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Church receiving a million-dollar makeover

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.telegram.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070205/NEWS/702050519/1008/NEWS02 Monday, February 5, 2007 Church receiving a million-dollar makeover By
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 5, 2007
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      Monday, February 5, 2007
      Church receiving a million-dollar makeover

      By Bronislaus B. Kush TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF

      WORCESTER— The Rev. Dennis Nagi doesn’t really
      mind if the eyes of his congregants sometimes
      wander about while he delivers his sermons at St.
      Mary’s Assumption Albanian Orthodox Church.

      He knows the distractions have nothing to do with his preaching.

      Almost six years ago, parishioners of the upper
      Salisbury Street church began a $1 million
      project to adorn the interior of their 350-seat
      house of worship with icons, or representations,
      of saints, Old Testament prophets, feast days and
      Biblical events considered sacred to Orthodox worshipers.

      The interior makeover won’t be completed until
      July or August, but the intricate work has
      already drawn enthusiastic reviews by members and visitors to the church.

      “Can you believe this?” said parishioner Michael
      Soter, gesturing to the colorful yet solemn icons
      filling up the wall and ceiling space of the Byzantine-style church.

      The $2 million church, across the street from
      Assumption College at 535 Salisbury St., was
      built in 1982, replacing the congregation’s church on Wellington Street.

      According to George M. Laska and George N.
      Vessio, two members of the committee that pulled
      the icon project together, parishioners had
      originally planned to decorate the church’s
      interior with representations, but the money wasn’t readily available.

      It wasn’t until 2000 that the fundraising
      campaign began, but parishioners said the project was worth the wait.

      The artworks were created by Dhimitri Cika, an iconographer from Albania.

      Mr. Cika is a 1983 graduate of the Institute of
      Fine Arts in Tirana, and later earned an advanced
      degree in restoration at the Institute of Cultural Monuments in Korce, Albania.

      He worked on a number of church restoration
      projects in his native country, and has had his
      works exhibited in Albania and Greece.

      “A good iconographer has to know the Orthodox
      tradition, the history of the saints, and the
      meaning of church symbols,” said Mr. Cika, through Rev. Nagi.

      Before Mr. Cika took up his paintbrushes, workers
      had to peel off the interior’s stucco finish and replace it with plaster.

      Mr. Cika, who prays and fasts before he starts
      work on a particular representation, painted the
      water-based icons in a work area in the church basement.

      He later attached the canvases, which widely
      range in size, to the church walls and ceiling with a special adhesive.

      The representations were then sealed with a
      special varnish guaranteeing them a very long life.

      The vivid icons are set off by a
      yellow-gold-green backdrop and offer a potpourri of Orthodox religious history.

      For example, a 25-foot-by-13-foot portrayal of
      “Veronica’s Veil” has been placed in the
      traditional spot above the altar, and prophets decorate the area.

      An icon of the Last Supper sits above the Holy
      Doors that open up to the altar, which is restricted to the priest.

      Meanwhile, representations of Jesus abound.

      One of the most striking is the baptism of
      Christ. In this particular rendition of the New
      Testament story, a small figure of a man is
      floating in the water below Jesus’ feet.

      Rev. Nagi explained that the man represents the
      old Greek gods, who have been made obsolete with
      the appearance of Christ in the world.

      Word about the transformation of the church
      interior has been spreading and many have asked
      to see it, including a group of local Jewish
      children studying Byzantine history.

      “Interestingly, our non-Orthodox visitors believe
      that this church is truly a jewel in the local
      religious community,” said the 62-year-old priest.

      Rev. Nagi said he will open up the church to
      tours when the parish holds its festival in June.

      Some work, meanwhile, still has to be completed.

      Nine more icons have to be painted, and a former
      office area at the front of the church is being
      converted into a small chapel. That space will also contain icons.

      A chandelier will also be placed from the
      church’s dome, whose apex is about 59 feet from the church floor.

      “Everything’s coming together,” said Mr. Vessio,
      who has been helping Mr. Cika with the work.

      Church Address:
      535 Salisbury St,
      Worcester, MA 01609-1307
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