I can hear the church bell ringing from the distance. For a moment I think I’m in the centre of Athens, but just outside my window I glimpse the white wash walls of St George’s church and I am back in West End. This week Father D (short for Dimitri) celebrates 20 years of service to St George.
Father D is a charismatic, well-read, and passionate individual. He is a man of wisdom, knowledge, and passionate about the community. In his 20 years of service he has contributed much: an English spoken liturgy service every Saturday evening and the commissioning of the Byzantine iconography in the church.
I look around the church and it’s the stories in the icons that captivate me. Stories of faith, martyrdom, escape, and survival unfold before me. I recently spoke with Father D about the iconography. We sat quietly in the middle pews and looked forward. The silence adds a calming ambience. Father D quietly points out the different influences of iconography represented in the church. The panel of icons separating the sanctuary from the nave is called the Iconostasion, a symbolic representation of the gates of heaven. The icons before the altar are representative of Venetian influence. Father D draws my attention to the icons that sit within the arches on the walls; these larger icons were drawn on Mount Athos, the Holy Mountain, and brought to Australia during the 960s. Father D says ‘this work reflects the beginning of the resurgence of Byzantine art’.
Father D visits the Greek communities interspersed throughout Queensland on a regular basis and I asked Father D whether he had a favourite church. Without pausing, he says ‘St George is special’ and explains ‘when I came here all the walls were brick, the ceiling was stucco’ pointing to the brick and ceiling. ‘I actually found it a cold and institutional space and couldn’t see the beauty that other people may have seen. I felt that a place of worship must have warmth, and what brings warmth – colour’.
In 1992, Father D commissioned Andreas Georgakopolous to add warmth to the church by painting the iconography at the altar and the frescoes. It took 8 years to complete the project. Sadly, Andreas has passed away, but you get a sense of his spirit through the beautiful art he has created. Father D points out that while the figures in the artwork were drawn on canvas, Andreas placed them on the wall and then filled in the background directly on the wall.
. St George is one of my favourite places in West End for its history and community spirit. You can visit St George’s during the Paniyri festival held annually in May and join a guided tour or listen to a talk about St George. If you fancy a visit while the church is in service you can pop in on a Saturday evening where the service is in English.
Words by Elizabeth Georgiades