11/19/2013 06:55 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

110 Years of Glory

This past weekend, I was among the fortunate who attended the 110th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Parish of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral of New England. Assigned to deliver the keynote address, it gave me the opportunity to discover the Parish's history which is inextricably linked with that of the Greeks of Boston.

At the opulently renovated Grand Hall of the Cathedral, designed by noted architect Yervant Nahikian, Dean Father Cleopas Strongylis spoke about the vibrancy of Boston's Greeks and outlined their significant role in the growth of this splendid metropolis over the last century. He went on to describe the building of the architectural masterpiece that is the Cathedral of the Annunciation and how its majestic presence in the heart of Boston is indicative of the dynamism of the Greek Orthodox flock of the East Coast.

Investigating the history of the city's Greek community, I found myself traveling along a rich path that the Greeks followed upon their arrival in America in the early 20th century, culminating with their remarkable accomplishments in contemporary Boston society.

Within its 110 years of existence, the Parish of the Cathedral of Boston has produced many of the Greek Orthodox Church's most prominent leaders such as Joachim Alexopoulos, the Bishop of Boston and subsequent Bishop of Dimitriados, and Athinagoras Kavvadas, the Bishop of Boston and first Dean of the Theological School of Boston.

James Coucouzes, who served as the Dean of the Greek Boston Cathedral, would go on to be named Archbishop Iakovos of North and South America, becoming the dominant voice of Orthodoxy across the continent for over thirty-seven years, from 1959 until his retirement in 1996.

The Parish is also the home of many distinguished ladies of the Church, two of whom, Katerina Pappas and Evanthia Condakes, were elevated to the presidency of the most important woman's organization in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, the National Philoptochos Society.

The Community's history parallels that of the first Greeks who flocked to America seeking a better life in the late 19th century. The need to associate with their peers and a yearning for their Greek traditions brought the first immigrants together to create the Community of the Annunciation in 1903 and, under the wise tutelage of Michael Anagnostopoulos, a passing priest from Greece, the Reverend K. Papageorgiou, was hired. A hall on Kneeland Street was rented where Father Papageorgiou would became the first Greek priest to hold regular church services in Boston.

A few years later, under the leadership of President John Parmenides, a sum of $10,000 was raised to purchase and build the small Church of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, opening its doors to the public on February 13, 1907 behind the former Bradford Hotel on Winchester Street.

Between 1905 and 1910, waves of Greeks continued to arrive, leading to the founding of the first Greek school in order to meet the needs of the newcomers. In 1912, the Greeks of Boston would become divided over political and nationalistic issues back home, creating a rift between the Liberals supporting the government of Prime Minister Venizelos and the Royalists backing King Constantine until their reconciliation three years later.

In 1915, the Greeks of Boston purchased a plot in the heart of the city on which the Annunciation sits today. The land, in close proximity to the world renowned Museum of Fine Arts and the Wentworth Institute, would provide an attractive and prestigious setting
for the new church.

In 1922, during the tenureship of President Athan Spilios, with the members personally
guaranteeing a mortgage of $120,000, the building of the Cathedral of the Annunciation was initiated. Designed by architect Hachadoor S. Demoorjian, it is a supreme example of a combination of Classical Greek and Byzantine architecture.

The church, completed in 1924, would go on to live memorable moments during the war years and flourish in step with the massive waves of migration that would immediately follow. Under the guidance then of the exceptional Reverend James Coucouzes (Archbishop Iakovos later), who served from 1942 until 1954 as dean of the Cathedral, the community would distinguish itself both internationally and locally, playing a leading role in the post-war relief effort in Greece as well as in the proliferation of the Sunday schools program in the greater Boston area.

Older members of the cathedral proudly remember twenty buses, from various points throughout Boston, transporting children to Greek school every Sunday as they also bring back in memory the emphasis that Father Jake (as they used to call him) put on the youth of the community, revitalizing an organization that would eventually evolve to the important Greek Orthodox Youth of America (GOYA).

Over the years, the church would undergo many aesthetic changes such as the addition of mosaic icons, stained glass windows etc. This year's improvements, under the supervision of Father Cleopas, resulted in the inauguration of the aforementioned, superb Grand Hall of the Cathedral, the creation of the church museum and the renovation of the charming tiny chapel.

The Greek Community of the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Boston should be proud of its achievements over the last 110 years and the people who bore witness to these accomplishments continue to strive forward. It is time, however, that they make efforts to ensure this inspiration is passed on to the upcoming generation of young Greek Bostonians if Hellinism is to stand tall and proud in this great city for the next years to come.