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The prominent iconographer Fr. Lukas from the Xenofontos Monastery on Mount Athos is painting the icon of the Extreme Humility of Christ at St. Nicholas at Ground Zero. (Photo provided by Andrew Veniopoulos)
BOSTON – Priest-monk Loukas from the Xenofontos monastery on Mount Athos is a renowned and prominent iconographer of the Orthodox Church. He is he is creating the iconography of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine in Manhattan at Ground Zero.
Fr. Loukas recently visited Boston, representing Mount Athos at its photographic exhibition at the Maliotis Cultural Center of Hellenic College – Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology.
His interview with The National Herald bean with a question about the status of the iconography of St. Nicholas, to which Fr. Loukas replied, “we have finished the west wall of the nave and now we are working on the east and the rest, north and south.”
As far as when the iconography will be completed, he said “we believe by the end of October.” Asked why it took so long, he answered that “the architectural structure was difficult, and even today there are some issues which need to be resolved, it is a difficult structure.”
Regarding the building in general, Fr. Loukas said, “I can say it is very nice, it exemplifies the work of Mr. Calatrava. It is something that coincides with the area with the skyscrapers, with all those contemporary things of New York, I think it ties in well,” with its environment, as the New York City and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey officials reportedly required.
Asked whether the structure reflects Orthodox architecture, he said “the Orthodox structure is characterized by the dome over the nave. The white color reminds of the beautiful churches of the Cycladic islands, and thus I don’t think that the nave of St. Nicholas isn’t something that coincides with Hellenism and Orthodoxy.”
Fr. Loukas said that he follows “the hagiographic school of the 14th century, with some other influences in addition to the Macedonian School such as the school of Constantinople and Mount Athos.”
He learned the art of iconography as he said, “on Mount Athos from older monks. I had found some fathers in our Monastery who were iconographers and I studied near them, but every time I found an older iconographer I approached him, asked him questions, and observed him. I also learned by looking at old iconography in church of Protato of Mount Athos and in other churches.”
He said of his endeavors, “iconography is a big thing – it transports you to another world, to the world of Byzantium, but also to another reality, which is Orthodoxy, the Church.”
He was asked whether while he paints an icon of Christ or the saints he also converses with them. “Of course,” Fr. Louka said, “but it is not a conversation with words; it is a mystagogue – a communication not with words. You don’t say anything in front of the icons, but you feel an interaction. One speaks with silence, but also with the sense that he is near God, in the presence of God.”
Fr. Loukas praised the Community by saying that “you, the Greek-Americans, are a glorious chapter in the life of Hellenism like the St. Nicholas church is also a glorious chapter in the life of Hellenism. You do great things – you help the Ecumenical Patriarchate; you help the Church in general; you are close to the Church and that says a lot of things to us, for which we are happy. I can say that the Omogenia respects the traditions of Greece and Orthodoxy.”
When asked what attracted him to monasticism, he said, “I can tell you that I don’t know. Maybe I will never understand it. It is a calling from God, which we don’t control. God controls it.”
Fr. Loukas entered the Monastery of Xenofontos at the age of 21 years old. His brother had gone before him. Fr. Loukas said “I wanted to become a monk and he helped me.”
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