When St. Barbara’s Greek Orthodox Church held its first Greek Festival in 1984, the celebration had yet to attract the thousands of people it attracts today.
The church congregation was just a handful of families worshiping in a community center, but proceeds from the festival went towards a big dream – the fellowship hall that exists today, built in the style of the churches of the Byzantine Empire.
As Paulene Soublis, church patriarch and 30-year-old member, recalled, “There was a lot of hindsight back then. Why are we building such a big church?
Nevertheless, Father Frank Kirlangitis, St. Barbara’s first full-time priest, inspired people to look to the future.
“Build it and they will come,” joked Paulene.
People came. The congregation has grown, as have the festival crowds, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the members’ love of showing off the church. That passion will be on display again Feb. 18-20 during the 38th Annual Greek Festival at St. Barbara’s Greek Orthodox Church.
Father John Bociu said the church building had something to offer the area’s art scene. While noting the beauty and religious inspiration of the exhibits at the Ringling Museum, he said the region had few places to view Byzantine-style art.
“We are the Byzantine Church here in Sarasota,” he said. “If anyone wants to be in contact with this kind of art, they visit St. Barbara to understand what it is all about.”
The Greek Orthodox tradition of decorating churches has its roots in the Great Schism of 1054, when growing tensions split the European Christian Church into the Western Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church in Constantinople, an ancient Greek city that became the capital of the Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire. Byzantine art is defined by its expressive religious mosaics.
However, for Greek Orthodox believers, works of art are more than decoration, they are also an integral part of religious experiences.
“We pray with icons, we venerate them, we kiss them, because they represent someone we love,” Bociu said, “We walk into the church and feel they are family, for we are part of the kingdom of God, all of us.
The initial work of art, a series of mosaics centered on the altar of the church, was installed in 1994 by Sirio Tonelli, and the exhibition was later expanded with oil paintings made by hand. handmade by George Filippakis which cover the walls, chancel and ceiling dome.
The mosaics follow the same layout as those in Greek Orthodox churches around the world, with panels of six saints with the patron saint of the church – in this case Saint Barbara – on the left. Arc above these on the wall are icons of Jesus and his apostles.
Oil paintings, viewed from left to right around the room, tell the story of Christ through the stages of the Annunciation, Birth, Baptism, Crucifixion, Ascension and Death. Pentecost.
Crafted with careful attention to detail, the artwork showcases the symbolism of Byzantine art.
“If you look at the icons, they don’t have a blue background,” Bociu said. “They have a gold leaf. Because they reproduce a different reality. They speak of the kingdom of God.
The artwork also depicts Christ dressed in blue robes, with red robes below, while the Virgin Mary is depicted with the reverse – red robes and blue robes below. Bociu said this was due to blue symbolizing celestial realms and red symbolizing humanity.
Visitors to the Greek Festival can discover more details of the artwork in the church if they choose to visit the community hall, but the festival itself is also an exhibition of culture by the predominantly congregation Greek. When the festival arrives, large tents go up across the property offering food, entertainment and more.
“It’s very important that Hellenistic, Greek culture is highlighted,” Bociu said. “It’s not only getting money for the church, but also a good opportunity to give the people of the (region) the chance to taste Greek cuisine. The vast majority that we offer visitors is prepared here in our kitchen, on our property. Also, the Greek culture is expressed through the dances. The dances are representative of different parts of Greece.
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