For the Rev. Mark Leondis, the icons of saints leading into the sanctuary at St. Mark Greek Orthodox Church are family. And as you would with beloved family members, the senior pastor at the golden-domed Boca Raton church pauses in conversation to acknowledge them — a few whispered words of greeting to St. John and a kissed-fingers tap for St. Mark.
Leondis only once neglected such familial obligations. As a young deacon visiting a church in Dallas, Texas, during Holy Week, Leondis was rushing through on some or other important errand. A volunteer at the church stopped him short. “No matter how much of a hurry you are in,” the man said, “always venerate the icon before entering the Church.”
“We don’t worship the icons themselves,” Leondis explained, gesturing to some of the 100-plus paintings and mosaics adorning St. Mark’s, from the entryway to atrium to sanctuary. “These are reminders of what these people achieved and what they represent.”
What the artworks represent often depends on the believer, Leondis said. So, while one parishioner has an affinity for Mary, another feels moved by St. John the Baptist. Children love the stories the paintings depict, while elderly churchgoers appreciate the traditions the art reinforces. For some, the paintings inspire faith; for others, they serve as reminders of spiritual journeys, struggles, and values.
Eastern Orthodoxy’s icons, as much as the faith’s holy anointing oil, musical chanting, readings of the Psalms, and the incense wafting from swaying gold censers during church services, “incorporate all of the senses,” Leondis said. “They help lift us to heaven and continually inspire us to treat each other as we treat the icons themselves.”
Opened in 1997, the sanctuary at St. Mark’s was consecrated in 2014, after a significant portion of the church’s current iconography — painted over a span of 10 years by New Jersey-based artist Laurence Manos — was completed. Leondis, St. Mark’s pastor since 2011, said the overall brilliance of the artwork is itself a constant source of revelation for him.
St. Mark’s is one of the rare Greek Orthodox churches brightened by the sun streaming in the chapel’s expansive windows. South Florida’s bright sunlight pours in from east and west, seeming to set aflame the generous halos of gold leaf and the rich reds and blues that suffuse Eastern Orthodox iconography. Leondis said work on the final stage of paintings for St. Mark’s, estimated to cost more than $1 million, is set to begin in June.