An icon of St. Nicholas once for sale in a Pittburgh antique store now highlights the sanctuary at the Nativity of Christ Orthodox Church.

The Right Rev. Archim Andoni (Callozzo), who came to the church as pastor in August of 2012, had admired the icon but it was priced significantly above his means.

But then a friend of means bought the icon for him as a gift after the priest had bargained the price down.

That was about two years ago.

In turn, Father Andoni made a gift of the 18th- century icon to the church at 727 Miller St., where the first liturgy there was Dec. 25, 1955. The church conducted its first service Jan. 7, 1915, at its first location on Arlingston Street in the vicinity of Youngstown State University.

“It’s only proper that the icon is in a church,” Father Andoni said. “Here it can be venerated.”

He continued that the icon “is painted in the best Byzantine style technically and absolutely with holiness.”

The icon is painted on wood and is protected by a riza, an ornate metal cover that overlays most of the icon; St. Nicholas’ face is shown. Father Andoni said this is the St. Nicholas who inspired Santa Claus.

Each year on St. Nicholas feast day, Dec. 6, there is a service at his original church, now in ruins.

“He is a very popular saint and protector of the city,” the priest said. The idea of protector is what inspired Father Andoni to bring the icon to Youngstown, which has been plagued with crime and violence. “I think of St. Nicholas as a protector of this city,” he said. “All people are invited to come and venerate ... and light a candle and kiss the icon,” Father Andoni said.

St. Nicholas, who was a bishop, is depicted with a sword in one hand and the city in other, further reflecting the role of protector. The riza has a bejeweled halo around the saint’s face.

The pastor noted two members of the church who have venerated the icon have experienced an improvement in their health.

Father Andoni said, “Icons for Orthodox are not meant as a representation. They are the presence of the saint or event depicted. They portray the human and divine sides, that is, transfigured ... man in a sanctified state.” He added, “Icons are very sacred in the Orthodox Church.

“But we don’t believe saints perform miracles ... God performs miracles through them,” he said.

Myriad icons highlight Nativity of Christ Orthodox Church. The iconostasis, a wall of icons, separates the nave from the sanctuary.

The royal doors feature the Annuniciation while the icon to the right shows the “Savior in glory” after the Resurrection and to the left is a depiction of infant Jesus with his mother, which demonstrates His humanity.

The doors also include Archangel Gabriel, St. Philip, nativity of Christ and St. Nicholas.

Icons highlighting the arch that frames the iconostasis depict the “mystical supper that was the institution of the Eucharist,” Father Andoni said. Other icons are St. Basil the Great, described as “father of the church;” and St. John Chrysostom and St. Gregory, hierarchs of the church.

Father Andoni is an iconographer and studied two years in a monastery in Greece.

He said, “Icons have fixed position and style. It’s not your interpretation.”

Behind the royal doors is the altar table, where the Eucharist is celebrated. “We don’t approach God in a rational and intellectual way but a mystical way,” Father Andoni said. “We have a spiritual relationship with God.”

Discipline is important through fasting, confession and attending liturgy. But, Father Andoni said, the Church is “not restricted and all are welcomed no matter what background.”

The church has 29 official members though a few others attend liturgies.

Next week is Orthodox Holy Week and Pascha Sunday; visitors are welcome at the church to venerate the St. Nicholas icon.

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