Our Parish History
The beauty of The Church of the Annunciation is that its own history is what brings the congregation together. The power to build, to overcome tragedy and to move forward is underlined by the faith of God's children and the inspiration and solace of our Lord.
The founders of our church left their native lands and came to America as strangers. They knew neither the language nor the customs. Separated from their families, they were also bereft of the comfort and spiritual support of their village churches. Rather than give up, complain or abandon their faith, our forefathers began to discuss amongst themselves ways in which they could establish an Orthodox Church in the midst of the Protestant and secularized culture to which they had come. Founded in December 1918, The Church of the Annunciation was borne of 60 Orthodox members in Newburyport, Massachusetts, then under the name of The Hellenic Orthodox Church of St. Peter and Paul. With no building in which to worship, the parishioners held service in St. Paul's Episcopal Church with priests from nearby Ipswich and Haverhill conducting services.
Finally, in 1923, with a congregation bursting at the seams, the members gathered together to elect a board of directors and establish by-laws for the Church. On May 14, 1923, the board invited Father Petros Christakos to serve as a regular parish priest and as teacher of the Greek School. As such, the regular life of liturgical and sacramental worship began in Newburyport. The new parish would then be called The Church to the Annunciation of the Pheotokos. In the following year, funds were finally secured to purchase the Second Presbyterian Church and restore it to Eastern Orthodox liturgical requirements.
The History of the Structure
This newly acquired sanctuary already had a proud heritage in Newburyport. It was designed and built by architect Leonard Smith in 1796. He was also the architect of the Old Elks Club on the corner of Green and Harris Streets, all of the Federalist houses on Harris Street and several houses along High Street. The "Nichols House," which had stood next to the church building, was also one of Smith's works. When this house was torn down, the Metropolitan Museum of New York acquired three of its rooms for the museum collection.
Many outstanding names in Newburyport's history are connected with the early days of the Second Presbyterian Church. Some of these are Titcomb Topping and Timothy Dexter, a wealthy merchant who donated the bell for the church steeple.
The bell was cast in 1796 by the Warner Co. of London, England. The inscription on the bell reads "Given by Timothy Deter, Esq. At the cost of $333.33 to the Second Presbyterian Society of the city of Newbury Port."
In 1946, Representatives of the Ford Foundation came to the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church. They offered the church $5000.00 for the Lord Timothy Dexter bell that was brought over and manufactured in England and provide a replacement bell. The Board of Trustees wisely refused the offer. The bell is still used today at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church.
The First Liturgy and Parish Organization
Now that the Greek Orthodox community had purchased this historic structure, there was much work to be accomplished. On June 18, 1924, in a General Meeting, the congregation gave the board authorization to redecorate the church building according to the Eastern Orthodox liturgical tradition. In the year that Mr. Pahakis was President, $10,013.28 was raised. This money plus the $4000 bank loan enabled the members to purchase and ready their church for the sum of $12,885.29.
On March 25, 1925, the first Divine Liturgy was performed at the Annunciation of the Theotokos Greek Orthodox Church. Thus the light of historic Christianity was brought to Newburyport by the extraordinary efforts of ordinary people!
Many other "firsts" soon followed. On January 11, 1927, the male choir was established. It was comprised of Mr. Emmanuel Talambekos, Dimitrios Xilas, Anastasios Tsiribinis, John Matthews, John Lemnios and others. On January 25, 1927, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts recognized the Annunciation Church as a corporate body. In September of this same year, Mrs. Maria Iakovos accepted, without payment, to become the teacher of the Greek School. The priest, Mrs. Siganos and Mrs. Ekaterini Papadopoulos became the first teachers of the newly established Sunday School in February of 1929.
During the years 1932 and 1933, the parish, under the presidencies of Mr. Spiros Pazaropoulos and Mr. Zaharias Lemnios went through the most difficult period of its existence due to severe economic depression. With great courage, love and help from all the members, the Church remained open.
In October of 1933, the Ladies Society donated funs to repair the church organ and Mr. Talambekos established the first mixed choir.
Years of Growth and Development
These were our beginnings. The courage and faith of our forefathers have given us, their inheritors, a model to follow with much pride. As the years went by, new clergy and lay leaders arose to serve the spiritual and cultural needs of the Greek Orthodox people of Newburyport and area. Faithful persons served on the Church Council with devotion and dedication.
Today's members also remember with fondness their experiences in the Greek and Sunday Schools of the parish. Generations of hard-working and committed women furthered the progress of the parish with countless bazaars, hospital and nursing home visitations, bake sales and decorations of the Epitaphion. They also provided the important warmth and love that made community life so vital. As the years went by, the Church expanded its horizons on becoming a canonical parish in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, thus joining the Orthodox throughout the world through the Ecumenical Patrirchate of Constantinople.
Much more recently, during 1979, a new project was contemplated and begun by the Annunciation Church. During the presidency of Sotirios "Sonny" Fotos, the Restoration Committee was formed. The committee was given authority by a General Assembly to research the early history of our church building with a view to restoring the architectural integrity of the structure.
Unfortunately, tragedy struck on August 7, 1983 when a fire destroyed the church. On the day when the flames consumed the beloved church and the firemen entered the smoke-filled altar area (to rescue the font, chalice and many other sacred articles), they were able to salvage many of the precious sacred objects of the church. As they found each piece, they handed them one-by-one into the waiting hands of the parishioners who formed a living chain, passing the smoldering items from hand to hand to safety; an object lesson of how one generation of Orthodox believers pass the living inheritance if true historic faith to the next! Stored in the homes of parishioners during reconstruction, the sacred treasures were returned to the new church intact. Thus even with its new beginning, the links to the past were not broken.
But, that wasn't enough to stop the parishioners when in days following the fire, they decided unanimously to rebuild the church at the same site. In the following 19 months, while reconstruction continued, parishioners found refuge for services at St. Paul's, the same church to lend its building for services back in 1918.
Less than one year after the fire, the community gathered for the historic ground breaking at the site of the new church. The parish was blessed by the presence of the new assigned Bishop of the Boston Diocese, His Grace Bishop Methodios, who presided at the event.
His Grace conducted the Service of the Water Blessing and sprinkled the ground and the congregation and guests with holy water. Religious and civic dignitaries were present and expressed best wishes on the occasion. A gold-plated shovel was used in the ground breaking by the oldest members in attendance, Mr. John A Matthews and Mrs. Evangelica Lemnios, who represented the founding fathers and mothers.
Finally, on May 12, 1985, the congregation exhibited their faith and pride at the "Opening of the Doors," the church's official unveiling led by Bishop Methodios along with the Godparents of the church, John and Helen Nicholson. When the doors to the new Annunciation Church opened, the congregation was happy that future generations would be baptized in the same baptismal font as the children of the founders, and would receive Holy Communion from the same chalice from which they received the Sacrament! The congregation as well as the citizens of Newburyport celebrated this historic day of rebirth and faith. Father Stanley Havakas, the parish priest and the inspiration for the rebuilding of the church, said, "It is the end of the beginning and the start of the future."
On December 9, 1985- the laying of cornerstone of new church took place. His Grace Bishop Demetrius of Vresthena (assistant Bishop to the Archbishop of Athens) and Congressman Nick Mavroules were present. Byron Matthews was the toastmaster at a dinner held at Sailor Bills in Salisbury to mark the historic event.
Our Church Then
Our Church Now
The Opening of the Doors: May 12, 1985
The day of the "Opening of the Doors" of the new church building began in the parish hall-the "Parekklesi"-which had been transformed into a chapel. His Grace Bishop Methodios led the congregation in the Orthros. A procession of clergy, altar boys, choir, and all the people brought the congregation to the steps leading to the church doors. At the instructions of Bishop Methodios, everyone placed their hands on the shoulder of the person in front of them as Helen and John Nicholson ("Godparents" of the new church) unlocked the door.
Following the first Divine Liturgy, the congregation celebrated. Bishop Methodis, Governor Michael Dukakis, his wife and mother, Congressman Mavroules, and Newburyport Mayor Richard Sullivan were the special guests of honor at a dinner held after the ceremony.
On May 9, 1989 the church was consecrated. Archibishop Iakovos, Bishop Methodios of Boston, Rev. Dr. Harakas, Pastor of Newburyport Congregation, Chairman Byron J. Matthews, President Steve Costas, and visiting former priests were all present at the consecration service. Three hundred church members and friends attended and the event was followed by a dinner at Allenhurst Restaurant in Danvers, Massachusetts.
At the service, the Archbishop said, "This is a great day-one of those days God has created that we may rejoice…This church is for all time and for all human beings."
The rebuilding led parishioners to the "start of the future" as they witnessed the Consecration of the church by Archbishop Iakovos in May 1988 followed by the celebration of the Church's founding in May 1992. Even a church hall was built in 1996 to honor our Godparents, John and Helen Nicholson.
Having endured humble beginnings and challenging obstacles provided the Church the foundation it needed to go forth. For the grace of the Lord will see us through what life has in store for us.
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