The following reflection was composed upon the 40th anniversary celebration of our parish. The closing paragraphs have since been updated to reflect the continued growth and striving of our parish family.
As we reflect upon the past sixty years of our beloved Saint Demetrios Church, we remember its beginnings…
The early 1950’s gave rise to an exodus of an urban population into the suburbs. With so many families moving from the city’s center, the need to establish a church west of Boston was clearly determined. This need created the impetus to move forward with the commitment to establish just such a church.
In the fall of 1958, a church building and parish house in Newton Lower Falls became the first reality of such a commitment. With a site found, the fervor intensified. However, this fervor was tempered by an apprehension and awareness that the establishment of a new church could impact the membership rolls of the urban parishes. Despite this, enthusiastic support grew and the blessing for the purchase of this new church was granted by the Archdiocese, dated July 24, 1959. The license to operate the church had already been granted by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on May 24, 1959.
A flurry of activity began, which involved early parish members. The church property was refurbished and the sanctuary was installed with the iconastasion and other holy treasures donated to us by the The Archangels Church of Stamford, Connecticut. The grounds were beautifully landscaped in anticipation of the first Sunday liturgy on June 14, 1959, which was attended by over four hundred persons despite a torrential downpour.
The Very Reverend Archimandrite Eusebius Papastephanou, who had been appointed as interim priest, offered an inspiring sermon. Professor James Savas, our music director, and his newly formed choir offered brilliant liturgical responses. In attendance were clergy from Orthodox, Protestant and Roman Catholic churches. Princess Ileana of Romania not only attended the service but also became a member of the parish. Following the liturgy, everyone was invited to enjoy a buffet luncheon hosted by the ladies of the church.
Early in the formative stages of establishing the church, a Steering Committee was chosen to govern the church. Dr. Demetre Decaneas was the first Executive Secretary; Lee Loumos, the Chairman of the Steering Committee, and Dr. John Lucas, the Recording Secretary. The first General Assembly was held on July 1, 1959, with Harry Demeter, Jr., as chairman of the evening. At this meeting, John Condakes was selected to be Treasurer. Mrs. Angelo Bassett also proposed the formation of a Women’s Auxiliary, which was fully organized in September. The Sunday School had begun as well.
In November of 1959, Deacon Anastasios Blougouras was ordained to the priesthood in the Dormition of the Virgin Mary Church in Somerville and was immediately assigned as our first permanent priest. Father Blougouras served the parish with dedication and remained with us until his transfer in December 1961 By that time, plans were underway for the naming of the church and a committee was formed to select suitable names. Repetition of existing names of other parishes would not be acceptable. However, the facility of translating the name into English was an important factor. Seven names were chosen: Holy Trinity, Church of the Ascension, Saint Catherine, Saint Demetrios, Saint Nicholas, Saints Peter and Paul and Saint Sophia. The method of voting stated that each submitted vote was to be accompanied by a $10.00 donation. A parishioner could submit any number of votes provided that each ballot included a $10.00 contribution. The voting took place on December 5, 1961. Vespers were officiated by the Rt. Rev. Bishop Athenagoras of Elaias and Father Blougouras, followed by a buffet supper. Lively voting established a tone of excitement and anticipation and Saint Demetrios was joyfully chosen as the name for our newly established church. Our church godfathers were James Condakes, James Condos, and James Salas.
In June of 1960, a celebration of the first anniversary of the church was planned and held during the week of June 11. Vesper services took place on Saturday evening with Bishop Gerasimos, Dean of Holy Cross Seminary, as celebrant.
The first Azure Ball, held at the Woodland Country Club and destined to become a successful annual event, was enthusiastically planned in every detail by Chairmen Angelo Bassett and Lou Callas, their committee members and Dr. John Lucas, who was the first chairman of the Cadillac Ticket Committee. Culminating the week’s anniversary activities were the church picnic and religious services held at Washburn Island. All enjoyed this memorable day, under the direction of Lee Loumos.
The first baptism celebrated in the new church was that of the infant child of Mr. and Mrs. Kakatsakis of Needham; the first wedding, Mr. and Mrs. John Decas. Sadly, the first funeral was that of the young child of Livia and Jim Atsales.
The first nameday celebration of St. Demetrios was held at Norumbega Park in the Normandy Room. In a warm atmosphere of friendship and conviviality, a sumptuous smorgasbord dinner was served. Bishop Meletios was present to unveil the Charter Founders’ Plaque, which is displayed in our present church. The success of this first nameday celebration was in great measure due to the generosity and efforts of Peter Kanavos, Steve Pappas and Paul Mavrides.
One of the pleasant traditions that was initiated and which continues today is the coffee hour following the liturgy. It remains an excellent way to greet friends, to meet new members and to welcome visitors.
The Steering Committee form of governing the church was eliminated in 1963. At that time, a Board of Administration of twenty-one members was adopted, and Spyros Gavris was elected the first President of the Parish. Membership dues were $30.00, of which $20.00 was designated for the church and $10.00 for the Archdiocese.
Since the founding of our church, other suburban churches have been established. The Evangelismos Cathedral of Boston created a complex, which includes a community center, a chapel and administrative offices. Time has dispelled the assertion that other suburban churches would adversely affect existing parishes. In fact, there has been a proliferation of new churches.
We Build a New Church
The unbridled spirit of St. Demetrios and its parishioners grew. The parish was blessed with tremendous enthusiasm and success; therefore, early in its infancy the need for movement to a larger church became apparent. Early in 1964, a parcel of approximately four acres on Washington Street in Newton, opposite the Newton-Wellesley Hospital, was purchased. Even though this was an adequate site of sufficient size, parishioners did not hesitate to seriously consider another location of approximately two hundred acres of beautiful residential property known as the Blake Estate in Weston. St. Demetrios was eventually destined for Weston, but at another site.
In 1965, Father George Gallos was appointed pastor of our church. The Board of Administration formed a Building Fund Committee, and plans were made to pay for the land purchased through a fund drive. Phase One of the Building Fund Program was the sponsoring of the Bougainvillea Ball and Burgundy Buffet in the beautiful Louis IV Ballroom of the Somerset Hotel. Seven former Azure Ball chairmen served as the dance committee under the chairmanship of Vasileos I. Pavloglou. Paralleling the efforts for the Ball was a drive for funds through a Building Fund Program Book, headed by Anast Giokas. The building fund program had now begun.
Several architects were interviewed and the firm of Edward J. Tedesco Associates, Inc. was selected to design a church for the building site on Washington Street in Newton. Even though the firm had designed a beautiful church, it was apparent that the potential cost would be prohibitive for the St. Demetrios community of approximately two hundred families. The Building Committee also considered an addition to the church building currently owned, but concluded that the parcel of land was not adequate for such an expansion.
In 1968, the Board of Administration realized that the necessary funds of over one million dollars to build a church on the newly-acquired property was not economically feasible and the wishes and future of St. Demetrios would best be served by searching for a new location. Three committees were formed: one was assigned the task of selling the Washington Street property, another to look for new property, and the third to find the best method for financing a new church and community complex.
The new Washington Street property in Newton attracted several buyers and was successfully sold for $275,000 net of brokerage expenses to Mr. Joseph F. Hill, Jr. for the construction of a 160-bed nursing home. The church realized a significant financial gain.
By the end of 1968, it became apparent that a building fund program could not be successful under the direction of each succeeding Board of Administration as it assumed office on an annual basis. Therefore, in December 1968, a recommendation was made to the General Assembly that a permanent building committee of nine members be elected and commissioned to design, build, and finance a church and community building complex. The elected committee consisted of William Anastos, Michael Argeros, Dr. John Athans, Lou Callas, John Condakes, James Condos, Spyros Gavris, Anast Giokas and Vasileos I. Pavloglou. The president, treasurer and priest were added as ex-officio members of the committee.
At the first meeting on April 3, 1969, William Anastos was elected Chairman; Michael Argeros, Vice-Chairman; Lou Callas, Secretary, Land Disposition and Sale of Church; John Condakes, Treasurer; Anast Giokas, Fund Raising Chairman; Vasileos I. Pavloglou, New Land Procurement; and Spyros Gavris, Building and Design.
The church building and property, which was purchased in 1959 for $39,000, was sold for $127,000. The sale was finalized after the General Assembly of May 1969.
Earlier in 1967, a demographic study of the parish had been completed which identified the central membership area of St. Demetrios to be north of Route 9, west of Route 128, south of Route 30, and bordered on the west by Wellesley Street/Weston Road. Fifteen parcels of available land were located in this area. Recognizing that a new church would attract new parishioners, especially from Framingham and Natick, the current Brown Street site of approximately five acres was selected. The proposal to purchase was unanimously approved by spirited general assembly.
The firm of Bastille, Neilly was commissioned, and after many long meetings the Building and Design Committee accepted the architect’s proposed design because it conformed to the Building and Design Committee’s original charge that the church be of “contemporary design with a Byzantine flavor.” Bob Bastille enlisted the guidance of Dr. John Conant of Harvard University, an authority on Byzantine design, as advisor to be certain that the concept of a Byzantine church was fulfilled.
An over-flowing and vocal General Assembly approved the design, and the search for a contractor began. The firm of Henry Audesse, builder of the Chateau de Ville in Framingham and Saugus, was chosen to construct our church. Selection was not easy. Original estimates were far in excess of the budgeted amount of less than $500,000, which had been established by the Permanent Building Committee after considering the funds available from the sale of the land and church and the potential church drive. The drive was already well underway with the guidance of the consultant, J. Rexler Shulz of Longmeadow, Massachusetts.
The Fund Drive began in March 1971 under the chairmanship of Anast Giokas and Dr. Chris H. Doku as Initial Gifts Chairman; John Condakes as Special Gifts Chairman; Dr. John Athans as Teams Chairman; Vasileos I. Pavloglou as Publicity Chairman and Treasurer. The Fund Drive resulted in pledges totaling $226,000.
Groundbreaking ceremonies were held in the fall of 1970 with Archbishop Iakovos officiating. The church complex was completed within one year. The Anoixitheria ceremonies were held during the weekend of the Feast Day of St. Demetrios and, once again, we were fortunate in having Archbishop Iakovos officiate, assisted by Father George Gallos.
A church replaced the church of St. Demetrios in Newton Lower Falls, with its traditional white spire of wood, and community complex built of mortar and masonry with a Byzantine lantern and cross.
St. Demetrios was reborn. The parish began to grow in a way that few had envisioned and expected. The ladies of our parish, the Philoptochos Society, which had already experienced considerable success through social events that they had been able to accomplish within the limited quarters of our old church, gathered new energy and ideas.
With growth came change, and in 1978, Father Gallos left our parish for Spartanburg, South Carolina. Father Gallos and Presbytera Anna served our parish and our youth with love and dedication. Father Nicholas Manikas, Presbytera Effie and their family joined us soon thereafter.
The small parish of Newton Lower Falls had now grown to two hundred and fifty families. Since our community was developing satisfactorily, Father Manikas proposed that a stewardship program be introduced. In 1976 the Board of Administration initiated Father Manikas’ proposal and stewardship was implemented. Parish membership has now grown beyond seven hundred families and Christian giving has indeed become a reality. Furthermore, shortly after his arrival, Father Manikas recognized the need for and founded a Young Adults Group, which increased rapidly.
The furnishings of our church, carpeting, pews, baptismal font, pulpit, bishop’s throne, chanter’s stand, iconostasion and all the sacred vessels and appointments that are essential in a Greek Orthodox church began to appear in place through the efforts of many parishioners. Magnificent mosaics of Christ Pantokrator, St. John the Baptist, Our Lady Theotokos, The Baptism of Christ and The Resurrection were ordered from Italy and installed in time for the Consecration in 1979.
Our parish, as it has grown, has experienced many events, both joyous and sad. We have had many marriages of new members and marriages of the children of the early 60’s. St. Demetrios has also noted the passing of many of our faithful family members.
The Consecration of our church took place on Sunday, October 28, 1979, under the presidency of Gus Pappas, with Archbishop Iakovos officiating and assisted by His Grace Anthimos, Bishop of Boston. In commemoration of the Consecration, a dance was held on Friday evening in our parish hall, and a banquet on Sunday night at the Chateau de Ville in Framingham.
In June 1981, the home adjacent to the church property, 65 Brown Street, was purchased. Although we already owned a parish house, the proximity and size of this parcel was considered very desirable as an addition to the church complex. This residence has served as the home of our assistant pastors. Furthermore, serious discussions also took place concerning the growing needs for more classrooms, a nursery, a larger kitchen, additional lavatories, a shower room and storage facilities.
An ongoing Building and Design Committee under the chairmanship of Spyros Gavris, and including Charles Theodore and George Tremos, was formed in 1981 to work with Bob Bastille, the original architect of the church complex. A General Assembly had funded this committee with $5,000 in 1981 in order to continue its work. A formal report explaining a proposed addition in detail and with preliminary drawings was prepared by the architect and presented to the General Assembly on November 21, 1982. The report was approved by the General Assembly, and a Permanent Building Committee was elected to “build, finance and furnish the proposed addition as approved by this or future general assemblies.” The committee was to consist of nine members and three ex-officio members: the parish priest, the president and the treasurer of the Board of Administration. The elected members were Vasileos I. Pavloglou (first chairman), Richard Abraham, Peter Bouyoukas, Peter Condakes, Thomas Hatzis, Sr., Danny Laskaris, Othon Mavro, Frances Petrakos and Cynthia Zervas. At the first meeting of this committee, Spyros Gavris was asked to continue as chairman of the existing Permanent Building Committee and to complete the design and building phase of this project.
Initial estimates indicated that the cost of the project could be $850,000. A formal fundraising campaign was established and was named the St. Demetrios 25th Anniversary Building Fund, which was chaired by Gus Pappas. A professional fundraiser, the Rev. Paul Bliss of Kingston, Rhode Island, was hired to determine our financial capability, to outline the manpower requirements for the campaign and to train the team chairmen and members. In an effort to encourage major commitments for giving, specific rooms and areas in the addition were identified and assigned dollar amounts, and plaques identifying the donors’ names would be added. More than half the pledges were collected through this effort. By December 1984, pledges reached $660,000. Groundbreaking had taken place in September 1984, and the completed addition was dedicated on November 16, 1986.
During the same period, there were other major functions taking place. One such function, The Greek and Country Festival, co-chaired by James Atsales and Elaine Fischer, took place in June 1984. It enlisted the participation of all the parishioners.
A second Greek Festival, appropriately named MEGAFEST by Lou Stamoulis, Chairman, took place in June 1986. This festival proved to be a major event in the Boston Diocese and was attended by approximately 10,000 visitors. In addition to the many and varied festival activities, a raffle was held. An amazing total of nine hundred tickets were sold which netted $57,000 after prizes and taxes. In addition, the success of a program book yielded $30,000. As a result, the debt for the addition project was reduced to less than $100,000.
After nearly a quarter of a century of progress and growth, the parish recognized the need for a committee that would review and report on the current and future development of the community annually. In 1986, the General Assembly formed the first Parish Development Advisory Committee to serve as an advisory committee to the Board of Administration. The term of office was set at one year so that many parishioners could become involved.
Prior to the hiring of an assistant pastor, a deacon was appointed annually by the Diocese as part of our involvement with the teaching program of Hellenic College and Holy Cross. This teaching program also included the assignment of seminary students to help our pastor whenever needed. In 1987, our first assistant pastor, Father Konstantine Mendrinos, was assigned to assist Father Manikas with the spiritual needs of our growing community. Father Dean was especially gifted as an accomplished guitarist and a composer of many songs, which he taught to our youth. Father Michael Bird, Father Alexander Goussetis and our present assistant pastor, Father Christopher Stamas, ably followed Father Mendrinos.
In January 1990, the General Assembly authorized the raising of funds to install air conditioning in the church. The system was fully financed and completed by September 1990. This project was followed by the installation of a speaker system in the nave. The same General Assembly authorized an annual donation to Hellenic College and Holy Cross as a budget line item. We also became the first church in the Diocese to subscribe to Bishop Methodios’ Vision 21 Program.
A permanent Buildings and Grounds Committee was established in September 1990 by vote of the General Assembly. The purpose of this committee was to assist each administration with advice and recommendations through the standing Buildings and Grounds Chairperson and to provide continuity and knowledge of skills wherever needed. In 1991, this committee was assigned the task of modifying the iconostasion so that it would be contained within the existing walls of the altar area and to complete the installation of the mosaics onto the existing walls of the adjacent altar area. This project was completed by 1994.
In 1993, a serious statewide economic downturn affected our parish as well. In an effort to stabilize the financial condition of the church, the Board of Administration turned to fundraising events that would bring the parish together socially and in Christian fellowship while, at the same time, generate additional income to supplement stewardship. Although policy stated that stewardship should provide for the entire budget, the parish at this time simply could not rely on stewardship alone. Therefore, other fundraising activities were developed which proved successful.
On St. Demetrios Sunday 1993, our very own parish band, named “Ta Dimitrakia”, was formed for musical entertainment during the annual luncheon. An in-house auction, chaired by Helen and Ski Wojtasik, was held and raised about $30,000. A golf tournament was introduced and became a successful annual event resulting in generous contributions to the financial needs of the church. The 35th Anniversary Ball in 1994, chaired by Patti and Arthur Dukakis, renewed excitement of the “old fashioned” social celebrations, which our parish always enjoyed. These various functions kept the parish busy and served not only to balance the budget but also to provide a sizable surplus by the end of June 1995.
A beautiful Pantokrator was installed on the dome and was dedicated on November 3, 1996. In 1999, eight icons consisting of four prophets and the four evangelists, were mounted on the sidewalls of the dome surrounding the Pantokrator.
Continuing with the development and beautification of our church complex, a parcel of land adjacent to our back parking lot and owned by the Pope John Seminary, was purchased from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston in April 1997. This acquisition, as well as the accessing of the back land of 65 Brown Street, played an important role in the redesigning and reconstruction of the parking area and adjoining grounds. This project, entitled Vision 2000, was approved by the General Assembly on January 17, 1997 and was granted authority to finance up to $700,000 for the project, as well as for repairs to the church building. Additional funding was provided in 1998 by the creation of the “Plant-A-Tree” fundraising campaign, which was initiated under the leadership of President John Baglaneas, to offset the cost of landscaping and of beautifying the church grounds. This portion of the Vision 2000 program was completed and dedicated in September through the efforts and hard work of President George Chryssis and the entire parish.
The dynamic quality of our membership continues to flourish and grow. We have met each challenge by worshipping and working together as a family – steadfastly guided and inspired by our Orthodox faith and its traditions. We have nurtured the dream and have brought to fruition a dynamic living church at St. Demetrios, established for the glory of God, for the perpetuation of our faith and for the Christian fellowship of man.
The year 2001 was a momentous year for St. Demetrios. It was both an end and a new beginning. We said farewell to retiring Rev. Dr. Nicholas Manikas, our pastor for twenty-six years and to Presbytera Effie. And, we were blessed to welcome Rev. Dr. Nicholas Krommydas, Presbytera Elaine and their family, Irene, Dean and Christina. Father Nick came to our parish with an extensive and rich background of parish and archdiocesan experiences.
During this time, St. Demetrios also welcomed Deacon Alexander Chetsas, Deacon Luke Melakrinos, Father Paul Pappas and Deacon Demetri Costarakis, who joined our parish as Youth Director and pastoral assistant. In 2005, Deacon Costarakis was ordained at St. Demetrios and appointed as our second priest. Father Costarakis assumed the responsibility of directing the church school and youth ministries. The Church School, GOYA, JOY, the altar boys, the choir and the Greek Language and Cultural School, all contribute to the Christian development of our youth. Father Demetri was assigned to the Transfiguration parish in Lowell and was succeeded by Father Athanasios Haros. From 2008 until 2012, Father Alexander Chetsas who previously served St. Demetrios was assigned as our second priest. Father Alex, Presbytera Brandy, their children, Phoebe and Abraham and Roman were embraced by the parish and work closely to build up the various ministries of our church.
When St. Demetrios was founded in 1959, the late Professor James Savas, who served as director for almost fifty years, formed our choir. The members of the St. Demetrios Choir realized the fulfillment of their vocal efforts with a sense of pride and joy. Professor Savas’ dedication, commitment, and love for his church and for its beautiful liturgical music served as an inspiration and offered peace and joy to the choir and to the communicants of St. Demetrios. The choir is now under the direction of Gregory Condakes, a choir member of many years and one with a rich and scholarly musical background. In 2009, in celebration of our 50th year, the Choir offered a 50th anniversary concert featuring a number of liturgical and classical pieces along with a new composition written by Gregory Condakes in honor and memory of his parents. It was an unforgettable evening that was sold out and a CD of the music is now being produced.
The work of the members of the Philoptochos Society continues to support worthy causes. Our chapter, St. Christine’s, founded in 1959, has been a continuous presence in the needs of our church, in the charitable work of our parish, and in the dedicated outreach to the community at large. The strength of the spiritual, educational, and philanthropic endeavors of our St. Demetrios family continues to be a promise and a beacon of light to all beneficiaries. In addition, our Senior Guild and the Fifty Something Club present other identities and milestones in the life and activities of our church.
Our Outreach Programs are also many. Since 1984, under the leadership of Dorothea Ocnos, parishioners have been involved in a ministry to the needy and homeless of the MetroWest area through their active participation in the Miracle Kitchen, a meals program held daily at the Salvation Army Headquarters in Framingham. Furthermore, many of our young parishioners participated in Project Mexico, an inter-faith Orthodox mission based in Tijuana, Mexico. St. Demetrios is fortunate to have had a number of parishioners involved in this project over the years. These include our former Assistant Priest Father Chris Stamas, Dean Hanzis, David Kiklis, Timothy Marken, Gina Metrakos, Lia Sgourakes and Claire Stylianopoulos.
With the growth of our membership and the need to accommodate 750 stewards, a dedicated and enthusiastic committee devoted months of planning for the future of our community. Spirited energy, focused research, and promise keep the vision and dream alive for expansion or the realization of a new church. On May 19, 2009, a General Assembly with well over 230 stewards voting and many more in attendance almost unanimously approved the building of a new sanctuary. A committee of dedicated men and women made the presentation under the direction of Thomas Gatzunis and acting chairman, Peter Bassett. Subsequently, a new committee has been formed under the General Chairmanship of Peter Bassett and many new faces along with others who are well known to the community charged with the responsibility of Building and Design Capital Campaign and Communication efforts to complete this project within three to five years. It was a monumental day for St. Demetrios as it celebrated its 50th year of service and ministry to our Lord.
The building of our new sanctuary, currently well underway, mirrors our ongoing mission to “build up” our parish ministries, programs and community bonds. We hope and pray for the continued blessings and guidance of the Lord in all our endeavors.