Sandlapper Society

An Icon of Faith

The design and construction of the church is a poignant story of faith, heritage, vision and commitment. On November 2009, the church began a journey that reached a milestone 14 months later and continues today. After years of planning, fabulous Greek festivals and months of construction, the church opened its door to Columbia in March 2011. The entire city watched as the church rose from its deep foundations on Main Street to the top of the complex dome.

Skylines tell an interesting history of community values. When our country was young, the skylines of our towns were dominated by church steeples. As the years passed, government buildings rose above the steeples. Over the past century, financial institutions characterize our skylines. The juxtaposition of the Bank of America tower, which looms as the pinnacle of Columbia’s skyline across the street, against the profile of the new church symbolizes this. Though the church may lack the tower’s height, it does command an equally strong presence at the corner of Main and Sumter streets and speaks eloquently of its purpose: a lasting cathedral that brings members of the congregation together to grow in their faith. The church on this corner is poised to transform parish life and its neighborhood by reaching out and creating a place of purpose and beauty.

So, what makes the building so special?

“The iconography,” stated Petey Currence, president of the parish council. “The Greek Orthodox tradition is centuries old. Other denominations have changed over the years to respond to or reflect society. Our church is the same today as it has been throughout the centuries. The iconography brings this tradition home to each member and connects us to our heritage.”

“The iconography affirms the truth of the Incarnation, of how God became man,” shared Reverend Father Michael Platanis, Protopresbyter of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church. “We must depict Him in order to remind us of God’s presence with us. The church is a central dome design. The round dome symbolizes heaven. The dome is resting on a square, which represents earth. The dome is Christ’s face. The church is the body… Christ as head of the church. The iconography, all sketched freehand in charcoal then painted with a very special paint, is illustrated with a perspective that puts you in the midst of the saints and lifts a person’s mind to God’s view.”

Dr. George Kordis, from Athens, Greece, is the iconographer in the Byzantine tradition. This is his first church in the United States and already has gained quite a global following of his work at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, due to a You Tube video.

According to Currence, “After considering many iconographers, both from the U.S. and Greece, the committee chose Dr. Kordis for his extraordinary talent and creativity, his rare ability to paint frescos, his impressive academic background in iconography and his doctorate in Theology. His achievements are impressive, including painting iconography at Mount Athos.
“The Byzantine-designed church is so unique that people will visit just to see the iconography. This is part of our ministry: to welcome people into our church and share the stories of God and man, creation, of our saints… truly the history of Christianity. George provided very few sketches of the icons. At first, we wanted to see everything before he started painting. After completing his first icon, we took that leap of faith and let him loose.”

As Father Michael affirms, “The quality and creativity of George’s work surpassed all of our expectations. It has been like going to buy a Chevy, but driving away in a Bentley. You just cannot ask for what he has done. He just did it.”

Laughingly, Father Michael adds, “I have a feeling that I will be preaching to mostly chins over the next couple of years because everyone will be looking up at the art.”

“The amount of art is substantially more than what is found in most churches,” claimed Currence. “In addition to the Pantokrator and Prophets, there are angels, borders, background and other paintings in the dome. What distinguishes our church even more is the 100-square-meter drum below our dome where Kordis painted the unique ‘Creation of the World.’ We know of no [other] church, even St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice, Italy, where the creation has been illustrated on such a large scale.” 
The architect, Christos Kamages from San Francisco, has extensive experience in designing Greek Orthodox churches throughout the US. This design represents a unity of tradition, art and architecture. As stated by Kordis, “This church is based on traditional design, but it is a contemporary building with incredible internal and external unity. Everything moves. Nothing is static. The movement that Christos gave unites all elements of construction… a unity that is felt by everyone who enters this church. The design gave us the ability to create large compositions, which support the dome and the complex composition of the ‘Creation of the World.’”

The team of architect, contractors, artists, church members and construction manager that shepherded this project worked closely together. As Mark Hood, president of Hood Construction, explained, “This was truly a design partnering project. The church and the building committee grasped the magnitude of the project and struggled at times, but they never lost faith. Personally, I spent as much time in pre-construction as in construction in order to provide the best information for making decisions.”
Margaret Tonkin, VP, business development for Hood Construction, agrees. “By getting to know the vision and the culture of the parish and by working together, we were able to construct a church that provided an amazing impact within their footprint. This church will be a landmark for Columbia and the state while serving the Greek community and leading efforts to revitalize this area of downtown.”

The church is approximately 9,500 square feet and seats 500 people. The dome is 65' from the floor to the center of the dome and is 42' in diameter. Eight symbolic columns support the dome. “The design and construction of the dome was teamwork,” Mark commented. “We built the dome on the ground because it was safer. We then lifted the dome into place— all 66,000 pounds of it— with quite an audience watching.

“We were blessed to be involved with this project and congregation,” said Mark. “To watch the excitement on people’s faces as the building came out of the ground was priceless. I got into this business to build great buildings. This is the building that I will show my grandchildren and a building for generations to come.

The Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church is a testament to and celebration of the vision of the congregation and their heritage. The church will become a landmark for its unique iconography and, itself, a beautiful icon of the Greek Orthodox community in Columbia.  

The church welcomes opportunities to share the story of their faith and the iconography.

Contact the church to schedule a visit at 803.252.6758.

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This article sponsored by Hood Construction and Mattox Electric Co., Inc.