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Mosaics & Iconography

About the Program

Plans for the interior decoration of Saint Sophia were drawn up in 1965, 10 years after the first service was celebrated. The entire program was initially overseen by the late Dr. Paul Underwood and other Byzantine scholars from Harvard University’s Dumbarton Oaks Center of Byzantine Studies in Washington, D.C., to assure that the scheme of the iconography, adapted from the program used in churches in Constantinople in the 9th century, is authentically represented. Among the Byzantine scholars who researched the program, special recognition is given to Professor Cyril A. Mango of Oxford, the late Dr. Robert Van Nice of Dumbarton Oaks and Dr. Gary Vikan, Director of Waiters Art Gallery in Baltimore, and formerly of Dumbarton Oaks. Ongoing support continues to be offered by Dr. Susan A. Boyd of Dumbarton Oaks. Saint Sophia’s iconographic program portrays the glory aspect of the Kingdom of God, where the Cloud of Witnesses in Heaven, the Church Triumphant, of whose presence we are reminded by the icons, joins the Church Militant to worship at the altar under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

The icon in the position of #21 represents the personage or scriptural event after whom or which the church is named. Saint Sophia is dedicated to Christ , the Holy Wisdom of God, as witness the inscription above the altar, which reads:

“But to those who are called; both Jews and Greeks, we preach Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God “(I Corinthians 1:23-24).

Icon #19, the Nativity, has its place at the Oblation Table. The aforementioned two icons and #22, #23, and #24 are found in every Orthodox church in the world.

The enthroned Christ Omnipotent in the interior of the central dome is the largest such representation in the Orthodox world. It depicts the vision of the Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-3), excerpts of which are inscribed on the rim of the dome, as follows:

“I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Around him stood the seraphim… And one called to another and said: Holy, holy, holy, Lord of hosts… “

All the mosaics and several of the paintings are the work of American-born mosaicist and painter Demetrios Dukas. Other painted icons were created by iconographer Basil Lefchick. The total decoration of the Cathedral was directed by Rev. Dr. John T. Tavlarides, Dean, in cooperation with successive parish councils of the Cathedral.

P. Thomas Koines
February 1999