By Judy Wakefield
---- — They serve as spiritual beacons — visual symbols of a particular faith. The stained glass windows and religious icons that adorn the insides of houses of worship often define the sacred spaces.
At Andover’s only Greek church — Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church — 23 new, 7-foot-tall Byzantine icons now grace the once white walls of the sanctuary to enhance the experience of worshippers.
The project coincides with the 25th anniversary of the church’s establishment in Andover, commemorating its move from Essex Street in Lawrence to Chandler Road in 1989.
Rev. Christopher Makiej, who was assigned to the parish in 1998, said the focus the last several years has been on expanding the physical space in order to accommodate the parish’s growth. Since Makiej’s arrival, membership has swelled from 190 families to 500 today.
As a result, the parish worked to expand the church campus. In 2007, construction of a 20,000-square-foot Family Life Center, new classrooms and an administrative wing was completed at its nicely landscaped lot.
The parish then turned its attention to the beautification of its sanctuary in order to create a more spiritual and prayerful home for the congregation.
The iconography project was launched on the belief that one’s intellect, feelings and senses all contribute to an individual’s worship experience. The initiative required the financial support of parishioners, who responded in a big way. Within one week, Makiej said the $150,000 needed to complete the project was pledged and the installation and painting soon began.
“They wanted this, they wanted the chance to support this,” Makiej said of the membership.
The icons have a style that dates to the Byzantine empire, especially in the 5th and 6th centuries when many churchgoers couldn’t read and relied on the figures to understand Scripture stories.
In keeping with the goal of the project, the sanctuary’s arched windows have remained uncovered so the sunlight shines through and bounces off the colorful paintings that represent several saints as well as depict scenes from Christ’s life.
“In the Orthodox tradition, there is a very strong feeling that the church is the house of God and the place where His glory dwells,” Makiej said in a message to parishioners announcing the initiative. “For this reason, the church is seen as a sacred space, bearing witness to God’s indwelling among His people.”
Makiej, and his wife, Katerina, assisted in the design, coloring and layout of the icons. The actual artistry was left to the talented hands of George and Brunilda Rizaj Papastamatiou of Byzantine Artworks in Newton.
The pastor said the overall feel of the finished project is one of “simplicity and beauty.”
“I think it looks just beautiful ... it’s transformed, enhanced our worship space,” said Makiej, who added his sermons are now enlivened by the vivid color he sees when he looks out from the altar over the sanctuary, which holds 350 people.
“We now have surround sight with our surround sound ... and we love light and that comes in beautifully.”
The parish invites the public to view the new icons during its Divine Liturgy services on Sundays at 10 a.m.