July 13th, 2012
09:00 AM ET

In Queens, carver tells religious stories through wood

By Effie Nidam, CNN

New York (CNN) - The sounds of hammers and saws fill the air in the small workshop of the Byzantion Woodworking Company in the Queens neighborhood of Astoria. The smell of sawdust and wood polish is thick.

At the center of it all, woodworker Konstantinos Pilarinos lovingly chisels elaborate carvings destined for Greek Orthodox churches across the country.

“The pieces I make by hand, that people pray upon in church, are like my children,” he says.

A series of tragedies brought Pilarinos to this city and this profession.

He learned woodcarving at an orphanage in Greece, where his mother deposited him when he was a teenager.

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His father had died when he was 3, and when he was 14, his mother found six children too much to deal with, he says.

“It was just too many kids for her to take care of,” he says. She sent him to the orphanage.

There, he discovered his love of woodworking, and his talent for the craft. He sees it as a calling.

Konstantinos Pilarinos stands with one of his creations.

"This talent comes from religion. So you need to know your religion well, in order to become a master of woodcarving.

“Religion and woodcarving come hand in hand, because I tell religious stories through my work," Pilarinos says in Greek, translated by his daughter Penny.

In 1974, he came to the United States, drawn by the knowledge that his late father had once lived and worked there.

He and his wife and settled in Astoria, Queens, a heavily Greek neighborhood just outside of Manhattan.

"At first, it was difficult to find work in my field. I worked as a construction worker and had other various jobs - and I wasn't paid very much," he recalls.

But the area has many Greek churches, and a disaster at one of them gave Pilarinos the opportunity to make his living at his craft.

A fire struck St. Demetrios Cathedral, a Greek Orthodox house of worship in Astoria, and damaged a major part of the cathedral's icon screen.

Icon screens, the most important pieces an Orthodox church, are large decorative panels, up to 70 feet long, that separate the sanctuary from the congregation.

Pilarinos asked the priests of St. Demetrios if he could restore the burned icon screen. They hesitated at first, but he was finally able to convince them. The priests were impressed with his work.

“I was able to restore the icon screen for them, like it was before the fire," he says.

Now, along with his apprentices and daughter, Pilarinos works tirelessly to create Greek Orthodox ornamental church furnishings.

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Pilarinos is actively handing down his business, sharing his knowledge and talents with his apprentices and Penny.

But the work is harder for him than it once was. Today, he speaks a bit slower and does most of his work with the help of his apprentices. Sometimes his hands shake as he pushes down on his chisels. It’s all because of a stroke he suffered last year. But he says it will not keep him from the work he loves.

"Having the stroke only made me stronger, because I just want to continue what I do," he insists.

"I feel like I am doing something very good for the world every time I make these pieces,” he says. “When I make a piece for the church, I want to impress people, and I want everyone to say bravo."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Greek Orthodox Church

soundoff (375 Responses)
  1. SoldierOfConscience

    To whomever responded to my posts:

    I sent a link of this forum to my pastor. He gently scolded me saying you dont be rude to people, pull them down or say bad things about other people (e.g. g ays, they are also humans) to make your point. He's advising me to stop posting on these forums since the christian thing is to explain one's viewpoint and its up to the other person whether he accepts it or not. That I'm doing more damage than good.

    So, if anyone was hurt, sorry. That was not my point. I want to save as many souls as possible by educating people of the truths.


    July 17, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You don't give a crap about anyone's soul. What you care about is forcing your beliefs on others by denying them the rights you have simply because you disapprove of their behavior.

      Stop lying.

      July 17, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  2. SoldierOfConscience

    Good luck living in a world without morality

    July 16, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      Which "morality" is that?
      Your defintion, your churches, another churches, the morality of the people who created your bible over 2000 years ago.
      Oh please wise one, which morality?

      July 16, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • SoldierOfConscience

      you'll be afraid for your property, your family, your home and your life. Pure anarchy.

      July 16, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV


      morality exists outside of religion. The key is in your own handle – conscience.

      Everyone does have an understanding of right and wrong (a conscience if you will). The collective conscience is morality.

      This changes over time and is culturally dependent. It is not always consistent with religion.

      July 16, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      Religion itself is immoral.

      You want to impose your "morality" on others and try to use your immoral religion to site reasons for it.

      And you just keep earning that moron label.

      July 16, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  3. Who invited me?

    Lets turn the clock back to before your religions were created....what a paradise that would be
    except for all of the advances we have made
    If we could rid ourselves of these rediculous religions, we would be far more along than we are now...it is only religious zealots like yourself that want to go back to more primitive times.

    July 16, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  4. SoldierOfConscience

    decades ago, we didnt have this much crime. We had mom/dad raising kids in houses lined with picket fences. we had the american dream. Very few single moms, disruptive kids, ADD, drug addiction, etc etc

    Why are we in the midst of hell in a handbasket, socially?

    Because of the breakdown in the whole system. I can point to a few factors:

    a/ No fault divorce, one of the worst thing ever for marriages {and accompanying loss of social stigma on divorcees}

    b/ s@me s3x 'marriage', one of the worst thing ever for marriages, diluting the meaning of marriage. we already have the p0lygamists calling out for recognition based on the fact that g ay people have it. Be afraid what will come next...

    c/ Lack of respect for the un born child : If you cant respect the un born child, how are you going to respect living children or families?

    We just need to turn the clock back, so to speak in these areas. We can keep modern science and the internet etc etc, it will be a perfect situation.

    July 16, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Between 1960 and 2010, total crime rate went from 2 per 100 people and doubled to a maximum of 6 (between 1980 and 1990) and was back down to 3.3 in 2010.

      In the same period, the incarceration rate in the US went from about 100 per 100,000 people to 500 per 100,000.
      See: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/48/U.S._incarceration_rates_1925_onwards.png

      We now have more people in jails than crimes are being committed.

      I'd say the perception of crime and the response to it changed – much more than the actual crimes.
      Over the period with a net crime increase of 65%, there is a 500% increase in incarceration.

      July 16, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      I got the crime data here:

      July 16, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.