History on the hill



St. George Orthodox Christian Church is bringing its rich traditions to its new Fishers home



By Dan Domsic

St. George Orthodox Christian Church is moving from its Indianapolis location of 87-years to Fishers later this summer, and it’s bringing a rich culture and symbolic tradition with it.

Underneath the dome of the new location, 10748 E. 116th St., a gigantic icon of Jesus Christ looks down at iconographers at work and will eventually look upon the congregation.

“Iconography, for us, is a lot more than church decoration,” V. Rev. Father Nabil Hanna said. “For us, it is a theological statement. When we depict Jesus in icons, this is an affirmation of our faith that God really became human.”

A tradition of the religion, icons could be found where people practiced and prayed, including catacombs beneath Rome and dating back to Christ’s carrying the cross to Golgotha.

As construction of the new church moves forward, an iconography team led by Dr. George Kordis, a visiting professor at the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Church Life and Yale University’s Institute of Sacred Music, is painting Christ, angels, apostles and even more figures in the lofty heights of the church using a technique – Egg Tempera – so old, that Kordis will tell you its age is unknown.

Like many works of art, the meaning of Orthodox icons is complex and multi-faceted.

“All icons for us bear witness to these two items: First, that he (Jesus Christ) truly became human and became depictable, and they also demonstrate the glory of the resurrection,” Hanna said.

What’s more is that Orthodox worshippers painted icons to demonstrate meeting together in Christ’s presence.

“As soon as they got the opportunity – even in the catacombs – they painted them to manifest this reality, that we are meeting with Christ in our midst,” he said.

When June ends, the first phase of these paintings will be complete for the masses to gaze upon.

Moving with the flock

With a rich history, why move St. George from its decades-old roots in Indianapolis to a new location?

Hanna said St. George will be the second Orthodox church in Hamilton County, and Fishers is one of the fastest growing areas in the country.

Looking at just who makes up Hanna’s flock, he said 80 percent of St. George church-goers hail from northern Marion County and southern Hamilton County – specifically Carmel and Fishers.

The parish’s burgeoning following outgrew the Indianapolis location, and design and wants/needs research began.

It’s been a 13-year odyssey for the church, investing $5.75 million in the move and construction of a church so tall, and on a hill, an observer can see well across 116th Street and the tops of houses in the subdivision. That is, until the scaffolding is removed when Kordis and his team finish its work, with the epic-sized icon of Christ at the center of it all.

He’s depicted radiantly, as “the true light, as the sun,” Hanna said. “That is a testimony to our worship, in the confidence that Christ is in our midst when we are gathered this way in his name.”

The building itself even harkens back to the sixth century, a round structure that puts that symbol of faith in the center.

“We have chosen a round design to be a replica of sixth century churches so that we have that sense of intimacy, that we are all worshipping together with Christ in the middle, because we believe in our worship that he is really the priest,” Hanna said.

While the people have been worshipping at a nearby Orthodox church, Hanna looks forward to the new church’s opening.

“They’ve been wonderful hosts, but it’s nice to be home, too,” he said.