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Icons and Jeweled Cross

[The Asbury Park Press, Dan Radel]
A visit from a bishop can turn any ordinary Sunday service into something extraordinary. But at the Orthodox Christian Church of the Annunciation on Van Zile Road in Brick, not only did Bishop Michael from the Diocese of New York and New Jersey visit the church [18-19 August], but he also blessed its newly finished iconography and bestowed a jeweled cross to the Rev. Gary Breton. “It’s a very special day for us to have the bishop come and bless the icons. They have changed the atmosphere of the church,” said parish member Mathew Petrides of Wall.

The iconography was done by artist Ivan Roumiantsev of Moscow — here in the U.S. on a work visa — and depicts saints such as Constantine, Innocent and Tikhon, brightly painted with acrylic that wraps around the church’s smooth, white-plastered walls at heights of 12 to 14 feet.

Roumiantsev also added scenes of the ascension of Christ and the nativity of the most holy Theotokus — the Greek title for Mary, the virgin mother. The ascension is the largest and prominent of the icons; it is front and center with a sky blue background on a circular wall above the altar.

“These icons are not just flat two dimensional art — they are examples of the lives we must follow,"  Bishop Michael said during the service.

Roumiantsev — who had restored a church in Olyphant, Pa., before bringing his scaffolding to Brick — began the iconography in the spring of 2011, often choosing to work from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.

“The iconography fulfills the church. It should be surrounded by the saints. The icons help us, especially in the early centuries when many people were illiterate, to see the gospel,” Breton said.

The blessing and award took place during a Divine Liturgy service in which there were heavy doses of incense from censers, the vesting of the bishop and additional prayers and hymns.

Parish members who watched the iconography come to life over many Sundays were pleased to view the finished work.

“It makes the inside so much warmer and spiritual. It was so cold without it. It was just bare walls,” said Elaine D’Alessandro of Forked River.

The day also had special meaning for Breton, who received the jeweled cross from the bishop — an honor Breton said is reserved for those who have served many years in the church.

“It’s a seniority award. It’s bestowed upon you for years of service,”  Breton said.

Bishop Michael bequeathed the jeweled cross adorned on a necklace, by laying it over the head of Breton in a ritual that took place in the center of the church. The cross had one turquoise colored jewel in each corner.

Breton has been in the service of the church since 1991 and said he has spent the last decade of his life at the Orthodox Christian Church in Brick.

“It’s very well deserved,” said Mildred Hladick of Forked River. “He means a lot to our family. He’s a very special man.”

PHOTO: Jody Somers/For The Asbury Park Press

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