Church History

 

Our Church

       

          1918-1953                         1953-2012                            2015-                    

 

On July 3, 1918, in the nation's capital, a small group of Greek immigrants with strong ties to the fatherland and royalist leanings took the bold step of forming a second community in keeping with its political and philosophical convictions.  Demetrios Theophilatos, a wealthy Greek ship owner based in New York City whose sympathies lay with the group, generously contributed $25,000 for the purchase of a house of worship, at 6th and C Streets, S.W.  Thus was born the parish of Saints Constantine and Helen.  The courageous men who undertook this momentous venture were George Dracopoulos, Michael Hiotis, Aristides Christopoulos, Nicholas Kotsopoulos, Anastasios Mantzouris, George Roussos, Stavros Sembekos, George Chipouras, Elias Zografos, and George Vournas.

With the parish duly incorporated, the most important task at hand was the search for a priest.  The first to arrive was Father Nicholas Menides, followed by Father Metaxopoulos, and then by Father Thomas Daniels who served for 36 years, Father Demetrios Kalaris who served for 24 years and Father Nicholas Stavrakis who served for 10 years.  During their pastorates, our Proistamenoi were assisted by Fathers Germanos Psallidakis, Efstratios Spyropoulos, Demetrius Dogias, Michael Yachnis, Nicholas Milas and Demetrios Recachinas. From 1920 until his death in 1956 Father Daniels served the spiritual needs of the parish and under his guidance, the small congregation of 120 members grew and flourished.

The churches of the country were divided, influenced by the political climate in Greece and, as a result, the fledgling parish chose to affiliate itself with the Autocephalous Church of America and Canada under the leadership of Archbishop Vasilios.  Its third Clergy-Laity Congress, hosted by our parish took place in Washington, D.C., on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1926, with Father Daniels acting as chairman.  A high point of the conclave was an audience with President Calvin Coolidge who received Archbishop Vasilios, Father Daniels, and representatives of the Congress at the White House.  Thus began a lasting association with the Oval Office.

In spite of all the difficulties in the early years, the little parish grew.  The most immediate concern of these young immigrants was the preservation of their Hellenic culture and heritage.  How to do this?  By the establishment of a Greek school, of course.  Who would undertake this important task?  Who would be the priest?  And so we now have an important adjunct the church - a school - though rudimentary, for there was very little money.  At least the children would learn the "alpha-beta" and the history of their forebears.  But it wasn't all "alpha-beta" and history.  We soon learned the importance of service to the church.  One fun project was making the candles used during worship services.

The parish prospered and soon was able to afford a teacher, the two and three.  One of the first teachers to whom the children were entrusted was "Kyria Evangelia" Evangelia Hagesteary Yeonas whose tenure was the longest, and who was followed by many - some of whom were Demetrios Demetriades, Evangelia Hagesteary, Kostas Tragomalos (who taught us the beautiful “Aspile” chanted during the five Lenten Fridays), Basil Papadakis (who inspired us to learn all the hymns of Holy Week), Angeliki Nicolopoulou, Vasilios Tsikirdanos, Vasilia Athanasopoulou and Zoe Maroules.

After some years, the Sunday School was established for the religious edification of our children under the direction of "Kyria Evangelia" and Mrs. Hagesteary, "Mikri Kyris Evangelia"), assisted by two young ladies of the Parish, Georgia Franks and Patricia Chanaka, who, with meager tools but great commitment and dedication, endeavored to instill their love of our Faith to the children - armed with nothing more than little paper icons, Bible stories printed in Greek on the back - a hopeful beginning.

Fortunately for the future of the Church, Archbishop Athenagoras is elected to head the Church of the Americas.  Under his wise counsel, the splintered churches forget their differences and unite.  Father Daniels, always supportive of the Archbishop's efforts over the years, is recognized for his contributions to the Orthodox Church and awarded the Cross of the Sepulchre from the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Holy Cross of Greece, and Yugoslavia's Cross of Saint Savas.  As a good shepherd, Archbishop Athenagoras, recognizing that we are a spiritual force, and wishing to make a contribution to our beloved country, establishes a meaningful relationship with the civil authorities, especially the presidents of the United States, who warmly receive him and Father Daniels, his then representative, at the White House.  Because he and Father Daniels are held in such high esteem as spiritual leaders of the post-war era, their counsel is readily accepted by a number of presidents and has significant bearing on provisions in the Marshall Plan and Truman Doctrine with their ultimate benefits to Greece.  Shortly thereafter when Archbishop Athenagoras is elected to the throne of Saint Andrew, President Truman, in a gesture of respect, offers his private plane, "The Sacred Cow," for the journey to the Patriarchate.

In the forties the Koinotikos Pharos (the first parish magazine) is published; one of the first mixed-voice a cappella choirs in the country is organized under the direction of Lazarus Demetriades, accomplished musician and member of the National Symphony Orchestra, some of whose arrangements are still sung in our services today, along with those of our present director, the dedicated Dr. Theodore Papaloizos; the Daughters of Saint Helen and the Sons of Saint Constantine, with Constance Kissal and Lou Tompros serving as early presidents, and later the XON, under the guidance of Dr. Aemil Pouler.  Philoptochos, continuing its role as right arm of the church, with, from then to the present day, Marion Kopsidas, Tasia Kalavritinos, Phyllis Averinos, Irene Chapin, Helen Stathopoulos, and the present Bess Koutras serving as president.

When war erupted in Europe, our parish, as did many others, threw itself wholeheartedly into the war effort, giving great support to the Greek War Relief Drive and its efforts to aid the mother country.  While the boys went off to war, our ladies enlisted in the Red Cross War Relief, giving unstintingly of blood, time and money.  Some gave the most precious gift they had - they gave their loved ones.

The parish continues to grow, and it is obvious that our present church building is not large enough to serve our needs.  A search is instituted and a site is found for our new church and educational center at Sixteenth and Upshur Streets, N.W. On April 11, 1954, the first Divine Liturgy is celebrated by Father Daniels, assisted by Father Demetrios Kalaris, in our new beautiful edifice adorned with its awe-inspiring Byzantine icons, its golden scrollwork, and its crystal chandeliers that had once graced an old New York mansion.  Finally, on October 16, 1960, our church is consecrated by Archbishop Iakovos, and we embark on a new era of parish life.

Leaving the old church is not without some sadness. Such a great part of our lives is left behind, so many memories, happy and sad, where the humble worshipped with the mighty.  We remember the visits of the Kings of Greece - George and Paul, the government dignitaries - Greek and American - General Papagos, Prime Minister Tsaldaris, General Vaughn, Admiral Faucett and many others.  We remember that inspiring day when the newly-elected Archbishop Athenagoras, before his departure and ascension to the Ecumenical Throne, celebrated his last Devine Liturgy in this country at our church.

How can we forget the miracle of the Cross - when the sanctuary was severely damaged by a mysterious fire reducing the Holy Week Cross to charcoal - but wonder of wonders, the figure of the Christ remained untouched! We remember the solemn processions of the Epitaphion from the church to the Peace Monument near Capitol Hill, the light from the candles guiding the path of the worshippers; our annual participation in the Community Christmas Pageant on Washington's Mall; the annual plays presented in Greek by our young people for the entertainment of our parishioners.  All this we remember.

We remember, too, the sadness we felt when we realized that our beloved spiritual leader, Father Daniels, would be taken from us, but our sorrow was tempered by the knowledge that he would leave to continue his work a dedicated steward of the church, Father Demetrios Kalaris.

As we look back on our eighty years, we take pride in our many accomplishments - the seven young men of our parish - Theotokis Pappas, of blessed memory, Basil Kissal, of blessed memory, Demetrios Recachinas, Kosmas Karavellas, Emmanuel Mantzouris, Christos Kontos and Peter Thornberg - who graduated from the Holy Cross Seminary, were ordained, and went on to serve various parishes throughout the country; the three lay-clergymen we contributed to the service of the Church, Fathers Anthony Morfessis, Michael Yachnis and Stanley Voyiaziakis; our GOYA which stood at the forefront from the beginning of the national youth movement; our church paper - The Epistle, now in its 50th year of uninterrupted publication; the role we played in establishing the two sister communities in Virginia - St. Katherine in Falls Church, as well as The Assumption in Winchester, with the ensuing assignment of our beloved Father Michael Yachnis to minister to its spiritual needs; the moral support we have given to so many young communities, St. Theodore of Camp Springs, Maryland, the parish of The Birth of the Theotokos of Fredericksburg, Virginia, and the Greek Orthodox Community of Frederick, Maryland; the Reverend Thomas Daniels School which nurtured hundreds of children during the twenty-five years of its existence; our vibrant and award-winning Boy Scout Troop under the guidance of Mike J. Denikos, John Devin, Andrew Kavounis, Manuel Libert and John Wallace; our very popular bazaars which had the distinction of being the subject of an editorial in the Washington Post - and which through the years were graced with the presence of such dignitaries as cabinet wives, presidential daughter Julie Nixon Eisenhower, First Lady Betty Ford and many others.

Now we turn away from the past eighty years and look toward the future. With God's help we will face the challenges ahead with the same faith and indomitable spirit of our parents and grandparents to preserve for ourselves and our posterity the beauty and grandeur of our Greek Orthodox Faith.

 

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