormition Chapel in Kom, Montenegro
Beautiful in its simplicity, the sun illuminates the sanctuary of this monastery chapel.
27. St. Nicholas Chapel in a suburb of Kyiv, Ukraine.
This chapel was built in a village outside of Kyiv for people who don’t think a church can ever be too close to home: the back yard.
28. St. Barlaam Chapel, Kyiv Monastery of the Caves, Ukraine
This chapel of St. Barlaam was dug out in the eleventh century and rests more than sixty feet below ground. The holy imperishable relics of St. Barlaam, who lived and died in same place as this chapel is today, rest to the right of this picture, out of frame. He is known for being the first abbot of the monastery.
29. St. Nicholas Chapel in Toronto, Ontario
Tucked between office buildings in Toronto’s financial district, this chapel provides an intimate setting for prayer amid the city’s bustle.
30. St. Sabbas in Harper Woods, Michigan
Part of a monastery complex in suburban Detroit, this chapel welcomes visitors from the imperial-Russian-inspired restaurant next door.
This week’s campus question:
What’s up with all the pictures? Isn’t that like idol worship? Doesn’t the Bible forbid that?
Explaining iconography to someone who doesn’t pray with icons can be a little daunting. For us Orthodox, it’s as natural and normal as reading the Gospel, and we all sort of instinctively know that we’re not worshiping the icons. So what does the Bible say about images, and why do we have icons?
First off, typically when people try to say that the Bible forbids icons or images they are referring to the Ten Commandments:
You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
Some Christians throughout history have interpreted this passage to mean that no religious images or visual art are allowed by God. In fact, the Church struggled with this issue throughout the eighth and ninth centuries finally defeating iconoclasm and upholding the use of icons in worship, a day we celebrate every year on the Triumph of Orthodoxy. The Church made clear the position of images in the worship of the Church and their relationship to the second commandment:
The Triumph of Orthodoxy. We even have an icon about icons. Image from Wikimedia
- The Incarnation is a game-changer. Christ made visible the invisible God, and thus it is allowed that images of Him be depicted.
- Icons depict real people. The second commandment protects us from creating fantastical creatures that replace the true God. Icons depict real people and events that draw us to the true God.
- Worship and veneration are not the same. Worshiping an idol is the equivalent of replacing God with a created thing (or ideology or passion). Venerating an icon is an act of respect and love that glorifies the Creator (sort of like saluting to a soldier is an act of respect and honor that shows your loyalty to your country).
- God instructed Moses to create images. Just in case anyone thought God’s commandment to Moses excluded all visual images of anything as idols, check out Exodus 36:35-37:9 where, per the instructions of God, Moses has images of cherubim embroidered into the curtains of the tabernacle and statues of the same cast for the Ark of the Covenant.
Obviously, then, it is not images that are an issue, but our relationship to images. So what do icons do for us and why do we love them?
- Icons teach us our history. In the early Church, never mind the fact that there was no official New Testament canon for almost 400 years, there were very few copies of the Scriptures (no printing press), and not all Christians were literate. Even today, we have a huge contingency of Christians who do not read–you know, everyone under the age of five. Icons teach us the stories of Scripture and the lives of the saints–the whole story of salvation–and invite us to be a part of that history.
- Icons teach us our theology. Icons are no ordinary paintings. They are full of symbolic meaning to convey the theological truths of the True Faith. From the colors to the stances of the people, to the scenery and lighting, icons teach us who God is, and who we are in relation to Him. For example, in most of the festal icons of Christ (Nativity, Theophany, Crucifixion, Resurrection), you’ll notice that Christ is the Light emerging from the darkness (of the cave, the water, Golgotha, Hades). Or you’ll typically see Christ wearing a red tunic with a blue cloak, showing us that he was divine (red) but took on humanity (blue), and his mother is typically dressed opposite as she–and we–are human (blue) who take on Christ’s divinity (red).
- Icons draw us near to the saints. We believe in a Church that is united across both space and time. In other words, the saints that have preceded us are just as much a part of the Living Body of Christ as our own friends and family. Just as we might cherish an image of a loved one who is no longer physically with us (and we might carry that image with us or even kiss it when we miss them), we cherish the images of Christ, His mother, and the saints as images of those we love and who guide us in our own lives.
- Icons call us to be still and worship. Unlike other forms of visual art, Orthodox iconography is specifically created with worship in mind. There is a stillness and a peace about the figures, even when they are shown “in action.” What seems to be a reverse in perspective is a message to us that it is we who vanish in the distance when we move away from God. Icons help us focus our prayers to God and help us dispel the distracting images that flit through our minds at the prompting of the demons.
- Icons call us to the heavenly realm. Everything about icons that we’ve already mentioned–their themes, their symbols, their characters, their artistic style–seek to draw us toward Christ and His holy ones. This is another reason that icons are not painted realistically; they are meant to draw us not to themselves, but beyond the images to the heavenly reality they depict. Unlike other art and certainly unlike idols, icons do not allow us to get stuck in the beauty of this world but call us to be a part of a world transfigured by God’s grace and love.
Having icons is not about having beautiful churches, though icons are certainly beautiful. They are not about worshiping wood and paint, though they are integral to how we worship. Icons are meant to give us glimpses of the world to come and who we can become in Christ. I am reminded that Bishop Thomas of the Antiochian Archdiocese once said to us at a College Conference
The walls of this church are lined with icons. The empty spaces are yours.