Icons are increasing popular among the Christian churches, but they have long been appreciated among the Orthodox churches. St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Greenwood, in the Ukrainian Orthodox tradition, is set to expand its already impressive scope of icons dramatically.
A new dome in the center of the church will have all its panels covered in an icon of Christ. Large new icons will occupy presently blank spaces on the church’s walls and a week-long workshop will be held this fall to allow individuals to paint their own icons.
“Thanks be to God, we are growing,” said Fr. Robert Holet. “Our people come from all over, including the Shenandoah Valley. We have a nice facility and a nice community. We’re a transient community in our area. So we have flux. It’s one of the reasons we want to do the iconography. We want to be a place where people perceive God’s grace. The iconography does that. It’s a way people find expression of the faith in a visual way. They bring awareness of the Gospel.
“In some ways, they are simple, but the theology is authentic. Icons of Christ, Mary and the church go back to the second century. There’s never been a prohibition of that. In an age of images—the one we are in—there’s a need for sacred images. An image that doesn’t vanish, but goes beyond this world and reveals the image of God. So they are treated with reverence. The most beautiful church I’ve ever been in, St. Mark’s in Venice, is all icons.”
Holet said the church is interviewing icon painters now. “We’re looking for someone who can do a scheme of iconography for the church. In a few years we hope to really transform the space with the presence of God. Full-figure icons of Christ, saints, angels and gospel scenes.
“You have to get on an iconographer’s schedule. Their availability is limited. Some of it is style, Greek or Slavic. The schools of iconography in Ukraine are full. It’s only 20 years since the communists and there’s lots of restoration to catch up.
“We’ve got three or four [iconographers] who can outline the project. This is a spiritual process. It’s not hiring a painter. It’s about prayer and building the spiritual space. We’re touring churches and their iconographers to put together our plan.
“The icon of Christ invokes surrender. It’s not about ‘that was a bad day,’ but God showing man what it meant to die and then live again. There’s always a sense of mercy and compassion. There’s blessing and judgment. Your name can be lost from the Book of Life if you don’t repent. We’re doomed without the Lord’s mercy. We have no defense.
“Take it from me, I’m easy to distract from focus. The icon helps you focus.”
There are only two other Orthodox churches in the region, a Greek Orthodox Church in Charlottesville and a Russian Orthodox Church in Harrisonburg. St. Nicholas averages about 75 worshipers on Sundays, with lots of kids and seniors, reflecting growth trends in Crozet, Fr. Holet said. Half the congregation is converts.
Fr. Holet said he is planning a penance service for July 15, the date of the Great Schism between the Eastern [Orthodox] and western [Catholic] churches in 1054 and would like it to be an ecumenical event that brings congregations to greater appreciation for each other.