Orthodox church adds icons
New pastor excited to share work with public
WARREN — When Father Brian Crivella became the new pastor of St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church in Warren this spring, the iconography scenes on the sanctuary walls and ceiling were one part of the church he looked forward to sharing with the public.
“The iconography has been a journey for the parish,” Crivella said, noting the project began under the leadership of Father Jonathan Cholcher who served the church for many years before leaving in May for a position in Florida.
The project started several summers ago and has iconographer Ivan Roumiantsev returning every few summers to continue with more icons in the church off Reeves Road.
Crivella said a new section was added in the middle of the ceiling that tells of the life of Christ.
He said in every Orthodox church, a Christ Pantocrator image depicts Christ in some way, which is a Greek word meaning “the one who is over all” like a king or emperor.
“People here see the play on words as he is over everything being on the ceiling above everyone in the sanctuary,” Crivella said.
Father John Tutoki, a deacon at the church, said the project has been ongoing for the past seven years and Roumiantsev was at the church working on new panel scenes in May.
Scenes added include Christ surrounded by the four evangelists and the Resurrection. Other scenes show the Last Supper and the Ascension of Christ into heaven.
“Ivan came to the church and did this on his own time. He came here for the love of the church,” Tutoki said, noting Roumiantsev worked some days 10 a.m. to midnight.
Crivella said the scenes are in chronological order when walking to and away from the main altar.
“These are beautiful images for Orthodox churches. When we do an icon, it is not always a historical representation of what happened in the kingdom. There is an image of the disciples and then a spot in the middle that is left blank because that is where the Holy Spirit is. There is a mandorla, an oval shape around an image. Things depicted in a mandorla you can’t see physically but spiritually,” he said.
Crivella said when he first saw the sanctuary, he felt blessed to be coming to a church with such beauty.
“I was overjoyed by such iconography. Ivan has done such wonderful work,” he said.
He said when additional funds are raised, Roumiantsev will return to the church to finish the side walls.
Tutoki, who has seen the project take place, said the first phase was the front altar area, the second phase the sides and the top, and the third phase the center areas of the ceiling
Crivella, who started at the church May 18, said he would like to start weekly iconography classes for adults.
“I have taught classes on iconography and want to share the meanings of the images,” he said.
He said the church has livestreamed services on Facebook for several months, with people coming back for in-person worship slowly as older members want to be safe.
“We encounter God through the beauty, and it leads us closer to Christ. The iconography has been a long journey for this parish,” Crivella said.
Crivella said once the coronavirus ends, he would like to open the church to the general public to see the iconography.
At age 34, Crivella said he was older than many of the other students at the seminary.
“They were all young. Young people for some reason are starting to want to serve more in the church,” he said.
He graduated from St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y., in 2019 and started as a deacon at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Mentor before being elevated to the priesthood in March 2020.
Before he went to seminary, Crivella served seven years in the Coast Guard. He and his wife, Rose, have four children.