THE HELLENIC ORTHODOX COMMUNITY OF THE BRONX
GREEK ORTHODOX CHURCH of ZOODOHOS PEGHE
GREEK AMERICAN INSTITUTE of NEW YORK
HELLENISM AND ORTHODOXY IN THE BRONX
The history of the Greek community in The Bronx, can be traced back to the early 1900’s. Early Greek immigrants living in the Mott Haven and Melrose sections of The Bronx, as well as in various parts of Manhattan, comprised the community.
THE GREEK AMERICAN INSTITUTE OF THE BRONX
The Greek American Institute traces its roots back to the official recognition by the State of New York, May 1912. It was established by early Greek immigrants, who were mostly florists and coffee shop owners by trade, and wanted to educate their children in the Greek language, environment, culture and traditions, as well as in the Greek Orthodox faith. As a result of these early efforts, a school and a chapel dedicated to St, Nicholas were established at 985-989 Eagle Avenue, near 161st Street and Third Avenue in The Bronx. The name of the school was The Greek American Institute of The Bronx. It was the first Greek American school in the New York City area and the second one in the country. At its inception it also welcomed orphan Greek children who lived on the property. They were nicknamed “the insiders.” The student body consisted also of children who were enrolled from the tri-state area. During the late 1920’s and early 1930’s the school was in existence with the help of donations through money drives that it was able to collect from the Greek community at large. With its core believers and through the continued support of the Greek newspapers, the Atlantis and the Kyrika, was the school able to function and survive. The Greek press would constantly remind the public about the importance of “The Institute “, as it was referred to, and the reasons for its existence. The year 1928 was an especially difficult year for the school, when major repairs were mandated by the NYC Board of Health. Unable to do major renovations, the building was condemned and ultimately the Eagle Avenue
property was lost. The school continued to exist, but with limited enrollment and funding, moving regularly from location to location, first to the halls of the Eblings Casino Brewery at 163rd Street and Third Avenue and later to a space above a bank at 156th Street and Westchester Avenue. At this point it also ceased to be a facility where students could find room and board.
During the turn of the twentieth century, the religious services were administered by “roving priests” as was the custom in those days. Since an official church had not been established in the Americas, no priests had been assigned to the area. For at least two decades religious services took place in people’s homes or in meeting places that could be temporarily rented. The first of “roving priests” to come in contact with the community was Fr. Neofetos Leventopoulos. Due to the continuous Greek immigration to the US, with the exchange of populations to Greece from Asia Minor in 1922/1923, the community continued to expand. Greek owned bakeries, meat markets, coffee shops, produce markets (bakalika) and kafenia opened between Third Avenue to Prospect Avenue and 149th Street to 163rd Street.
It had become a Greek-Italian-German neighborhood. As these immigrants settled in, a church was founded unofficially by the late 1920’s and was dedicated to The Virgin Mary of Zoodohos Peghe” (The Life-Giving Fountain of The Virgin Mary ), the original church being in Constantinople. The church was first opened on the upper floor of a firehouse at 163rd Street and Forest Avenue and at 886 Forest Avenue
at the Premier Fuel Saving Devise building, with Archimandrate Dorotheos Bourazanis as priest. Subsequent priests who served the church were Fr. Vasilios Efthymiou, and Archimandrate Athenagoras Cavadas.
860 FOREST AVENUE
Since the rented spaces were not adequate for the needs of the community, it was decided to look for another and permanent site. In 1931, a former Jewish synagogue was found at 860 Forest Avenue
and was purchased for $40,000. The first floor was set aside for the church, while the second floor was converted into classrooms for the Greek American Institute. The basement served as a cafeteria and a community center for social gatherings for both groups. Finally, a church and a school shared one structure, even though both were independent of each other. The school was under the “Auspices of The Federation of American-Hellenic Societies of Greater New York.” The mortgage of the building was totally paid off during the time when Archbishop of North and South America was Archbishop Athenagoras who presided over the “burning of the mortgage” at special ceremonies and enthusiastically congratulated the community for their establishment of a church, the continuation of the school, and for the importance that they held dear in the maintenance of the Greek language, religion, and traditions.
During 1935/1936, discussions took place within the community (church, school, Philoptohos) and the Archdiocese to re-establish the school as an orphanage again. All were in agreement as to its necessity, but that final step was never undertaken, due to the planning of St. Basil’s Academy.
During the Second World War many parishioners served in the Armed Forces. While the Greek community was proud of its participants in the war, it was also saddened because a few of its members died in the service of their country, including Anthony Spyridakis, Demetrios Spyridakis, Stephanos Lygeridis, Panayiotis Kolias, Vassilios Gavaris, Efstathios Prapopoulos, Alexandros Papalexis, John Zembelis, Demetrios Demopoulos, Nicholas Bilias, and Kyriakos Passopoulos.
From the establishment of the church at Forest Avenue, the following priests have served te Church of Zoodohos Peghe: Fr.Vasilios Efthymiou (1932), Fr. Petros Christakos (1933-1935), Fr. Callinikos Hantzilambrou (1935-1938), Fr. Christos Tsahouhas 1938), Fr. Mathaios Papavasiliou (1939), Fr. Soterios Angelides (1939-1959), Fr. Diodoros Tsekouras (1959-1967), Fr. John Psillas (1967-1976), Fr. Nicholas Katsoulis (1976-1979), Fr. Germanos Stavropoulos (1979-1983), Fr. George Kalangis (1983-1986), Fr. Sylvester Berberis (1986-1993, 2000 - Present), Fr. Andonios Paropoulos (1993-1995), Fr. George Orfanakos (1996-1999).
Past Parish Council Presidents having served the Zoodohos Peghe Community have included: George Baltas, Contantinos Xikis, Nicholas Vizeris, Arist Tsounias, Constantine Illiakopoulos, Jerry Argiriades, Peter Baganakis, Tom Pantelides, John Lambros, George Koutsoupis, Kiriacos Ketsoglou, Constantine Kaganis, Tom Vlahos, Anthony Votsis, Vasilios Lazarides, Constantine Kaganis, Harry Panopoulos, Konstantine Rosvoglou, Teddy Politis, John Korres, and Nick Balidis.
From the time of the establishment of the school, the following principals have served The Greek American Institute: Maria Konstantinoglou (1915), Maria Pallicary Vedova,
Evanthia Soulis, John E. Georges, Nicholas Hatzidemetriou (DeMetro) (1938-1959), Michael Catsimatides (1959-1968), George Vagionis (1968-1969), Mary Garofalakis (1969-1979), Despo Athanassiades (1979- 1991), Angela G. Kusulas, a GAI graduate, (1991-2001), Harry Leonardatos (2001-2003) and Anne G. Prokop (2002 to present).
Past Greek American Institute teachers who have served the school for many years have included: Margaret C, Doyle (40 years until her retirement in 1961), Alexandra Kallinikidou, Aspasia Hatzidemitriou, Maria Panagidou, H. Fillis, Jacob Greenberg, Kalliopi Rousettou, Bessie Panagiotopoulos, Maria Madias, Connie Canaras, Alexandra Bokios, Helen Efstathiou, Steve Lappas, Pelagia Hageanon, Edward Simpson, Ismene Petroutsou, Sophia Arabatzis, and Marianthe Mouzakis.
School Board presidents have included: Spyridon Spiliopoulos, Louis Amoratis, Anthony Elafopoulos, Pericles Lantzounis, George Cavrikas, James Koutsikas, Tom Vlahos, Constantine Kaganis, Janes Krassas, Nicholas Carlaftes, Kosmas Bokios, Theodore Germanakos, Sophia Zarvos, Teddy Politis.
HELLENIC ORTHODOX COMMUNITY OF THE BRONX
3573 BRUCKNER BOULEVARD
– A NEW BEGINNING
In 1966, due to the reality that almost all of the parishioners had moved to other areas and that the membership was at an all time low, it was necessary for the community to move again. With the guidance and final approval of Archbishop Iakovos, a closed Jewish convalescent home was found at 3573 Bruckner Boulevard
, in the Pelham Bay section of The Bronx, and purchased from Beth Abraham Hospital for $500,000, with a ten year mortgage. The holder of the mortgage was Alexander Farkas, owner of Alexander’s Department store. It was on an acre and a half of land which included an existing building. The first floor was again reserved for the church, while the upper floors were converted into classrooms. On Sunday, April 16, 1967, the first Divine Liturgy was celebrated at the new location by Bishop Germanos Polizoides and Fr. Diodoros Tsekouras. At the thyranixia (door opening ceremonies) Chris Jimroglou became the Godfather of the Church with his pledge. The Greek American Institute started it new scholastic year in the new building in September 1967. At this point in its history, the church and the school merged into one entity under the title “Hellenic Orthodox Community of The Bronx.” During the next decade there was a resurgence of the membership as Greek families began moving into the Pelham Bay, Throgs Neck, Country Club and Morris Park neighborhoods as well as Fordham, Kingsbridge and Riverdale.
The Parish Council at the time of the move to Bruckner Boulevard included: Jerry Argiriades (President), Peter Baganakis, Nick Papson, Leonidas Savas, James Koutsikas, Bill Jimroglou, Nick Jimroglou, George Kostelides, Tom Pantelides, John Lambros, James Krassas, Vasilios Ketsoglou, John Regas, Bill Lazarou.
On May 2, 1976, ten years after the move to Bruckner Boulevard
and with the final payment of the original mortgage, Archbishop Iakovos officiated at a ground breaking ceremony for construction of a community center which was completed and in use by September 1977. The cost of the community center was $750,000 which was financed through a loan of $500,000 from Yorkville Savings Bank. At the ground breaking ceremonies and at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, Archbishop Iakovos vested the ecclesiastical titles of Archon Depoutatos of the Great Church of Christ in Constantinople to Kiriacos Ketsoglou, the president of the community during the community center’s planning and construction and to Jerry Argiriades, the president of the community during the move from Forest Avenue to Bruckner Boulevard. At the Thyrianixia of the community center, Mary Ketsoglou became the godmother with her pledge.
The Parish Council during the construction of the community center included:
Kiriacos Ketsoglou (President), Tom Vlahos, James Krassas, Nicholas Carlaftes, Constantine Kaganis, George Condos, Vasilios Lazarides, Pandel Caplanson, Chris Christie, Theofanis Baktidy, John Carlaftes, James Casvikes, John Condeles, Dimitrios Dimitratos, Nick Kehagiopoulos, Vasilios Ketsoglou, George Koutsoupis, Argirios Magias, Pericles Manolis, Jerry Manos, Harry Panopoulos, Tom Pantelides, John Regas, Pericles Rizopoulos, George Soropoulos, George Tsilerides, James Koutsikas, Anthony Votsis.
THE “NEW” ZOODOHOS PEGHE
The goals and dreams of the Greek community continued. Still ahead was the dream of the immigrants to build an original church, a dream that had been discussed numerous times throughout different eras, but for various reasons never attempted. Plans had been discussed and drawings had been made but an official beginning had not materialized. In June 1986, an electrical fire damaged the Proskomidi and the Holy Vessels in the altar. Although damage was minimal, it was taken as a sign to move ahead. At a General Assembly meeting that was held in November 1986, the subject was brought up and by the end of that historic meeting, the members voted to proceed with plans to build a new church. With $25,000 in the building fund account, the community proceeded to finalize and approve an architect and a builder, and prepare for ground breaking. On Sunday, October 2, 1988, under a very large yellow and white tent, a Divine Liturgy and Ground Breaking Ceremonies were officiated by Archbishop Iakovos, assisted by many bishops and priests. An enthusiastic community come forth with their pledges and work began soon thereafter for the $1,500,000 undertaking. Construction took place in phases. Many obstacles had to be overcome, especially the stream which was found running underneath the property, which gave new meanings to the word “FOUNTAIN” because of “water/water everywhere.” Each phase gave time to the fundraising committee to continue to raise funds while trying to avoid having to obtain bank loans. CHRISTMAS EVE 1992 was a special night where the Sunday School presented the traditional Christmas Eve Pageant in “the old church” and at the conclusion the whole congregation moved into “the new church” even though incomplete, to celebrate the Divine Liturgy of Christmas. By the spring of 1993, we had unofficially moved into the new church building.
Honorary Chairman of the Church Building Committee was Archibishop Iakovos, Primate of North and South America, Co-chairman was His Grace Bishop Philotheos of Meloa , and Father Sylvester Berberis. The Building Committee: Tom Vlahos, John Anastasiou, Theofanis Baktidy, Kosmas Bokios, Dimitrios Dimitratos, , Comstantine Kaganis, Peter Karounos, Nicholas Kehagiopoulos, John Ketsoglou, Vasilios Lazarides, Argirios Magias, Diana Panopoulos, Steve Pasvankias, Pericles Rizopoulos, Constantine Rosvoglou. The architect was Demetrios Siderakis.
The Chairman of the Building Committee was Tom Vlahos.
The Chairman of the Fund Raising Committee was Constantine Kaganis.
It is to the credit of the Greek Community of The Bronx and all those who had the belief that this great Church of Zoodohos Peghe could be built that need to remembered, congratulated and recognized. The Church of Zoodohos Peghe, Bronx, NY was built by the friends and the faithful Greek community. Everyone contributed, Greek and non-Greek, Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike. In the end the total cost has been $1,700,000, and its completion was achieved without a loan.
The official Thyranixia (door opening) took place prior to the beginning of Vesper Services of the church’s nameday, on Thursday, April 27, 1995 and was officiated by Archbishop Iakovos who was assisted by many bishops and priests. Coincidentally, it happened on the same day that the present Church of Zoodohos Peghe in Constantinople was consecrated in 1833. The ceremonies were attended by the Bronx Borough President, Senators and Congressmen who each brought various City, State and County proclamations, proclaiming the day as Zoodohos Peghe Day. At this occasion the honor of opening the doors to the new church were given to Tom Vlahos and Constantine Kaganis. The chairperson for the Thyranixia was Sophia Zarvos.
SHINING STARS NURSERY
September 1995 was the start of a new program for the Greek American Institute. After considerable discussions and planning, the Shining Stars Nursery program officially began its operation utilizing most of the space that was part of “the old church”. This Nursery program was established for the need to bring children into a school environment at an earlier age. It was opened to the community at large and was very successful from day one. The hope was that by exposing the Bronx community to our school and environment, these families will continue their children’s education at the Greek American Institute.
The Greek American Institute continued to grow with the introduction of a Universal Pre-K program funded by the City of New York. Very specific guidelines had to be followed and met for the school to be selected by the City for this program. The program since its inception has been a resounding success. Our school has been selected as the role model for other schools which followed.
CONSECRATION OF THE CHURCH
In one of his pastoral visits, Archbishop Demetrios asked if our church had been consecrated, which it had not been. He asked to be the Archbishop who performed the consecration. Working together with the Archdiocese and the Archbishop’s schedule, the date was selected for this once in a lifetime event for a parish. On Saturday evening, November 3, 2007, consecration vespers were held and the relics of saints were brought to our church in a procession. Bishop Andonios of Phasiane officiated. On Sunday, November 4, 2007, Archbishop Demetrios officiated, together with Bishop Andonios of Phasiane and Retired Bishop Philotheos of Meloa. A procession took place, with the whole congregation, three times around the outside of the church, followed by the opening of the doors and the actual baptism of the Holy Altar Table. After the washing of the Altar Table, the relics of St. Panteleimon, St, Kyrikos and St George were cemented within and sealed. This was followed by the chrismation of the Altar table and the icons around the church. At the conclusion the Divine Liturgy the garments (savanon) which had been worn by the Archbishop and the Bishops were cut and pieces were distributed to the congregation together with specially made bottles of Agaismo (Holy Water) which had been brought by Bishop Andonios from the Fountain of Zoodohos Peghe at Baloukli, in Constantinople. An enthralled congregation followed each step of the entire service on large video screens. It was estimated that over 700 persons followed all or part of the service.
The Parish Council members at the time of the Consecration were: Nick Balides (President), George Germanakos, Sophia Zarvos, Dennis Zervos, Fotis Savvides, Demos Lorentzos, Tina Sotiropoulos, Kosmas Bokios, Teddy Germanakos, Angie Avaitabile, Pericles Manolis, Nikos Siopis, Costa Casvikes, John Korres, Bobby Georgioudakis, Spyro Dimitratos, Manny Speros, Frederiki Pertsinides, Jimmy Mamaes, Stef Daskalakis, George Magriples. The chairperson of the Consecration was Kosmas Bokios.
The Greek tradition in The Bronx continues. We celebrate our proud heritage of Greek language, culture and education through The Greek American Institute, since 1912. We celebrate and maintain our faith in the new Zoodohos Peghe Church which will continue to serve countless future generations of faithful. We, as a community, are deeply committed to both.
The above narrative is a work in progress, If you have any additional information please write to Kosma Bokios at the church address: 3573 Bruckner Blvd, Bronx, NY 10461