Greek immigrants founded St. George in 1923; the original church was on Fresno Street just west of Highway 99 near Kearney Boulevard. It moved to the present location in 1955. Since the churches’ completion, the 70-by-45-foot ceiling has been bare. The project to add a Christ Pantocrator (portrait) has been half a century in the making.
St. George Greek Orthodox Church began the search for an iconographer in 1998, after several sizable donations were made specifically to fund the project. By 2005, fifteen different iconographers from the USA, Canada, Italy, and Greece were considered for the job. Nevertheless, later that year the extensive search to find an iconographer led George Gianopulous, chairman of St. George’s Iconography Committee, to visit an art gallery in Carmel, California that featured Russian artists. Gianopulous asked if they knew anybody good. They gave the name Valery Butyrsky.
Valery Butyrsky was an instructor at the Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, Russia. Emails and phone calls were exchanged before he was asked to come to the United States to meet in person and look at the church’s sanctuary. After visiting for two weeks, Butyrsky agreed to the job. He returned to Russia and began sketching the templates using charcoal. The church committee approved the sketches and Butyrsky boarded a plane with his family and came to Fresno; giving up his job as a faculty member to come here.
Work began on the ceiling and walls to prepare for Butyrsky. Massive scaffolding was erected so he could work. With the help of Butyrsky’s wife Larisa, they began transferring the templates to the ceiling. In October of 2006, Butyrsky received approval from the committee to begin painting with acrylics, oils, and gold leaf. He expected to be finished by June of 2007 but an unexpected pregnancy caused him to fall behind. Butyrsky’s wife Larisa became pregnant with their second child, and with her unable to climb the scaffolding he worked by himself. The ceiling bodywork was finished in 2011, but the final phase of the project was not completed until this year.
Today the entire church is painted and finished. The awe inspiring iconography fills the ceiling for all patrons and visitors to enjoy. Butyrsky’s work is loved and appreciated by so many individuals. Today Valery Butyrsky lives in Fresno with his family, and continues to do private work when hired. The finished ceiling has closed a chapter of the church’s history and opened a new one, focused on giving back to the community that made everything possible.