ST. GEORGE GREEK ORTHODOX CHURCH OF NEW MEXICO
Although the St. George Greek Orthodox Church of New Mexico was not officially founded until 1944, Greek Orthodoxy was represented in the Land of Enchantment for many years prior to that date. Some of the early arrivals before 1918 were in alphabetical order: Steve Anthony; Dan Askos; Gus Bruskas; Steve Dikitolia; Gus Koulas; the Lycos brothers; George and Tom May; Anthony and Ted Pavlantos, with the former’s wife, Bessie (now Mrs. Steve Anthony); the Provas family; the Psaltis brothers; and Philip Vouteritsos. It is reported that the first child born of Greek parents in the area was George Pavlantos.
In those early days, the religious needs of the New Mexican Greeks were served by visiting priests, who were invited to come to Albuquerque from time to time. On such occasions, the priest would celebrate mass baptisms in a galvanized tub, and would perform Orthodox marriages for those couples previously married elsewhere. He would also conduct funerals if present on such sad occasions; otherwise, the services of an Episcopal clergyman were obtained.
It is a fact that the religious and ethnic identity of the Greek Orthodox of New Mexico of the pre-1944 era was maintained quite successfully, even though the odds were really against it. Besides the sporadic visits of priests mentioned above, the State’s Greeks would get together annually at Easter, which inevitably was celebrated in the mountains, and in a truly Greek fashion with lamb being cooked on a spit over an open fire. At other times, the entire Greek population of New Mexico would be invited to various homes such as happened many times at the Albuquerque home of Anthony and Bessie Pavlantos and the opportunity would be offered to reinforce Greek Orthodox customs and traditions.
One of the most noteworthy efforts during this pre-1944 period was the founding of the AHEPA Sanitorium, which was realized in 1937 on a lot now occupied by Presbyterian Hospital. It was for the dedication of this facility that the then Greek Orthodox Archbishop of the Americas, Ahtenagoras (later Ecumenical Patriarch from 1948 until 1972), paid one of his rare visits to the State. The Sanitorium served those Ahepans and their families from throughout the country who suffered from tuberculosis. Unfortunately, because of financial difficulties, the AHEPA Sanitorium was forced to close its doors in 1942.
During World War lI the Greeks of New Mexico were very active in support of the war effort. Children would stand on the corner of 4th and Central in national costume collecting funds for the Greek War Relief, and the Ahepans and Daughters spent many hours rolling bandages at Roosevelt Park for the Red Cross. The record of purchases by Greek Orthodox of War Bonds was exemplary.
Finally in 1944 the time had come to organize the Greek Orthodox element in New Mexico on a formal basis. In April of that year, the Reynolds property on South High Street was purchased for $20,000, through the efforts of George Ade, Gus Bruskas, and Gust Ellis, who negotiated a $50,000 bank loan. Church bonds for $50 and $100 were purchased by Greeks throughout the State. During that same month of April 1944 the Community was officially accepted and chartered by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, and later the first resident priest, Father Daniel Sakellariou, was assigned. That April was also the month of the formal and legal incorporation of “The Hellenic Community of New Mexico” by the State of New Mexico. On an official copy of the original articles of corporation, kept in the Community’s Archives, the following signatures appear as directors of the corporation: Gus Bruskas, President; Steve J. Sponduris, Secretary; and Board of Directors William Kirikos, James Frangos, John Carll, Louis Vrattos, George J. Giann, Cost Kikas, Helen Morris, John G. Benakis, and Gust D. Ellis. Besides these individuals, others who at the time expended much effort toward the founding of our Parish were George Ade, Steve Dikitolia, Strates Kaplanides, George May, Angelo Mazas, Jim Morris, Jim Pavlakos, Gus Pouls, and Alex Provas.
After much effort, the cornerstone of the church building was finally laid on March 27, 1948, under the direction of Father Silas Koskinas (now bishop of New Jersey ) who had replaced Father Sakellariou as pastor in 1946 and Parish Council President Louis Vrattos. The church was eventually to cost $42,000, and the first Divine Liturgy was celebrated there on August 15, 1948, Feast of the Dormition of the Virgin. In 1952, His Grace Bishop Athenagoras Kokkinakis of Elaia then Bishop of the then Fourth Archdiocesan District headquartered in Los Angeles, and now Archbishop of Thyateira and Great Britain in London consecrated our church in commemoration of St. George the Tropaioforos, so named because of the original efforts of George Ade, who had since passed away in 1946. Assisting the Bishop was Father Petros Remoundos, who had replaced Father Koskinas in 1949.
When the needs of the Community grew, and it was recognized that a meeting hall was a necessity, plans were made to tear down the old Reynolds residence, and construct such a center. The Community Center was finally dedicated in 1957 by His Grace Bishop Demetrios of Olympus from Los Angeles (now retired), and under the leadership of Father Arthur Harris (who had replaced Father Remoundos in 1954) and Parish Council President Nikita Pappas. Expanding the physical facilities, the present parish home was completed in 1958 under Parish Council President John Benakis.
As the Community matured, it was possible in 1964 to burn the original mortgage upon completion of payments to the First National Bank. Presiding at the happy ceremony were Father George Arseniu (who had replaced Father Harris in 1959) and Parish Council President Angelo Gineris. During that same period, a gala celebration was held in 1968 to note the 20th Anniversary of the building of our church under the direction of Father Emmanuel J. Athans (who had replaced Father Arseniu in 1967) and Parish Council President Nick Katsuleas. Present was His Grace Bishop Iacovos of Katani, Bishop of the newly organized (in 1960) Eighth Archdiocesan District headquartered orginally in New Orleans, then Houston, and finally Denver. During the following year, 1969, the Parish hosted the 2nd Annual Junior GOYA Diocesan Conference, which was an example of the Community’s assuming for the first time its proper place in the Church beyond its own boundaries. Also in 1969, the Community completed the Education Building under the Parish Council Presidency of Ralph Durham.
Following Father Athans’ retirement in 1972, the Archdiocese assigned Father Stanley Adamakis to our Parish. He was succeeded in October 1974 by the present pastor, Father Demetrius T. Dogias. Since that time Community growth has continued. In October 1975 the first Grecian Festival was held under the leadership of Father Dogias and Parish Council President Tasso Chronis; it proved to be immensely successful, and has grown every year since. In November of that year, His Grace Bishop John of Thermon from Denver visited our Parish, and our youth hosted the Bishop John Junior Goya Basketball Tournament.
Perhaps one of the most important and spectacular events in the Community’s history was the visit of His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos of North and South America in March 1976. This archpastoral visitation marked several firsts for our Parish: (1) the first celebration in our church of a Divine Liturgy by an Archbishop (Archbishop Athenagoras had left the United States before St. George’s was built); (2) the first celebration of the Divine Liturgy by two bishops simultaneously (Bishop John was also present); and, (3) the first Ordination to be celebrated in our church when Mr. (now Father) John Bakas was ordained to the Diaconate. The presence at the Grand Banquet which followed of the Governor, the Mayor, a Senator, the UNM President, the Roman Catholic Archbishop, and other officials gave added luster to the weekend.
In 1979, our Parish celebrated the 35th Anniversary of its founding. Also in 1979, our Choir hosted the annual Diocesan Choir Conference of over 250 delegates from throughout the Diocese of Denver and elsewhere. The Divine Liturgy, celebrated at UNM’s Rodey Theatre by His Grace Bishop Anthony of San Francisco with the 200-voice Conference Choir and Archdiocesan Vicar Father Kallistos Samaras, was a beautiful climax.
…More to Come…………………