Icons — paintings that represent saints, Jesus, the Virgin Mary and biblical events — are a staple of Greek Orthodox churches, said Father Seraphim Ramos, the second priest of St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in southwest Las Vegas.
The church raised $400,000 to install new icons on the church walls. The four iconographers the church hired arrived from Greece during Easter holy week, at the end of April, and will remain working on the icons through June.
“Icons have two purposes,” said Father John Hondros, the presiding parish priest of St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church. “One is that they are vessels of grace that bring the reality of Christ and of saints into our midst. Sometimes we have miracle-working icons that have healing properties, and they become the means through which we learn about the faith, learn about how Christ and the saints lived.”
Ramos added that many of the saints depicted on the walls of the church were martyrs, dying for the faith.
“We are not interested so much in the wood or the gold of the icon, but we love that person,” Ramos said. “So if you imagine in a warrior in Iraq and he takes out a picture of his wife and he kisses it, it is a nice piece of paper, but he loves his wife.”
The church ran into some problems with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services when trying to get the Greek iconographers to the United States.
The iconographers were detained in Chicago because of visa and paperwork issues, Hondros said. Their trip was delayed 14 months and was more expensive than planned. They finally arrived at the end of April.
The iconographers had painted the icons onto canvases, and the canvases are plastered onto the church walls. An iconographer creates holy depictions to be used in prayer in churches.
On May 1, the iconographers were putting gold leaf over parts of the icons and church walls.
One of them, Andromachi Voutsinas, of Thessaloniki, Greece, worked on some of the first icons in the Las Vegas church with her late father, Christofauis, in 2002.
Hondros said church attendees, particularly future brides, will be happy when the scaffolding along the church walls is taken down to present the newly installed icons. The scaffolding had been up for just over two years, waiting for the iconographers to arrive.
About Eastern Orthodox Church
It is one of the three main Christian religious groups. About 200 million people follow the Orthodox teachings.
The Eastern Orthodox Church shares the belief with other Christian churches that God revealed himself in Jesus Christ; they believe in the incarnation of Christ, his crucifixion and his resurrection.
About St. John the Baptist church
St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church was built in 1993 and has been installing icons in waves over the years. The first installation was in 2002, and the second was in 2005-06.
It holds services at 10 a.m. Sundays. For more information about parish events, visit vegasgreekorthodox.com.