Iconographer Miloje Milinkovic paints murals on the walls inside St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church in Jackson. Milinkovic is nearly finished painting the church he has worked on the past 12 years.
By Dana M. Nichols
Record Staff Writer
September 07, 2008 6:00 AM
JACKSON - Miloje Milinkovic lives among the saints.
He's spent much of the past 25 years on scaffolds in the domes and alcoves of Orthodox churches, floating among icons of saints and scenes from the life of Christ.
Milinkovic was born in a village in Serbia. He attended theology school in Belgrade. It was there he was introduced to art of creating Byzantine icons - the vivid images on the walls, domes and ceilings of Orthodox churches. He set out to master the art. He prayed. He fasted. He journeyed to Greece to study with masters there. And in 1986, he began traveling to America to paint icons in Orthodox churches here.
Now Milinkovic is 50. And he is within two weeks of completing what some say is his greatest work: approximately 400 faces and dozens of scenes in the interior of St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church in Jackson, the oldest Serbian Orthodox church in America.
"It's really transformed the church," said Father Tom Triva Pavlov, who is deacon at St. Sava.
"When the church was first built, the walls were all white."
That was in 1894, when Serbian immigrant miners yearning to practice their native faith pooled their money to erect the small church.
And the walls stayed white until 1996, when Father Budimir Andjelic, who was then priest at St. Sava, asked Milinkovic how much it would cost to paint the mother of God and Jesus Christ on the arched ceiling over the sanctuary.
Milinkovic has been working off and on at St. Sava ever since, as church finances and his other obligations permitted. Now, all that remains is to fill in the hands, feet and faces for the figures in one scene - Christ's transfiguration on Mount Tabor.
Milinkovic says he does not know how many thousands of hours he has put into the work. He says he uses a watch only when he is training for marathons, not when he is painting icons.
St. Sava will be the fourth Orthodox church in the United States that Milinkovic has painted himself from start to finish. He also painted the much larger Serbian Orthodox church in Fair Oaks and two in the Chicago area.
Although St. Sava is much smaller than the Fair Oaks church, it is also more challenging because it is mostly square, and thus without the arches and soaring nave dome that provide the canvas for icons in most Orthodox churches.
The basic design for St. Sava has large images of Christ at several key locations on the ceiling. Old Testament stories are in a band at the tops of the walls. Below that are wide panels with scenes from the life off Christ. And below those scenes are icons of saints.
"Nothing is accidental here. Everything is in the right place according to the canon," Milinkovic said.
That includes an image of St. Sava's current priest, Father Steve Tumbas, in a panel at the far left rear of the church close to the narthex. And in a panel in the right rear of the church, close to the bottom, is an image of an altar boy whose face looks a whole lot like Milinkovic.
Pavlov said that even though it's not completed, classes from nearby Argonaut High School have been coming to the church to study the icons as examples of Byzantine art.
"God guides his hands," Pavlov said of Milinkovic.
Some of the acrylic paints used by iconographer Miloje Milinkovic to create murals in the St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church in Jackson. Milinkovic has been painting the murals inside the church over the past 12 years.
A detail of one of the murals painted by iconographer Miloje Milinkovic in the St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church in Jackson. Milinkovic has been painting murals inside the church over the past 12 years.
Miloje Milinkovic says all the paintings inside St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church in Jackson are done according to the canon. Nothing is accidental here, he says.
Iconographer Miloje Milinkovic takes a break from painting murals on the inside of St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church in Jackson to view his work. Milinkovic is nearly finished painting the murals on the church which he has worked on over the past 12 years.