Parishioners who worship at St. Spyridon Orthodox Church sat on folding chairs Aug. 5 during their first divine liturgy in the new nave of a church not yet complete.
“It will probably take decades to complete the church,” said the Rev. Evan Armatas of Fort Collins, comparing the church to a beautiful piece of art that, as brushstrokes are added, evolves and eventually gains a patina. “They tend to age toward beauty as opposed to becoming dated.”
The pews will take several years to arrive to fill in the 7,500-square-foot space at 807 W. 29th St. They will be hand-crafted by carvers on Mount Athos, a peninsula in the Mediterranean Sea that’s a monastic republic, and once finished will seat 400.
The painting of the entire interior space also will take several years, telling Bible stories in pictures and showing scenes from the life of Christ and Christian saints in icons created by iconographer Leonidas Diamantopoulos of Barcelona. His work will begin in the fall.
“They will be all over the building from front to back, from side to side, from floor to ceiling,” said Armatas, who serves as St. Spyridon’s priest. “It’s a jewel box inside.”
That jewel box â€” the first Orthodox church in Loveland â€” is artisanal, employing many handmade items and natural materials. There is marble flooring in the altar and a mosaic in the narthex flooring. The silver is hand-tooled. The windows are leaded glass. And the choice of natural woods favors alder and mahogany, such as the mahogany icon screen in front of the altar table, uniting the nave to the altar.
“It’s a modern church even though it’s an ancient church,” Armatas said.
The church follows an Orthodox tradition that is 2,000 years old and the most ancient of Christian traditions, Armatas said.
St. Spyridon’s founding
The church came about in 2001 when the church’s six founding families wanted to establish a Greek Orthodox church, something lacking in Northern Colorado at the time. They held their first divine liturgy on Nov. 25 of that year, celebrated by the Rev. Peter Harrison from a Cheyenne, Wyo., church, at the Palmer School of Floral Design in Fort Collins.
In 2002, the church moved to 1101 Academy Court in Fort Collins, and on May 23, 2004, the parish was accepted into the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. The church relocated to Loveland in January 2005, moving into a building the parish remodeled at 745 E. Fifth St.
“They were a group of Orthodox Christians who developed ideas similar to mine,” Armatas said. “They wanted to establish a new community that would incorporate the beautiful ancient traditions of Orthodox Christianity but be able to communicate that to the modern world in a place that had not experienced Orthodoxy.”
Armatas, a Denver native, worked in the professional world before being called into seminary and the priesthood. He attended Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Boston, Mass., earning his master’s of divinity in 2002 and taking his first assignment as assistant pastor that year at St. Catherine Greek Orthodox Church in Greenwood Village, where he served for five years.
He also taught the New Testament at Colorado Christian University in Lakewood for a couple of years and lectured nationwide.
“While I was there, I had the opportunity to develop some outreach ministries to non-Orthodox Christians and people looking for a Christian church,” Armatas said. “Every Christian church has its roots in Orthodoxy. The message I was trying to communicate is it’s an exploration of our own past in the modern day.”
Church begins to grow
Armatas arrived at St. Spyridon in January 2007 and that August was officially assigned as the permanent priest. The church was growing, and it started searching for a new space within two years of moving to Fifth Street. In August 2014, the church voted to purchase St. Spyridon’s permanent home on 29th Street.
“As we have grown and subsequently moved several times, our worship space has changed,” said Maria Tschetter of Fort Collins, a founding family member, parish council president and chairwoman of the church’s Construction Oversight Committee.
“During planning and construction, it’s often hard to visualize how it will turn out,” she said. “Not until we moved all of our things into the completed building did it become real. And once our parishioners were there, I knew it was perfect.”
The new home, paid for without debt, cost $1.25 million for the church, gym, office and classroom building and property, which is 2.2 acres. The remodel, renovation and reconstruction of the church building cost more than $2 million â€” the church paid off all but $1.2 million through parishioner fundraising efforts.
The church moved into the building in 2015, allowing the previous owner, the Loveland Church of the Nazarene, to stay for one year before beginning its own services.
Beginning the remodel
In July 2017, the church began the remodeling project and took one year to complete construction. The old sanctuary spanned 5,000 square feet, and the church added another 2,500 square feet, expanding the entire building to 17,500 square feet.
The project involved tearing down most of the old building and renovating the grounds, particularly two undeveloped vacant lots on the west side.
The church retained the tongue-and-groove ceiling with wooden flying buttresses but removed the west and east ends and the side walls, along with all of the interior operational systems, Armatas said.
“We wanted to honor the church that was here before us by retaining that architectural feature,” Armatas said. “We wanted to build a church that was aesthetically stunning. We wanted a space that would lift the human spirit, that would honor God and connect the heavens and earth.”
The church also wanted a worship space that looks timeless, not dated over time, and that serves as a gift to the community, presenting the beauty of the exterior construction for those passing by, Armatas said.
“Every space was crafted with use in mind and the theological meaning behind it,” Armatas said. “They’re not just spaces. They’re used in worship, and they have specific value and meaning, so you have to be intentional with every design choice.”
For instance, the windows are designed to let in light but remove external distractions, and the colors of the flooring are intended to lift up the soul, Armatas said.
The beauty of a space
“It’s been a long journey to get here. A lot of work has gone into its planning and preparation,” said Nolan Brown of Loveland, communications director for the church. “It will be nice to be back in a space that complements our worship practices.”
Brown finds that being in the space brings him inner stillness and peace.
“It’s a beauty that draws you past yourself … and it’s a beauty that doesn’t need to be pleasing to be beautiful, yet it is very pleasing when it becomes your own,” Brown said.
Chris Finger of Loveland, director of the church choir since 2009, likes both the beauty of the new space and the acoustics of the south transept, where the choir sings.
“That’s made a huge difference in our ability to serve and enjoy the experience of serving,” Finger said, explaining that the choir members can hear one another better and are better able to blend their voices. “All of a sudden, it makes the choir so much better. … The music, the artwork and the architecture and the beauty are all elements that come together in enabling and enhancing Orthodox worship.”
The sanctuary is laid out in the shape of a cross, the traditional design, with the congregation in the nave facing the altar, or sanctuary, to the east. The north and south transepts form the short arms of the cross. The narthex, on the west end of the building, is the entryway, separated from the nave by a wall of windows and glass doors. This allows worshippers to leave the world behind and enter into a sacred space, Armatas said.
“We wanted a true traditional Christian space that was also Orthodox so that the function of the liturgy worship would fit the space,” Armatas said. “The building is symbiotic to worship. It’s not just a space. We really couldn’t just build any rectangular building. That’s why it’s shaped in a cross. … Every aspect of the space meets a theological reason or purpose.”
The public grand opening
The church is offering a series of public events over the next year, and there will be an open house weekend in mid-October.
“Anyone is welcome to join us,” Armatas said. “We establish the parish as an opportunity to reach out to everyone, and there’s a spirit of hospitality and welcome in the community.”
Services are on Sunday at 8:30 a.m. for orthros and 9:30 a.m. for the divine liturgy. The church’s website is saintspyridon.church.
Shelley Widhalm is a freelance writer and editor and founder of Shell’s Ink Services, a writing and editing service based in Loveland. She has more than 15 years of experience in communications and holds a master’s degree in English from Colorado State University. She can be reached at shellsinkservices.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.