This church, floor to ceiling in religious art, offers a portal to the past

Lauren Costantino, Miami Herald on

Published in Lifestyles

MIAMI -- On the outside, the Miami Lakes church looks like any other house of God, perhaps plainer than most.

The unassuming white exterior, topped by a tall bronze dome that peeks over the Palmetto Expressway, offers no hint that stepping into Christ the Saviour Orthodox Cathedral is like entering a glorious gallery of religious art — but one from long, long ago.

Every inch of the Orthodox church is covered in ornate iconography depicting saints, apostles, martyrs and scenes from the Bible — from Jesus Christ’s most famous miracles to the story of his crucifixion. A colorful icon of Christ holding the “book of life” sits at the very top of the dome-shaped ceiling surrounded by four large pillars, home to paintings of apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke and John writing the books of the gospel.

Christ the Saviour was established in the 1960s — but its architectural design reflects Orthodox traditions and beliefs that date back to the fifth century. In a world of constant social, technical and every other kind of upheaval, it adheres to an unchanged version of Christianity.

“There hasn’t been any innovation or movement .... in over one thousand years. It’s basically frozen in time,” said Father Joseph Lucas, rector of the Cathedral while giving a recent tour to students from St. Thomas University.

That means no rock band, no flashy strobe lights, no Bible verses displayed on giant screens as some Christian denominations have turned to in efforts to modernize services and draw a younger audience. Here, for example, the music is chanted, usually without instruments, or sung acapella by a choir.


The congregants don’t just sit in pews and listen. They stand, bow and move to venerate icons or kiss the cross. They stand for most of the service and perform “metanias,” or making the sign of the cross, bowing and sweeping the right hand along the floor, a gesture associated with penance and submission. The church smells strongly of incense.

“When we look at the Orthodox Church today, we don’t really see any change from about the 12th or 13th century until today,” Lucas said. “In terms of new hymns ... there’s definitely no theological ideas that are new.”

Orthodox Christian churches are designed to be a copy of the original temple on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, as evidenced by specific architectural details, like the partition at the front of the church separating church-goers from clergy. They are constructed so that the priest and congregants face east toward the altar and crucifixion icon during worship.

Unlike other forms of Christianity including Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, Orthodox Christianity was not influenced by the Reformation movement. After the fall of the Byzantine Empire, half of Eastern Europe, including the Balkans and Mediterranean, fell under Ottoman rule and was cut off from regular communication with the West. So social shifts like of the expansion of literacy and rise of science and individualism that took root in Western Europe were not embraced in the medieval church.


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