‘Painter of Angels’ completes his work at Orthodox church

Source: Macomb Daily

June 26, 2016

 

When Vlasios Tsotsonis saw what a fire had done to the
holy images at Assumption Greek Orthodox Church in St.
Clair Shores his heart ached.

The parishioners were devastated.

But he saw past the smoke and charred walls to the beauty
of the church’s architecture moving him to create
something that would bring life back.

“It was the most difficult project I have ever
done,” said Tsotsonis speaking through his
interpreter, Harriet Stoukas of Eastpointe, who is a
parishioner at the church. “It was psychologically
difficult and the structure was a challenge, the dome is
very large. I was concerned it might not turn out.”

Then the scaffolding was removed and the holy images that
he spent more than a decade painting filled the church
with a light that shone over him and the parishioners.

“My work is done,” he said, with a
warm-hearted smile enjoying the reception marking its
completion.

“It’s stunning,” said Rev. Michael
Varlamos, who is the young pastor that was sent by the
bishop to help restore the church. “My part was to
see that it was theologically and traditionally accurate
to the Orthodox. He would tell me about colors and I would
talk about saints. I saw renderings so I could visualize
it but to see it after the scaffolding came down? It was
just breathtaking.”

In 2002, a fire caused $3.5 million in damages including
the collection of paintings that told the story of
Christianity, called iconography. Afterwards, a committee
was formed to seek an iconographer to recreate and restore
them. As it turned out, while visiting a mutual friend in
Greece the reverend saw a painting of Christ that had him
awestruck.

“It was the most beautiful depiction of God I had
ever seen,” Varlamos said. “So, I asked my
friend about the artist.”

Tsotsonis is the son of farmers born in Velon Korinthias
in Greece in 1951. As a boy he was always religious and
fascinated by the colors of the holy images he saw in
church.

 

“I always visualized doing something for the
Lord,” he said.

He studied fine arts in Athens and mosaic aesthetics in
Italy before becoming a renowned iconographer whose
artistry has been commissioned around the world, from the
Church of Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem to the Monastery of
St. Stephen in Greece.

After a long search Assumption’s committee found
Tsotsonis. However, Europe’s “Painter of
Angels,” as he’s known, was in such demand
they had to wait several years for him to come. The first
phase of his work, involving drawings on the walls in
charcoal or canvas paintings glued to the surface, began
with the altar area and his paintings of the Virgin Mary
holding Jesus.

“The Virgin Mary is always depicted in the
apse,” Varlamos said. “We believe that she
brought Jesus Christ to earth and that it is through her
intersession that we ascend to heaven. She is the
ladder.”

Helping to support the project (2009-2016) through
fundraisers and donations was committee member Joan
DeRonne, who took the opportunity when the scaffolding was
removed to bask in its light.

“I had to sit down. Its beauty is
transcending,” she said. “We have been so busy
doing the work necessary and to finally be able to sit
back and see the project come to an end, words cannot
describe the joy I felt toward the artist and his
assistants (Niko Gaitanidis and Ilia Brako). They worked
day and night and the love they put into this project
shows. It truly surpasses all of my expectations.”

Varlamos agreed.

The evangelists write the word of God but it is the
iconographers who illustrate it, he explained.

“It is a gift but also charis (Greek for
grace),” Varlamos said of Tsotsonis’ talents.

As for what inspires him?

“I heard him say in Greek, “God leans on my
elbow and I’m able to draw,’” Varlamos
said.

Assumption Greek Orthodox Church is at 21800 Marter
Road in St. Clair Shores.

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