Saturday, June 21, 2008

St, Seraphim Cathedral


In my opinion, one of the most beautiful Orthodox churches in the U. S. is St. Seraphim of Sarov Cathedral in Dallas. I had the privilige of attending the Divine Liturgy there once in 2002 and again in 2003, when I was still a layman. The music was beautiful, and the iconography is among the best I have ever seen.

When I was last there, the iconography was not quite done. There was a giant scaffold behind the altar, where the iconographer was working on the Platitera (the big icon of the Theotokos with the pre-incarnate Christ).

Recently, the iconographer has finished his work. Here is an article copyright 2008) from the Dallas Morning News ( on the completion of the iconography. Enjoy.

"That's Hosea, and that's Jonah," he continues, motioning toward his other creations inside the cupola at St. Seraphim Orthodox Cathedral. Standing on a metal scaffold, light streaming through window panes of beaded glass, he checks his work with a straightedge – "It's better to be precise" – and brushes on.

"So little by little, the whole church will be painted," he says of the job at hand – a job that has been under way for more than a little while. One that's almost complete.

"Eight years is enough time for me," says Vladimir the iconographer. Mr. Grigorenko came to Dallas from his native Ukraine to paint religious images inside St. Seraphim's new cathedral on Wycliff Avenue.

Church leaders hired him to create icons for a wooden screen that stands in front of the altar. And in April 2000, he arrived with sketchy English and a fervent Christian faith to undertake what became a yearlong project. "I had in mind I would go back to Ukraine," he says.

But once the screen was done – depicting Jesus, Mary, saints and disciples – the cathedral's white walls and ceiling stood obviously bare.

And Mr. Grigorenko was asked to continue his work and take on a canvas of plastered drywall. He figured the challenge would take two years or so.

Since then, the wiry artist has been at it six days a week, eight to 10 hours a day, grinding pigment stones, producing colors, climbing scaffolds and glorifying his Dallas church with Christian scenes and figures.

"The most important concept here was to represent the story of Christ," he says, standing beneath his artistic vision, his bearded face void of emotion.
About 200 figures grace the sanctuary in a soft, sometimes-glowing display of reds and browns, blues and greens, tans and golds. Saints, missionaries and biblical figures cover walls. Murals overhead present important events in the life of Jesus – from the nativity and baptism to the crucifixion and resurrection.

"And here is the image of God the creator," says Mr. Grigorenko, pointing skyward to his Jesus, dominating the cupola ceiling, ringed by words from Psalm 102: "For He hath looked down from the height of his sanctuary; from heaven did the Lord behold the earth; ... to loose those that are appointed to death."

Schooled in mechanical engineering and employed for a while in the study of coal extraction, Mr. Grigorenko was moved more by art. An atheist, he ventured into secular landscapes and abstracts before finding a calling in iconography – the painting of religious images in what he has called the revelation of "the ultimate truth about God and man."

"Trying to find the universal or real art, I came to church art," Mr. Grigorenko says. "And the icons brought me to the church and to Christ."

Eight years after he came to Dallas, Mr. Grigorenko, 43, is nearing the final strokes on a job that has drawn rave reviews.

"To have these icons in the church is a tremendous blessing," said Father John Anderson, associate priest of the 500-member St. Seraphim congregation, which will celebrate the completion in June.

"It's sad that it's ending," he said of the $600,000 project that ran longer than expected. No problem, he said. "It takes a while to create masterpieces."

Mr. Grigorenko, his wife, Olga, and their three children have found a spiritual home at St. Seraphim. The iconographer says he hopes to land other church-art commissions in the Dallas area and build on his accomplishment.
"It was a wonderful opportunity to finish the whole church with my own hands," he says.

A critique? "I feel good about the work. The project is successful," he says point-blank. "But I have nothing to be proud of. "The project is a work of God and me. He chose me, and I fulfilled his wish."

1 comment:

Paul said...

Fr.,
Let's get the roof fixed and move him down here. We're not as big as the cathedral, so our fee should be less. We can do it. I'll pitch in a tank of gas.