The figures painted on the walls and ceiling of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption in Port Jefferson inevitably draw the eyes up, ever up, past the icons of saints and religious figures to the top of the dome several stories from the floor, up to Greek letters surrounding an image of Jesus looking directly down on the pews below.
Religious images and iconography glow in the soft light, which streams down from the apex of the chapel, images that, having started more than a decade ago, have been finally finished after years of painstaking work.
Between the scaffolding used by the artists who were finishing up their work, images of St. Haralambos, the Nativity of the Theotokos, the baptism and the entrance of the Virgin Mary all adorn the walls, painted on fabric that is adhered to the wall, the kind of sight those of the 6th century must have had on the walls of now-ancient Byzantine churches.
High above the nave’s pews, only a few spots needed to be completed by Feb. 21: a handful of arches above the towering windows and the finishing of some icons. By the weekend, the chapel was completed.
“Although it’s very tedious work, I derive satisfaction in putting up works of art that are immortal and will be present for many years.”
“I’m delighted to put on canvas the life of Christ and the saints, and it’s very enjoyable and rewarding,” said iconographer Dimitris Gkinos. He and most of the other painters, who work for the Greek iconography company, Alevizakis Icons, only speak a little English, but their words were translated by Father Demetrios “Jim” Calogredes, who has seen the iconography go up since he came to the church in 2009.
The iconographers hired to finish the chapel’s paintings are a mix of artists from all over, including the U.S. and Serbia, but mostly Greece.
“I am from Serbia, and I wanted to become an artist and then an iconographer,” said Dragomir Djekic. “I finished college in Belgrade, Serbia — that’s the university in the capital city — then when I came to the United States, I found other iconographers and started to work.”
The paintings that now adorn the walls and ceiling of the chapel have been in the works since 2002, when the old Greek Orthodox church on Sheep Pasture Road was replaced by the one currently standing. Calogredes said watching the whole project finally come together was long, but worth it in the end. The classic images that now surround the chapel walls are well known to the priest, who is able to read off the stories as if they came straight from the Bible.
The priest said the chapel is based on the Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus, which was built by the Byzantine emperor, Justinian I, in the 6th century. That church now exists as a museum in Istanbul, but its re-creation in America is finally coming together with the finishing of the iconography.
“I derive the greatest satisfaction depicting the icon of the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child,” said iconographer Christos Palaioxaris, his words translated by Calogredes. “That icon is in the holy mountain in Greece, Mount Athos.”
The work is part religiosity and art, a job that is at times monotonous in getting every detail of the icons right but, in other ways, soul touching.
“Although it’s very tedious work, I derive satisfaction in putting up works of art that are immortal and will be present for many years,” Gkinos said.