The Greek Orthodox Church of Our Savior in Rye, New York, experienced a transformation on its walls and in its community. The inspirational iconography that adorns most Greek Orthodox churches was largely missing from this church. A project to bring religious icons to the church has been captured in the documentary “Pistevo: I Believe, Bringing Iconography to the Greek Orthodox Church of Our Savior.”
A year in the making, the documentary shows the significance of iconography on the spiritual life of the Greek Orthodox Church and how this church in particular was affected.
Released June 2015, the 18 minute film was directed by Mark I. Brodie, written and produced by Taryn Grimes. Executive Producer was Michael Psaros, a parishioner of the church and a co- sponsor of the film with Robin Psaros.
Michael Psaros invites anyone wishing to see the video to visit www.theartof belief.org.
Paul Kotrotsios: Mr. Psaros. We’re all proud of your success.
Michael Psaros: Thank you.
PK: Your success, your vision is shared with this unique video that you have created, along with your colleagues, Mr. Brodie and everybody else. What does Pistevo mean to you, to Mike Psaros?
MP: What Pistevo means to me is humility. The Orthodox Church spends a lifetime teaching humility. I am humble that I’m in a position to fund the creation of the film. I am humbled that I was taught the faith such that I was inspired to help fund the film. What the video and the response to the video have reinforced to me is the humility in my life and that’s very powerful.
PK: Where do you want to take this video?
MP: The dream would be for every faithful member of the Orthodox Church worldwide, and it’s over 250 [million] people… to spend 18 minutes of their life to watch the film because the film is not about a church in Rye, New York. The film is about the centrality of iconography in the Orthodox faith, on one hand, but on the other hand, how the revelation in five phases of the iconography affected 400 families very personally, how it really transformed a community, transformed people. Iconography is a window to heaven and it doesn’t matter how many times they walk through the door, but it is very, very overwhelming when you look at people’s eyes the first time they walk in the door. It’s just extraordinary.
(Michael Psaros next talked about how the entire iconography project got started at the church in Rye).
MP: His Eminence, Geron Archbishop Demetrios of America came to visit us and it’s such a blessing every time he comes. He’s one of the most unbelievable people I’ve ever met. We had a beautiful service in a very Archbishop Demetrius way, in the way of a paternal father. He did not criticize. He observed. He just looked around and he said ‘the church has white walls.’ Now we have a word, epiphainein… and in a minute, in a second, everyone in the church, it occurred to us that we have white walls. The one thing orthodox churches don’t have is white walls. And so, that is when we decided to embark on the project, but it all got started because of his Eminence Geron Archbishop Demetrius and he deserves all the credit.
PK: “What struck me the most after we talked with Mr. Brodie… and after I showed the video, [was] what you said about the effect it had on your daughter, how, when she turned to you during the liturgy and said ‘dad, the angels are singing.’
MP: Sometimes the most beautiful words, the most eloquent words are spoken by children because they are so innocent. Marina was probably 5 or 6 years old, as innocent as a little girl could be. It was Jan. 1; the Feast of St. Basil the Great and it was a most beautiful day.” Sunlight was pouring through the windows of the church. The saints and martyrs of the church, the second phase of the iconography project, were visible. “And it was her words, ‘daddy, the people that live in the walls are singing,’ not the people that are painted on the walls, not the pictures that are hung on the walls, not the people that are sketched on the walls. The people that are living in the walls are singing. That made the entire iconography project worth it. That tells you the impact that it has had on people. But that moment I will have with me the rest of my life.
PK: How has the iconography in your church brought the church to life today?
MP: Only Father Elias and our Parish council president Rob Augustinos can speak for the church. I will just give you a very personal observation. I believe once again looking in the eyes of all of our hundreds of families; I believe it has really elevated the level of spirituality of the entire community dramatically. We were a family before we embarked on this project but I believe it has made us all a much closer family. The original purpose of iconography was to teach because people were illiterate, people couldn’t read and so what did you have? You had the liturgy, you had the spoken word and you had iconography. Believe it or not, I actually believe that the icons are an incredibly useful teaching tool as well.
(Michael Psaros then talked about the importance of the Greek Orthodox Church and how it can’t be separated from Hellenism).
MP: I cannot understand those that put orthodoxy in the church and Hellenism in the street in discreet and unique different buckets. I can’t. I had the great privilege of giving the speech at the OXI Day Foundation this year. What I said was during 400 years of Tourkokratia (Turkish rule) what kept the people together? What kept the language alive? And it was the church. And it was simply millions of people continued to believe, Pistevo. They continued to believe and so I can’t separate the two.
(Michael Psaros ended the interview in support of modern Christians who are suffering persecution, particularly in the Middle East)
MP: It is a willful crime of this country, NATO and the West allowing Christianity to be liquidated in the place of its birth. As I said, OXI (No) wasn’t just about OXI Day and that one day, but every monk, every monk in Iraq, every nun in Syria, every Christian who has been evicted, who’s been killed, who’s been beheaded, who’s watched a family suffer, get sick, who’s hungry, every Christian who’s living in a tent, who’s still there, who continues to say OXI, OXI every day, just the fact that they’re alive and it’s a sin that we’re allowing this to happen. The Jewish people like to say about the Holocaust, ‘Never again.’ It’s happening right now as we speak.
PK: I’m humbled. I thank you very much for the opportunity to have us here and get this interview to air and also in the Hellenic News.
MP: I thank you. All we want is people to watch the film and to the extent you’re helping us with that, God bless you.