Greek artists wield lasers, traditional tools for icons in new North Hills church

| Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

From scaffolding 60 feet high, a team of artists from Greece combined modern laser-guided instruments with an ancient stick-and-charcoal method to sketch designs for icons they painted for the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church being built in the North Hills.

George Kordis, a leading expert in Byzantine iconography, and his team are helping ready the church for its June 22 opening by painting a series of icons on the church's domed ceiling and other areas. An assistant professor of iconography at the University of Athens, Kordis and his crew have been working 12 hours a day, six days a week since April 2. They hope to finish their work by May 15.

“We had a very good canvas,” Kordis said Tuesday. “The architecture has helped us a lot.”

Designed to be viewed from below, the large icons often include depictions of Christ, Mary, the saints and angels.

Iconography is an important tradition in the church used to tell the story of the Orthodox faith, experts said.

“They are considered liturgical necessities,” said the Rev. Peter Pearson, an iconography expert formerly of Lawrenceville. “They consider the icons ... to be communicating the presence of the people they represent.”

The new church, near La Roche College in McCandless, features a Byzantine temple that seats about 375 people under a 33-foot dome.

Founded in 1923 on the corner of Sandusky Street and Stockton Avenue in the North Side, Holy Trinity moved to West North Avenue in 1960. The community and its needs continued to grow so the church in 2008 bought 10 acres in McCandless for just more than $1 million, selling its North Side building in 2011 to the North Side Institutional Church of God in Christ for $950,000. Since then, it has been meeting at the former Northway Elementary School in Ross.

The total cost of the new church is about $6 million.

Fundraising began in August 2008, just about the time the economy tanked.

“It's been blessed by God at every step,” said the Rev. John Touloumes, pastor.

The erecting of Greek Orthodox churches these days is rare, said Pearson of Scranton.

“These communities (founded by immigrants) are old. ... It's unusual to see a new church these days,” he said.

Many churches are losing members, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America said.

About 60 percent of Greek Orthodox families of the last generation and 90 percent of Americans with Greek roots have lost touch with the church, the archdiocese said.

Church officials know they are bucking the norm.

“We are very fortunate ... (and) very excited,” said George Dickos, president of the parish council.

Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5646 or

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