Many see the outside of the shining dome as they zoom down Interstate 25 south of Fillmore Street. Only those who worship inside Holy Theophany Orthodox Church see the dome’s inner beauty: a vivid painting of Christ looking down from heaven with love for his followers.
“The design of the church is an expression of the interior life of the believer manifesting the beauty, harmony, depth and richness of God,” Father Anthony Karbo says. “The painted dome expresses the reality that Christ is with us as we gather in his name.”
Colorado Springs is home to hundreds of congregations, and as many believers begin to flock back to worship services after the coronavirus lockdown, many experience a renewed sense of beauty and meaning in their churches’ sacred spaces
Worshippers at Holy Theophany experience a feast for the senses. There are vivid sights for the eyes, melodies of ancient chants for the ears, and clouds of incense rising heavenward for the nose.
A display of painted icons picturing long-departed saints isn’t a monument to the dead. It’s an expression of faith in eternal life. The depictions of these holy men and women aren’t musty memorials, but a reminder that they remain alive and present in worshippers’ midst.
Karbo, who studied at the evangelical Fuller Seminary and worked for the Springs-based Young Life before converting to Orthodoxy, says “the spirituality of the Orthodox church drew me in: the stillness, the quiet, the emphasis on the interior life and the sacred.”
The architecture and liturgical decorations at Holy Theophany — a word that describes a physical manifestation of God — illustrate that sacredness so all can see it.
“The sanctuary expresses the sacredness which is already in them,” said Karbo, “and it also imprints upon us what the interior life is like.”
Foundations of faith
On the right at the front of the sanctuary is an image of Mary, the mother of Jesus, as she appeared to a humble Aztec man named Juan Diego in Mexico in 1531.
On the left is a statue of Jesus, one hand open in welcome, the other hand clutching his sacred heart, which is aflame with love for humanity.
In the middle, lifted high and illuminated, is Christ hanging on a crucifix.
The Rev. John Toepfer, the pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, says these three images illustrate three pillars of the Christian story.
Christ’s birth is symbolized in the image of Our Lady, a copy of the 16th-century original, which is believed to be supernaturally created. Mary is dressed in a blue robe that evokes the sacred robes of the highest Aztec god. Golden rays of sunshine — a powerful symbol of Aztec sun gods — emanate from her womb as a symbol of Christ’s divinity.
Christ’s death is captured in the crucifix, and his post-resurrection presence is shown in the statue
Toepfer says the image of Our Lady resonates deeply with the church’s members, 90 percent of whom are immigrants from Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean.
The multiple apparitions of Mary to Juan Diego paved the way for the Christianization of the Americas. In 1999, Pope John Paul II declared Our Lady the Patroness of the Americas, and declared that her Dec. 12 feast day should be celebrated in churches south and north.
“Our Lady is very important to Catholics throughout the Americas,” he said.
Focus on word and sacramentWhile many local churches meet in purpose-built sanctuaries, many others create sacred spaces within former commercial properties.
The Anglican/Episcopalian tradition offers a specific liturgy for sanctifying secular buildings. Holy Trinity Anglican Church used this liturgy in 2009 when it held its first public service in its new home: a former Gleneagle restaurant. As part of the liturgy, a visiting bishop stood outside the church and loudly knocked on the door before being invited in.
Anglican liturgy focuses on word and sacrament, and Holy Trinity’s design honors both.
A big Bible resting on an oak lectern is opened for each of a typical Sunday’s four readings. Members often stands for the reading of the Gospels, and they either chant or responsively read the passage from the Psalms.
Communion bread and wine are laid out on a beautifully carved wooden table that the Rev. Mark Burnett, who served as an Episcopalian rector before joining the Anglican Church in North America, received as a gift from St. Francis Episcopal Church after it closed down. Members come forward to receive communion as they stand or kneel.
The space is brightened by candles and colorful banners. And while the window shutters on Gleneagle Drive are kept closed, the shutters on west-facing windows let in natural light.
“We want to be the kind of community and the kind of people that can worship under a tree and people will know Jesus is Lord,” said Burnett, the founding senior pastor. “If we’re that kind of people, we can use any building.”