Those who walk into St. Therese Church in Northeast Portland will find two icons nearly glowing behind the altar.

On the left is the story of creation and the fall. On the right is an image of Jesus’s resurrection, a force that is pulling Adam and Eve out from their graves.

The icons, dedicated in August, tell the story of the faith from its beginning.

Before Father Steve Geer came to St. Therese, there was a tapestry hanging on the wall behind the altar. For years, the two large walls flanking it held banners.

“We all knew that wasn’t great,” said the priest.

A group started talking about what should go up instead of the banners. The walls were too large to be left empty.

Someone heard about Father Jon Buffington and his iconography and so the parish began consulting with him. Parishioners wanted something to adorn the walls that would give meaning to the large crucifix. That sparked the idea of images of the creation and salvation stories.

“That way you have the gifts of God given freely out of love, rejected out of pride but with a promise given,” said Father Buffington. “The crucifix becomes the result and the fulfillment of the promise. And then the second icon becomes the results of the promise.”

Father Buffington wanted the images to say not just that the story was told but that the diversity of the parish was represented in the story. So in the Resurrection image is a portrayal of what St. Paul referred to as the Cloud of Witnesses, or the saints. The saints written include St. Rose of Lima, St. Martin De Porres, the Holy Family, St. Thérèse, St. Andrew Dung Lac, St. Lorenzo Ruiz and St. Catherine of Siena.

“It’s more inclusive of the entire community,” said Father Buffington.

After parishioners decided to have icons on the wall and hired Father Buffington, he worked on the images in the church for all the faithful to see.

Watching the icons being written on a week by week basis was a real revelation in itself,” said Barb Wilwers, a member at St. Therese. “It was so evident that the hand of God was at work and that feeling will stay with me forever.”

Many in the parish didn’t know what an icon really was, said Father Geer. And now they’ve become not just a teaching tool to talk about creation and salvation history but also a part of many parishioners’ worship experiences.

The stories portrayed in the icons and in the crucifix are designed to direct worshippers to the altar and the Eucharist, said Father Geer.

“To me, the icons at St. Therese Parish mean live Bible Scriptures without words. They're not regular paintings because they describe the truth in the Bible instead of imagination,” said Thang Nguyen, a parishioner. “Every time I look at them the Bible comes alive. Through them, I'm able to read and reflect on the words of God, which are the spiritual food for my soul.”

Other parishioners agree.

“The triptych captures what I believe – Creation, the Fall, Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection, followed by the Communion of Saints,” said Sue Anker, a member at St. Therese. “Gazing into the icons calls to mind just how awesome God is and how much I am loved.”

sarahw@catholicsentinel.org