By SHERRY VAN ARSDALL
THE GOSHEN NEWS
The nave, or main body, at St. Mary’s Orthodox Church is painted a dark blue with stars and constellations on the ceiling.
“This is what a night sky would have looked like at midnight 1AD when Christ was born if you were standing right here in Goshen,” said Brian Whirledge, parish member and iconographer.
Whirledge spearheaded a two-month beautification project at the church, located 65159 C.R. 33, Goshen. The beautification effort was recently completed by Whirledge and other parish member volunteers.
The dark blue is traditional for decoration and stars are a fairly common theme in the Orthodox religion, Whirledge added.
“Orthodox churches have a lot of icons. It’s a very quintessential part,” Whirledge said.
He pointed to the icon on the ceiling in the center of the nave, Christ Almighty.
“It’s the most important icon,” Whirledge said. “It depicts Christ ruling in heaven and the second coming in anticipation of his return. The angels surround him and glorify him. It shows them returning with him and all the implications.”
The icon referred to as “He Who Does Not Sleep” is traditionally placed above the door in the nave, and it is in the Goshen church. It is the incarnation of God the Father in Heaven who watches over the whole universe and never sleeps, who also became an infant and slept — at the same time, according to Whirledge.
The iconographer just completed the primary icon, “More Spacious Than the Heavens,” on the east wall above the altar. It is the installation of Mary and Jesus.
“The icon is an affirmation of the incarnation,” Whirledge said, in reference to the use of icons in the Eastern Orthodox religion. “There is symbolism and all the icons have meaning.”
Some of Whirledge’s work was done on canvas and then added to the actual painting on the walls and ceiling because of the detail in the icons. The “He Who Does Not Sleep” icon took about 40 hours to complete, the four angels were about 40 hours together, and the Mary and Jesus icon took about 45 hours to complete.
Whirledge hasn’t always been a parish member. He actually grew up in the Methodist church. His first encounter with the Orthodox church was in Jerusalem and Bethlehem during a trip to the Holy Land, he said.
“I showed up at St. Mary’s one day and it was almost like being transported back to Jerusalem,” Whirledge said. “There is a rich history in tradition and I am a convert.”
Whirledge also said he was glad to have the beautification project finished.
“It exceeds my expectations,” he said. “I can’t put it into words except ‘come and see.’ The icons put the Gospel in live color. It transcends words.
“It’s cool to have the icons here as long as the church will be here. I’m not going to live forever but I will leave behind the icons that will continue to tell the story long after I’m gone.”
Whirledge and his wife, Rebekah live in Syracuse. He’s an elementary school art teacher.