Iconography, architecture highlight tours at Orthodox Christian church in Oklahoma City

By Carla Hinton

Guided church tours will be offered during the annual St. Elijah Food Festival set for Nov. 2-3 at St. Elijah Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church, 15000 N May, Oklahoma City.

A breathtaking image of Christ is displayed in vivid hues of blue and gold inside the large dome at St. Elijah Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church.

The majestic imagery is proof that there’s more to the St. Elijah Food Festival than the tasty eastern Mediterranean dishes the annual event has become known for.

The church’s stunning iconography, faith-inspired architecture and rich history also will be on display when the annual festival and holiday bake sale gets under way Friday and Nov. 3 at 15000 N May.

The Rev. Jeremy Davis, 35, associate priest, said visitors may learn all about the church during guided tours that will be offered every half-hour. He said each tour will last about 45 minutes and include time for visitors’ questions.

Davis said between 700 and 800 people took the tours last year, so church leaders have concluded that it is a popular part of the annual fest.

“It’s an opportunity for people to learn about the Orthodox Church, maybe the basics of the history of the parish and the things that are distinctive to Orthodox churches,” he said.

Davis said he has been the church’s associate priest for about five years and has noticed that many people are immediately curious about the church’s notable architecture and iconography.

He said the church’s nave is built in the shape of a cross, a traditional architectural style for Orthodox churches. The cruciform style is part of the Orthodox Christianity faith history, Davis said.

“It’s significant that we’re worshipping in the shape of a cross, surrounded by the life of Christ,” he said.

Visual words

Visitors to the church will see several areas such as the narthex and nave that are found in all Orthodox houses of worship. Like most Orthodox churches, the narthex or vestibule area at St. Elijah includes iconography written especially for this part of the church building.

The St. Elijah narthex, which is perhaps more elaborate than the vestibule or foyers in many non-Orthodox churches, features iconography depicting Jesus’ disciples at Pentecost and another depicting the funeral of the Virgin Mary.

It is the nave or sanctuary, rich with iconography, vibrant stained-glass windows and other visual symbols of faith, where many visitors become captivated, Davis said.

He said iconography is a high priority whenever an Orthodox church is built, and most of St. Elijah’s icons are found in its nave.

“These images make these people who are so important to us present to us,” he said. “They have special significance for the Orthodox Church. They are not just pictures.”

The eye-catching iconography in the church’s dome — a symbol of Christ in the heavens — takes center stage, but other iconography, including an icon of the church’s patron St. Elijah, also is featured prominently.

“We say icons are written not painted, because they are a visual word,” Davis said.

He said ancient churches were covered with iconography — “there was no white space” — because it was the church’s way to depict biblical history and the individuals important in the history of the church.

“When we look around in the church, we see our great-, great-, great-grandfathers of the faith who committed these things down to us,” Davis said, looking around the large room. “We remember them this way, and it’s also a way for us to share them with others.”

Sharing history

Davis said visitors also will visit the church’s St. George’s Chapel, which includes many items from the church’s former church building.

He said the chapel is set up similar to the church’s much smaller former home, with the same pews and altar.

“It’s a nostalgic setting because it has furnishings from the previous church building,” Davis said.

He said the chapel, which seats about 80 people, is often the site of various ceremonies because of the historic nature of many of the items there, such as a baptismal font.

“We will talk about how it (chapel) fits in the history of the church.”

Davis said he is one of about 10 people who will give the guided tours of the church over the two days of the festival.

He said each person will end up giving five or six tours.

“We’re glad to be able to share our church with the community,” Davis said.