14022Riverside Orthodox church will be "outpost of heaven."
- Oct 7, 2010http://www.pe.com/localnews/stories/PE_News_Local_D_orthodox06.3023587.html
Riverside Orthodox church will be "outpost of heaven."
By DAVID OLSON
The Press-Enterprise, Riverside, CA
Amid the noise, dust and strewn-about electrical cords of the construction project for Riverside's St. Andrew Orthodox Christian Church stood four tall bearded men in black.
The four monks, visiting Riverside from their Colorado monastery, were painstakingly painting a scene of Jesus offering communion to his disciples and trying to remain in a devotional frame of mind.
"Icons are always done in the spirit of prayer," Archbishop Gregory said in a hushed voice barely audible above the clamor, his black cap dotted with white dust. "We try to keep our minds on spiritual things."
The paintings on the dome, several sections of ceiling and wall, and wood panels for the altar are part of St. Andrews' effort to reach back to the style of the ancient churches that some parishioners attended in their homelands. Many congregants are immigrants from countries with large Orthodox populations, including Greece, Syria, Lebanon, Russia, Romania and Serbia.
The congregation has been in a smaller, less elaborate building next door since 2002 while it raised money for the new church. It spent a decade before that in other temporary quarters. The new church, which will cost more than $4 million, may be open by Christmas, although some features may not be installed until Easter.
Even after then, the parish will continue raising money so it can one day cover the entire interior of the church with paintings, said the Rev. Josiah Trenham, pastor of St. Andrew.
Icons, which include paintings, frescoes and other images of Jesus, the saints and other revered figures, are integral to Orthodox Christianity, which observes ancient rites and follows centuries-old traditions.
"Iconography is the scriptures in pictures," said Archbishop Gregory, who like other Orthodox monks stopped using his last name when he entered monastic life. "When we paint icons, it is like preaching the Gospel. It helps people to understand the faith."
Gregory, 65, is the leader of the small Genuine Orthodox Church of America, which is identical in most ways to the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church that St. Andrew is affiliated with. The monks financially support their monastery by painting icons.
The four monks will be in Riverside for about six weeks. They painted some of the icons on thin canvases in Colorado and are installing them in Riverside using a method that seamlessly blends them with the images they painted directly onto the walls and ceilings.
The interior of the central dome is already complete after a month of work, much of it with the monks holding their brushes above them as they stood atop steel scaffolding.
Jesus is depicted in the center of the dome, 55 feet above the ground. Behind the altar is a painting of the Virgin Mary and Jesus.
The placement of the icons is deliberate.
"You have a great sense of Christ in the heavens," Trenham said of the dome. "He's in glory on the right hand of the father and that can be far away until you look here."
Trenham then turned and gestured toward the Virgin Mary and a young Jesus on her lap.
"You have a sense of God being so far, but also so imminent, so close, that he's one of us," he said.
Mary's position between the ceiling and the floor represents how "heaven and earth are connected with the Virgin Mary, because that's where heaven came to earth in a little child," Trenham said.
The paintings will be only part of the church's hand-crafted beauty. Eight oak doors -- including two 12-foot-tall main doors -- are being fashioned in Turkey, and three master wood carvers from the country of Georgia are spending a year in Riverside creating 180 wooden chairs, two bishops' thrones and other furnishings. The marble will be from 12 quarries from around the world, the chandeliers from Greece.
Trenham said the attention to detail and quality is part of the Orthodox belief that a church is a sacred space and a tribute to God.
"The church is God's dwelling place," he said. "It's where he gives us innumerable blessings. He meets us in a special way here. We believe this will be a little beacon or outpost of heaven on earth."