Holy Cross Orthodox Church

Baltimore Sun gets the little picture: Convert-era Orthodoxy comes to local Greek parish

Baltimore Sun gets the little picture: Convert-era Orthodoxy comes to local Greek parish

More than 30 years ago, there was a big story that rocked the rather small and obscure world of Eastern Orthodox Christianity here in the United States.

That was when a flock of evangelicals -- led by a former Campus Crusade leader, the late Father Peter Gillquist -- were embraced by the ancient Antiochian Orthodox Church. Regular GetReligion readers know my own family later joined that number, through a close friendship with another leader in that flock, the late Father Gordon Walker of Franklin, Tenn.

The mainstream press gave the "evangelical Orthodox" story a modest amount of ink at the time. Like I said, it was an important story in a small, but growing, flock. The key was that it was a sign of things to come for the faithful in the world's second-largest Christian communion.

Years before I converted, I wrote a column about the growth of an American expression of this ancient faith, built on an interview with the late Archbishop Iakovos of the Greek Orthodox Church. He was born in Turkey, but by the end of his life he could see ripples of change in America. The converts were coming, whether some Orthodox leaders wanted them or not.

"I cannot visualize what an American Orthodoxy would look like. ... But I believe that it will exist. I know that it must be born," said Iakovos. ...
"I do know this for sure. The essential elements of the Orthodox tradition will have to remain at the heart of whatever grows in this land. The heart has to remain the same, or it will not touch peoples' souls. It will not be truly Orthodox. I know that this will happen here, but I do not know when it will happen or how."

That was 1992. Why bring this up now? Well, the Baltimore Sun recently published a lengthy and admirable feature about a local development in this larger national story. This piece offered an in-depth look at the story of a former Southern Baptist (from East Tennessee, of all places) who has found his way into the Greek Orthodox priesthood.

To be blunt, there is only one problem with this story: It never really places this one priest in the context of this larger, 30-year-old trend in Eastern Orthodoxy. It also failed to note the degree to which this trend had already had a big impact in Baltimore, especially as symbolized by one of America's best-known "convert friendly" parishes.

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Baltimore Sun attempts to navigate complicated world of Orthodox iconography

Baltimore Sun attempts to navigate complicated world of Orthodox iconography

What we have here is a beautiful little feature story about a subject that is, literally, close to the heart and soul of any Orthodox Christian -- icons. The story ran in The Baltimore Sun, the newspaper that landed in my front yard for a decade, which means that it's about an Orthodox congregation that I have actually visited.

Iconography is a complicated subject on several levels, both in terms of the theology, the history and the craft itself. This story gets so many details right that I hesitate to note an error or, maybe, two -- one of mathematics (I think) and the other is, well, just a strange hole that would have been easy to fill.

First things first: Here is the overture.

As  Dionysios Bouloubassis picks up his paint brush at Saint Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church early one morning, the large canvas before him is blank but for the outlines of an angel he has sketched in pencil.
Swirling on reddish-brown pigment, he brings its wings to life. He fleshes out a Bible, then two hands to hold it. By nightfall, the cherub seems alive, its eyes gazing down from heaven.
The angel, a figure from the Book of Revelation, is one of 16 that Bouloubassis, a master iconographer from Greece, plans to paint and affix to the 60-foot dome inside Saint Mary, part of a years-long project in art and worship the Hunt Valley congregation launched in 2013.

So far so good. However, the very next paragraph contains a crucial error of history.

If all goes as planned, Bouloubassis will leave the interior of the year-old church covered in icons -- mural-sized renderings of Christ, the saints, angels and other religious images that have been part of the Orthodox Christian worship tradition for more than 1,200 years.

Where did that reference to 1,200 years come from?

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