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

| Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 12:08 a.m.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Iconographer Dr. George Kordis (left), 56, of Athens, Greece, talks to Kanellos Kanellopoulos, 56, of Athens as they work on religious murals along the dome of the new Holy Trinity Church in McCandless Township on Tuesday, April 16, 2013. Kordis uses charcoal to draw the underdrawings for the murals adorning the church walls, which are then brushed and layered with several washes of paint to build bright and textured colors.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Yiannis Argyrov, 36, of Athens, Greece, climbs the stairs holding a fan inside a web of scaffolding leading to the dome of the new Holy Trinity Church in McCandless Township where he is part of a team working on religious murals covering the church walls and ceiling on Tuesday, April 16, 2013.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Petro (left) and Anna Maria Brinaru, 35 and 32 respectively, of Brasov, Romania, hand-paint designs along an archway inside of the new Holy Trinity Church in McCandless Township on Tuesday, April 16, 2013. The church, which has outgrown its location in Pittsburgh's North Side neighborhood, is also moving to be more central to its congregation says Father John Touloumes.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
The top dome iconography of the new Holy Trinity Church in McCandless is illuminated by arched windows on Tuesday, April 16, 2013. Iconographer Dr. George Kordis, 56, of Athens and his team of Greek and Romanian artists hope to finish the murals by May 15 before moving on to another project.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Petro (left) and Anna Maria Brinaru, 35 and 32 respectively, of Brasov, Romania, hand-paint designs along an archway inside of the new Holy Trinity Church in McCandless Township on Tuesday, April 16, 2013. The church, which has outgrown its location in Pittsburgh's North Side neighborhood, is also moving to be more central to its congregation says Father John Touloumes.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
George Dimitriadis, 49, of Athens, Greece, applies washes of color as he builds the desired base for murals along the dome of the new Holy Trinity Church in McCandless Township on Tuesday, April 16, 2013.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Artists' supplies sit on a table at the base of scaffolding leading up to the dome of the new Holy Trinity Church in McCandless Township on Tuesday, April 16, 2013.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Iconographer Dr. George Kordis, 56, of Athens, Greece, draws figures with charcoal along the dome of the new Holy Trinity Church in McCandless Township on Tuesday, April 16, 2013. Kordis uses charcoal to draw the underdrawings for the murals adorning the church walls, which are then brushed and layered with several washes of paint to build bright and textured colors.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Iconographer Dr. George Kordis, 56, of Athens draws figures with charcoal along the dome of the new Holy Trinity Church in McCandless on Tuesday, April 16, 2013. The church, which has outgrown its location in Pittsburgh's North Side neighborhood, also is moving to be more central to its congregation, Father John Touloumes says.

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 csmith@tribweb.com.

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