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Athenian iconographer Georgios Kordis stands by the mural he and his staff are painting on the ceilings and walls at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church in Jeffersonville, Pennsylvania. (Sharon Gekoski-Kimmel/Philadelphia Inquirer/MCT)
Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Some Greek citizens remain unruffled

PHILADELPHIA – It is not often that a Greek man discusses politics and a listener must strain to hear; high decibels and hand gestures are more common Greek rhetorical tools. And yet, during a chat with Georgios Kordis the other day, a hearing aid would have been helpful.

Even a buzz saw did not alter Kordis’ Zen-like whisper inside a new Greek Orthodox church in Philadelphia’s Montgomery County, as he discussed last week’s German-led 130-billion-euro ($172 billion) bailout to keep Greece from defaulting on its loans.

An iconographer and theologian, Kordis, 55, is not a man of bravado or by-the-minute panic. He is a man of art, of letters and of God. He lives in Athens, the very city of risen and fallen empires where, many millennia and marauders later, the ancient Acropolis still glows at night.

Greece’s last two centuries have been unsteady – economic crises, political instability, German occupation, civil war, prosperity, corruption, the debt crisis. Four centuries before, its citizens were under Ottoman Turkish rule.

“Many times in our history, we have these problems – and bigger problems – but we make it,” said Kordis, who has been painting Byzantine icons on the domed plaster ceiling of the new St. Sophia Church, one of six artists ensconced amid figures of the Virgin Mary, Christ, and the Apostles.

“I don’t worry,” he said, nodding slightly and flashing a knowing smile.

Since arriving in Philadelphia in late January, Kordis and his crew have spent every morning and evening (except Sundays) hand-painting murals of saints high up into the window-lit dome of the almost-finished church.

Their work is to be completed before it opens to worshipers on Palm Sunday.

“It’s not so bad a situation,” he said. “News exaggerates things.”