Church History

St. George Greek Orthodox Church
Keene, New Hampshire
A Brief History

Originally drafted by Fr. Theodore Stylianopoulos
September 13, 2006
(periodically updated)

You are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” Ephesians 2:19-21

Overview

In 2006 St. George Greek Orthodox Church of Keene, New Hampshire, marked the 75th anniversary of its official founding in 1931.  Looking back on its history, we give thanks to God for His grace and goodness, and for these many years of witness and service the parish has been privileged to offer as a gift to God and to people. In the light of the history of two millennia of the Orthodox Church, dating back to Christ and the apostles, it has been a brief history.  But just as in the case of the universal Orthodox Church, which we proclaim as the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, the mission has remained the same.  That mission is salvation in Christ and the gathering of a harvest of souls for God’s kingdom by worshiping God, preaching the gospel, celebrating the sacraments, serving those in need, and providing a Christian context for social fellowship.

Full knowledge of St. George’s origins is wanting in the records.  A 1954 commemorative book, entitled “Silver Anniversary,” would suggest that 1929 was the year of the initial organizational efforts.  The circumstances of who was involved or what happened and why the community named St. George as its patron saint are not reported. According to a family tradition of one of the founders, St. George was chosen as patron saints because there were many parishioners named after the saint. This 1954 commemorative book presents the Rev. Peter Basil Koskores as pastor and the following persons as “Board of Directors”:  Attorney Charles J. Contas, President; Elias Bardis, Vice-President, Perry A. Kiritsy, Treasurer, and Rev. Peter B. Koskores, Secretary.  In his message to the community, President Contas among other things wrote:

Twenty-five years have passed since the organization of the St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Keene, New Hampshire.  From rented halls the Community has progressed to the point where it is the fortunate owner of its own property with very few obligations outstanding.  We have much to be thankful for and in the future with everyone’s cooperation and God’s guidance we hope at least to be able to renovate the Church.

More detailed information about the origins of the parish is given in the “50th Anniversary (1931-1981)” album published in 1981.  The priest at that time was Fr. Peter Kostakos.  The Parish Council included the following:  Timoleon Chakalos, President; Chris Tasoulas, Vice President; Bill Athanasopoulos, Treasurer; Zoe Vrakatitsis, Secretary; and Council members Judge Peter Espiefs, Dr. Dennis Agallianos, George Rigopoulos, Louis Kolivas, and Wayne Canwell.  A brief statement of the history of the parish in this album includes the following information.

Origin of the St. George Community

In the early decades of the twentieth century, lacking a place of worship and a permanent priest, Greek Orthodox faithful gathered for liturgical services in various places in Keene on an irregular basis.  On September 30, 1928, an agreement between thirty-two Keene families and the Greek Orthodox Church of Fitchburg was reached by which the priest of the Fitchburg Church, Fr. John Michaelides, would travel to Keene to conduct services once a month.  The Keene committee responsible for the arrangements was composed of Photis Libbares, John Kazanas, Nicholas Chakalos, and Costas Kontinos.

On October 20, 1930, an Administrative Council was elected and charged with organizing a permanent and self-sufficient parish.  The Council members were:  John Booras, President; Demetrios Bardis, Vice President; Argiris Nicholaou, Secretary; John Vrakatitsis, Treasurer, and members Nicholas Yiannekis, Anastasios Pappademetriou, and Konstantinos Stamos.

The same 50th Anniversary album contains a copy of a news release published in the Keene Sentinel, Monday, November 17, 1930, which announced the formation of the women’s Elpis Society.  Nearly fifty women had organized under the name “Greek Women’s Club Elpis” for “the purpose of raising funds to erect a Church in Keene.”  The officers of the society were:  Helene Bardis, President; Sophia Kazanas, Vice President; Despina Nicholas Vrakatitsis, Treasurer; Athanasia Kontinos and Angelina Pananides, Collectors.  Additional board members were listed as follows:  Eugenia Libbares, Mary Tasoulas, Sophia Nicholas, Frances Kazanas, Mary Bardis, Helen Nicholaou, Maria Pappas, Bertha Chakalos, and Rita Doukas.  The same news release put the number of Keene Greek residents at about two hundred holding Church services whenever priests came to Keene.

The official beginning of the community was in 1931 with the approval and publication in Greek of the “Constitution and Regulations of the Greek Orthodox Community ‘St. George,’ Keene, N.H.”  According to this official document, the establishment of the community occurred by decision of those Greeks living in Keene and the surrounding area who gathered in assembly on October 11, 1931 and founded the Greek Orthodox Community under the name of St. George.  Neither the circumstances of the meeting, nor a complete list of founding members appear in the document.  The first administrative council of the community is listed as follows:  John A. Booras, President; Demetrios J. Bardis, Vice President; Argiris Nikolaou, Secretary, and John Vrakatitsis, Treasurer.  Additional members of the council were listed as follows:  Arthur Pappademetriou, Konstantinos D. Stamos, and Nicholas Yiannekis. This official constitution contains fifty-three articles and an additional note stating that it is immediately put into effect by virtue of the vote and approval of the same General Assembly of October 11, 1931.

The Early Constitution

The articles of this constitution or charter paint a fascinating historical picture of how these original founders, as in most cases in North America, viewed the community as both an Orthodox Church and a Hellenic Community. Being part of the first generation of immigrants, they were concerned to consolidate and perpetuate their identity in a foreign land both ethnically and religiously.  It was by their own lay initiative and at their own expense, without apparently any official moves or help from the existing Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in the United States.  Article Two states:  “the purpose of the community is the establishment of a Greek Orthodox Church, as well as a school, for the maintenance and preservation of the dogma of Orthodoxy and the Hellenic language through Hellenic education.”

Most of the articles are concerned with the organizational procedures in running the community through its administrative officers, the general assembly, and the obligations and benefits of the members of the community.  Article 5 defines membership as regular and honorary.  Regular members were all Greek Orthodox of the area who “pay their dues” and honorary members were “all, irrespective of ethnicity and religion, who in any way contributed morally and materially to the fulfillment of the purpose of the community.”  An example of a member’s financial obligations is the following:  Three dollars monthly for members who had children of school age attending Greek school and one dollar for the others with no children.  It was assumed that all families with children would enroll them in Greek school. Paid membership seems to have applied primarily to males as heads of families.  Membership could be forfeited not only for lack of payment of dues but also for conduct harmful to the community.

The constitution reflects other interesting historical features as well.  The following examples may be cited.  The President “represents the Community everywhere and in all cases” (Article 19).  The “board members of the Church…assist the priest in the religious and philanthropic ministry of the Church, with whom they regulate the worship services” (Article 31).  The priest must be “educated and with attested virtue and competence” but to him “mixing in the affairs of the Community under any circumstances is explicitly forbidden, his primary care being the conduct of his religious duties alone” (Article 32). The priest was to collect monetary obligations for the sacraments and to fulfill these obligations in various places after directive from the council, except in emergencies (Articles 34 and 35).

The Archdiocese is mentioned only in Articles 37 and 39.  In the first case, concerning the replacement of the priest by three quarters assembly vote and with the subsequent approval of the Archdiocese.  In the second case, concerning the parish which is said to be under “the direct jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of New York” that recommends the periodic placement of clergy under “the regulations and doctrines of the Eastern Orthodox Church.”  Articles 43 and 44 stipulate that the last Sunday of July is reserved for the community picnic and that no one could engage the priest on that day for any other duties excepting for an emergency.  All the above examples of historical details are significant as part of the history of the Church in America and its evolving identity in balancing the ethnic and the religious heritage in unavoidably changing times.

Early Meeting Locations

Based on the above sources and the memory of present day parish members, and long before the acquisition of the present property on West Street in 1941, the local Greek Orthodox faithful from 1928 onward used to gather for meetings and religious services in various places in Keene.  The first Church services took place on the fourth floor of the Bon Ton Building on Main Street owned by John A. Booras and George Meleones.  Community gatherings, including those of the Hellenic organization of AHEPA, were sometimes held on the top floor of the Old Sentinel Building on Main Street.  Other gatherings took place in the Grand Army of the Republic Hall on Mechanic Street.  For a time Church services were conducted at the Episcopal Church on West Street.  The last meeting place prior to the acquisition of the present building in 1941, was a rented hall on the fourth floor of the St. John Block, later renamed Elliot Block on the corner of West and Main Streets.

Acquisition of the Present Property

In July 1941 the present property, originally built as a mansion about 1860 by Theodore J. French, was purchased from Mary Faulkner. Appropriate modifications were made, including the “iconostasis” or partition between the altar and the main part of the Church, colored glass windows, and a Church office, to make it serviceable to the community.  The first pews were theater seats donated by the Latchis family.  Supporting columns in the middle aisle obscured full view of the altar.  The interior of the Church was completely renovated to its present form in the early 1960’s.  The rear carriage house, which came with the property, had been renovated earlier into a hall and dedicated on March 25, 1944.

Self-Sustaining Parish

Throughout its early history the parish functioned as an extended family centered on the worship of God in the Liturgy and Sacraments, Greek school, and social activities.  Present day members remember as children how they recited the Lord’s Prayer in front of the altar during the Liturgy.  Young people joined the choir. Bishops, Archbishops, and seminarians used to visit the parish.  The community continued to thrive as a self-sustaining parish with full-time pastors through the late 1970’s.

Many retain striking memories of Greek school.  When public school was over, children attended Greek school three afternoons each week.  In a room behind the altar, fitted with desks and benches holding 2-3 young persons, the children were schooled in Greek speaking and writing.  The classes were strict.  Poems and songs were learned by rote.  They were recited to the pleasure of adults during ethnic holidays celebrated in the renovated carriage house.  Greek dances and Greek picnics added enjoyment to the family-centered community.

Priests and Council Presidents over the Years

Over the decades, by God’s grace, numerous priests were privileged to serve the parish.  Unfortunately the extant records do not provide a list of priests prior to 1952.  From 1952 forward the following priests served at St. George’s, not including occasional substitutes for Sundays:

1952 Christoforos Tsarouhas
1953    Athanasios Hararis
1953-56  Peter Koskores
1957-58  Spence Kezios
1958-61  Elias Kalariotis
1961-63  Joseph Antonakakis
1963-72  George Papaloukas
1972-73  Andrew Mahalares
1973   Timothy Andrews
1974-78  James Karalexis
1978-79  Theodore Stylianopoulos
1980-81  Peter Kostakos
1981-2012  Theodore Stylianopoulos
2013-2015  Leo Schefe
2015-present  Eugen Pentiuc

For history’s sake, though the exact years of service are not recorded, the following parishioners have served as Council Presidents*:  Dennis Agallianos, Demetrios Bardis, Elias Bardis, George Bardis, John Booras, Peter Booras, Maria Bradshaw, George Buzuvis, Timoleon Chakalos, Don Cheek, Louis Colivas, Charles Contas, John Contas, Arthur Drogaris, Bill Ellis, Peter Espiefs, Evelyn Hubal, Louis Kolivas, Nicholas Kolivas, Peter Latchis, Theodore Mathews, George Meleones, Stephen Pappas, Thomas Pappas, Panos Pitsas, Chris Tasoulas, Jim Vlahos, and Zoe Vrakatitsis.
* Since 2006, George Karabakakis and Joseph Truman were added to the list.


St. George Flourishes after Fr. Theodore Stylianopoulos Arrives

By the late 1970’s new factors and forces began to impact on the history of the parish.  The scarcity of priests made it difficult to obtain a fulltime priest.  Financial considerations and other factors encouraged the parish to be content with the Sunday services of Fr. Theodore Stylianopoulos, a fulltime professor at the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, who traveled back and forth from Boston on Sundays.  The old guard, persons wholly committed to the Church, began to pass on. Changes in society meant that the younger generation was not as willing to commit equal time and energy to the Church.  Many young people went to college elsewhere and found jobs in larger cities.  An increasing number of converts welcomed to the Church altered the composition of the community. As parishioners spoke and understood less and less Greek, more and more English was being used in the worship services.

Despite many of the above factors, the parish’s core vitality remained strong and was enhanced by the entry of converts and new families.  Priestly services and worship were uninterrupted.  Although Greek school ceased for lack of teachers, the Church school functioned in well-organized and effective ways for decades thanks to its faithful directors and dedicated teachers.  Congregational singing evidenced more active lay participation in the celebration of the Liturgy.  Annual giving increased substantially through the adoption of the Stewardship Program. The parish enlarged its philanthropic vision and ministry.

Dedication of Hellenic Hall

A tangible aspect of the community’s vitality was the erection of the new $600,000 hall without incurring debt.  After a decade of talking and several years of fund-raising the Hellenic Hall was built and dedicated in 2000 as a cultural and educational center.  Built partly on the site of the old carriage house but now connected to the Church building itself, this beautiful and expansive hall harmonized architecturally with the Church building.  It has stood proudly as a symbol of the presence and witness of St. George Church to the civic, cultural, and religious life of the wider Keene community.  The dedication of Hellenic Hall occurred on Sunday, November 19, 2000, by the service of the Blessing of the Waters led by His Eminence Metropolitan Methodios of Boston, with a banquet following.  The hard-working Building Committee was comprised of Panos Pitsas, Chairman, and members John Chakalos, Charles Contas, Peter Espiefs, Mary Michaelides, and Chris Tasoulas.

The Parish Council was also actively involved.  The officers were: Panos Pitsas, President; Donald Cheek, Vice President; Georgia Agallianos, Treasurer; Mary J. Booras, Secretary. Members included were:  Denis Agallianos, John Bardis, Chris Christopher, Spiro Doku, and Mary Michaelides.

On the occasion of the dedication, Mayor Michael Blastos wrote the following words in his official proclamation recorded in the “Commemorative Hellenic Hall 2000” album published in 2001:

“The dedication of the Hellenic Hall and the Blessing of the Waters is a celebration of the Church’s past and those who began it, the present and those who are sustaining it, as well as the future and those who will keep the Church alive.”

In his message to the faithful, Fr. Theodore Stylianopoulos characterized the new hall as “an emblem of faith, a treasure of love, a plentitude of shared life.”  He added:

“My hope is that God will always bless us by using our facilities to renew and strengthen our Christian life through worship, fellowship and education.  May the grace and energy released by building the new hall abound in many blessings and spiritual growth, the main purpose of the Church.”

Panos Pitsas, the Chairman of the Fundraising Committee as well as the Building Committee among other things wrote:

“This Center will be our legacy to our children, grandchildren and godchildren. There is no doubt that it will be enjoyed by all for many years to come and will serve as our parish center to preserve and strengthen our spiritual faith, and pass on our cultural and social customs to our future generations.”

It is in the spirit of the above three quotations that the life of St. George Church that the current 75th Anniversary of our parish, year 2006, is celebrated.  The history of the parish, just as the history of the Orthodox Church, has been marked by triumphs and struggles, by abiding truths and necessary permissible changes. As we look back, we express our gratitude to the original founders and many others after them who established and sustained the parish with their strong faith and labor of love.  We thank those known and unknown parishioners, regular worshipers, whose presence and prayers energize the Church as a household of God.  We thank those faithful administrators and workers manning the oars and keeping the parish alive and active; those who look after the buildings and clean the Church preparing it for services; those who bring the offering breads, flowers, and other gifts to the Church; the ladies of the Elpis Society who labored shoulder to shoulder with the Parish Councils since the earliest days of the parish; the chanters and singers; the acolytes and all young people who grace our community.

Looking to the Future

We also look to the future.  Unattended fires burn out and turn into ashes.  With the grace of God, St. George parish needs your personal faith, commitment, participation, support, and talents to continue its life and mission.  God calls you. You need the Church.  The Church needs you.  Our conversation as a community must continue about where we are, where we would like to be five, ten, and twenty years hence, and how we get there.  On the table our major issues such as the appointment of a full-time priest in the coming years, the renovation of the Church, the strengthening of the Church school, the development of youth programs, the renewal and reconstitution of the Elpis Society, the re-opening of Greek language classes, the expansion of the mission and philanthropic conscience and ministry of the community.

Together with our faith and human efforts, our trust is placed in Christ, in Him who is “the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)  In essence it is His mission we seek to fulfill according to His words:  “Go forth and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20

by Fr. Theodore Stylianopoulos


The End of an Era

For 34 years, the St. George community was blessed with Fr. Theodore Stylianopoulos (Fr. Ted) as our spiritual leader and guiding light. On October 28, 2012, Fr. Ted retired from St. George. Fr. Ted has taught us, supported us, challenged us, and comforted us. He has prayed and worked with us. He has celebrated and performed sacraments with us. He has shared our joys and sorrows. We are grateful for all that Fr. Ted and the devoted and giving Presvytera Faye have done for St. George.

Information on Fr. Ted’s retirement celebration can be found in the in our web news and in the November 2012 bulletin.

Moving Forward

As of January, 2013, we welcomed Rev. Father Leo Schefe to St. George as our full-time priest, who served the St. George community until April, 2015. We thrived under his leadership and greatly enjoyed his family, Presbytera Candace and their daughter Nina.

In 2013, many new offerings and initiatives came to fruition, such as the bookstore and the re-opening of Greek language classes. Under the leadership of Avye Andonellis, Greek language classes are held for people of all levels and ages, from young children to adults. Tommy Leristis came on as a Greek School teacher in 2015.  We also started offering Greek dance lessons, thanks to instructor Roula Leristis.

In November 2015, the Metropolis of Boston assigned the Rev. Dr. Eugen J. Pentiuc as our Sunday-only priest. Our Saint George community is honored and grateful to be served by him.