Members of a Washington Heights church are hoping an elderly robber — caught by a surveillance camera walking off with a beloved religious icon last week — will have a pang of conscience and return it.
No questions asked.
Around 12:25 p.m. on May 8, a man believed to be about 65 years old is seen on the video entering Saint Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church at 124 Wadsworth Ave. and slowly walking up to a religious painting placed on top of a counter.
The man — who used a cane — removed his jacket and then placed the holy icon into his jacket before leaving the church.
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The 2-foot-by-3-foot painting was of the church’s patron saint, Saint Spyridon, and is valued at about $5,000, according to Father Evagoras Constantinides.
While there is a large black market internationally for stolen religious artwork, relics and artifacts, police and church officials have not said if they believe the theft was related to how valuable the painting is, or if the thief was obsessed with owning it.
Constantinides, the head priest at the church, said the thief has been seen inside and around the church many times, although he is not a member of the congregation.
The elderly man, according to Constantinides, has attended Sunday services, although he doesn’t stay the entire Mass, and has also asked to use the restroom. When the painting was taken, parishioners were still inside the church but were downstairs during the coffee hour following Sunday service.
“Being that we are a house of worship we are founded in the teachings of opening our doors to all people and, unfortunately, there are some people that come and bring their difficulties with them,” Constantinides said.
What makes the painting unique is that, unlike most religious icons that are duplicates of original paintings, the one stolen was hand drawn by artist Constantine Youssis and featured a 24 karat gold leaf on the background.
According to Constantinides, Youssis, who has drawn icons for various churches, had completed the painting about 50 years ago. The artist was a member of Saint Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church and lived across the street until he passed away.
Constantinides said it is unfortunate when a crime such as this occurs, but added that he is not angry and is praying for the man seen in the video.
“I’m not angry, right now we are hopeful the painting will be returned,” he said. “We pray for both the icon’s return and that this man can see some sort of salvation in returning the icon.”
Church officials filed a report with police a week after the theft because Constantinides was traveling that week and surveillance video had not been viewed until this past Saturday.
The report of this incident comes a week after the NYPD released surveillance video of a trio of suspects taking a Jesus statue from outside a Brooklyn church in April.
Police described the suspect in the May 8 crime as being 5 feet 3 inches and about 150 pounds
Anyone with information in regards to this incident is asked to call the NYPD's Crime Stoppers Hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477) or for Spanish, 1-888-57-PISTA (74782).
The public can also submit their tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers website or by texting their tips to 274637 (CRIMES) then enter TIP577.