Russian couple paints elaborate church ceiling

FRESNO, Calif.

Father James Pappas says just viewing the new but classical artwork in his church can be an emotional experience. "I've watched people walk in here and some burst into tears because they are so moved by the beauty that has been done here inside of St. George."

Pappas says such ornate artistry in a church is a part of the Greek Orthodox tradition. "So that you can step out of the world into heaven on earth."

The depictions of Jesus the Saints and Angels cover a ceiling nearly as large as that of the Sistine Chapel. They are the creations of artists Valery Butrysky and his wife Larisa Popchenko.

The couple spent four years on scaffolding high above the church floor painting the iconic figures. Father Pappas found the artists, in St. Petersburg, Russia, and commissioned them to finish the church. "The goal here was to complete a project that was started back in the 1950's."

The painting of the ceiling and other artwork for the church has dominated the couples lives. "It was difficult and at the same time very interesting. We feel like God gave us this job." Laria told us.

The couple now considers Fresno a second home. Their daughter Anya was 7 years old when they came here. She's now 12. In addition, the couple had two children since they arrived.

Nellie, and George, he's named for Saint George, the namesake of this church. Larisa said, "Fresno is very, very important city to us."

Anya is starting Middle School and feels at home here. She see's being raised by artists who paint churches as just part of a normal life. "I feel great about what my parents do, but I grew up with them painting and having paintings all over my house and I'm used to it. Other people they think it's like magic what they do, but I'm like, I don't know, they do what they do."

What they're doing here is nearly finished. They are creating two large portraits which will hang on the walls of the church. They are glad that their work here will be seen by hundreds every week, for decades to come. "We want them to feel inspired and happy and joyful."

Of his work on the ceiling, Valery told us in Russian, "People spend too much time sad, and looking down. We want to give them a reason to look up. To see heaven."

Copyright © 2021 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.