MANATEE — During Thursday’s opening day of Greek Glendi at St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church, hundreds got their first look at the new Byzantine iconography created late last summer on the inside of the church’s dome.
Although the food, music and dancing engaged the physical senses as usual, for many the spirituality experienced during one of the free church tours was a highlight to the start of the 26th annual festival.
“Breathtaking,” said Marilyn Ex, a winter visitor from Michigan who toured with her family.
She stared up at the dome, where iconographer George Filippakis’ goal was to create what The Very Rev. Frank Kirlangitis, pastor of the church, called “a window into heaven.”
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“It seems that many churches are going the way of drums and contemporary music, mostly for the young,” said Ex, who is Lutheran. “But we’re traditionalists. We can just sit in a church quietly and feel it.”
Ex gave St. Barbara’s dome an A-plus grade for its capacity to make a visitor “quietly feel it.” An image of Jesus Christ is at the very apex of the dome. The Christ image is 16 feet in diameter and includes four angels that hold him.
The dome fresco also includes images of evangelists St. John, St. Mark, St. Luke and St. Matthew, as well as prophets David, Elias, Ezekiel, Solomon, Abbakoum, Jeremiah, Isaiah and Sofonias.
The iconography cost approximately $250,000, Kirlangitis said. It is so striking that most of the congregation was looking up rather than forward at him during the first service after the dome was done, he remembers.
“I felt like I was preaching to chins,” Kirlangitis quipped.
The dome imparts a sensation of what heaven will look like when we pass in sleep into the arms of the Lord, he said.
“It gives you the definite feeling that the church floor is the earth and the church ceiling is heaven,” Kirlangitis said.
Billie Hardman, of First Baptist Church in down- town Bradenton, took the church tour with her friend, fellow Baptist Juanita Soards.
The women, who live in Sugar Creek Resort in Bradenton for the winter, were intrigued with Greek orthodoxy and asked Kirlangitis why the church had two rooms off to the sides of the main hall.
One of the reasons, Kirlangitis said, is that, from the air, the church is shaped like a cross, he said.
Soards’ brother attends a Baptist church in eastern Kentucky.
Asked which church Jesus would feel more comfortable visiting — St. Barbara filled with icons or the simple church in Kentucky — Hardman quickly replied that Christ would enjoy them both equally.
“He sees what is in our hearts no matter if a church has little or much,” Hardman said.
But Hardman did allow that Christ would be especially happy with what St. Barbara’s has done because he loves beauty.
“After all, he created it,” Hardman said.
The festival continues from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. today and Saturday, and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday, at 7671 N. Lockwood Ridge Road. Parking is free on the church grounds. Tickets for adults are $4, and children younger than 12 are free.
The free church tours run every half-hour.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.