Annunciation Church of Stamford History
The First Greek Orthodox Church In The State Of Connecticut
The pioneers of the Greek Orthodox Church first emigrated to Stamford, Connecticut in 1897. These first Greek settlers were drawn to Stamford primarily by the prospect of finding work at the Yale and Town Manufacturing Company, a major manufacturer of locks and hardware.
Early in the 20th century, nearly all immigrant groups lived a clannish life. The Greeks of Stamford were no exception. They held on to their native languages and customs by establishing their own grocery stores, restaurants, bakeries, and coffee houses in their adopted homeland. Energetic, healthy, and ambitious young men came to America because this country offered them hope for success in their search for a better life. Despite their lack of knowledge of the English language and of technical skills, the majority of them managed to gain a foothold and remain in Stamford.
The basic goal of the early Greek immigrants was to save some money and return to their homeland. However, this could not be accomplished in a short period and, as the years passed and their working and living conditions improved, these immigrants developed a sense of permanency in the United States. As a result, they began to look for ways to accommodate their religious and social needs
In 1905, a small group of Hellenes met as a community with a dream of founding a Greek Orthodox Parish in Stamford, and, shortly thereafter, established the first Greek Orthodox Church in the State of Connecticut. They named the church "Evagelismos" (Annunciation) and Mr. Constantine Skroubelos was elected its first president. Working with a committee, he conducted a fund raising drive to establish a treasury. Realizing the need for a place to hold religious services and lacking sufficient funds to build a church, the newly-established community used the St. Luke Episcopal Chapel on South Pacific Street in Stamford.
Having found a temporary place of worship, the committee also found a temporary priest, the Rev. Leonidas Adamakos, who commuted from New York City each Sunday. Rev. Papadamaskinos also performed services at the Annunciation from 1907-1912. In 1909, the Church of the Annunciation was granted its original ecclesiastical charter. In 1912, the Rev. George Caloyianis became the permanent rector and subsequently served the community with distinction for a period of 35 years until 1948.
As the years passed and the Greek population increased, so did the need for its own house of worship. With adequate funds in the community's treasury, the community bought a parcel of land at 648 South Pacific Street. This purchase was recorded in the Stamford land records (Book 160, page 262) on September 30, 1912, at 3:15p.m. Five years would pass before the church building would be completed.
Mr. Nicholas Sigalos drew up the original exterior and interior plans. Work progressed to the point where the stone foundations were completed. However, the funds on hand were not sufficient to complete the building. Mr. Peter Vanech, the president of the church committee at that time, negotiated a personal bank loan which made possible the church's completion in 1917. Also at that time, a Greek language school was instituted with Mr. George Georgiades as its first permanent teacher.
Because the city educational code required that the school have a playground for its students, the adjacent parcel of land had to be purchased. This was accomplished through the philanthropic efforts of Mr. Demetrios Theophilatos, who personally donated the full amount for the purchase in 1918.
In 1925, due to political differences that developed in Greece (the divisive Venizeliki - Vasiliki split), a small group of parishioners split from the mother Church of the Annunciation and later formed the Church of the Archangels.
As the Annunciation community grew in size, the church building became inadequate to accommodate the congregation and the need became urgent to enlarge the building and its facilities. In 1935, with Mr. George Psychopaidas as president, the community secured a bank loan in the amount of $6,000 and, together with donations from parishioners, the building was enlarged. Also, new icons for the Iconostasion were painted and transported from Mt. Athos, Greece. The renovated - church was consecrated on June 13, 1937 by then Archbishop of North and South America, the later Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Athenagoras I.
A few years later, a mortgage-burning drive was conducted personally by Rev. Caloyianis. He was successful in this effort and retired in 1948 at the age of 81. He was succeeded by the Rev. Stephen E. Papadoulias, whose ordination as a deacon took place on Sunday, November 22, 1947, in this, his first parish assignment.
In 1951, through the efforts of the Archdiocese, the two Greek Orthodox churches of Stamford, the Annunciation and the Archangels, were united. Rev. Papadoulias remained as the united church's pastor for a short period. He was succeeded by the Rev. Philip Saltis in 1951. In 1953, the United Greek Orthodox Community was separated once again. Rev. Saltis served as pastor of the Annunciation Church until his retirement in 1971.
Under the leadership of Rev. Saltis the mother parish continued to flourish, the interior of the church and the auditorium were remodeled, many icons were brought from Mt. Athos, and new stained glass windows and chandeliers were installed. The Annunciation Ladies Philoptochos Society, named "Ai Myrophori," was founded in May 1956 with Mrs. Constantina D. Psychopaidas serving as its first president. The Greek language after school program began to be offered five days per week with Rev. Saltis serving as Greek language teacher until 1966. Rev. Saltis also supervised the expansion of the Sunday School.
Rev. Vasilios Remoundos succeeded Rev. Saltis in 1972 and remained as parish priest for five years. In 1973, recognizing the changing character of the parish, the deterioration of the existing neighborhood, and the need for a new spiritual and educational facility, Rev. Remoundos spearheaded the Property and Building Fund drive. Rev. Remoundos and the Building Fund Committee were instrumental in the purchase of a 4.5 acre lot of property on 1230 Newfield Avenue for $130,000, in 1973. The Parish Council under the leadership of its President, Kostas Mazarakos, filed the necessary papers for permits. With much difficulty, the building permits were granted and the ground breaking ceremony for what came to be know as "Phase I" of the building project took place on March 9, 1975. The original church building, property and parish home were sold later that year.
Many parishioners were responsible for securing the $700,000 mortgage on the new community building. Large, personal, interest-free loans were made to the church by Mr. Peter Gianokos, president of the community at that time, and by Mr. Louis Bratsenis, his successor. The official opening of the community complex took place on June 15, 1976. The altar and icons were transferred from the original church and a temporary place of worship was created in the classrooms of the community complex, where most religious services would be held. The larger hall/gym would be used on major religious holidays. This arrangement continued until 1991.
Rev. Remoundos was also very involved with the youth of the community. He was instrumental in establishing the Jr. G.O.Y.A., and basketball teams and in expanding the Greek language and Sunday Schools.
Rev. Constantine Mathews, succeeded Rev. Remoundos in January 1978. During Rev. Mathew' s first year, a committee was formed to brainstorm ideas on how to eliminate the enormous mortgage. Under his leadership, our parishioners worked diligently and unwaveringly to meet the $5,874.37 monthly mortgage payments, repay the personal loans, and keep up with current expenses. The Greek and Sunday Schools were reorganized into regular classes, curriculums were formed, and staff was assigned. The Jr. G.O.Y.A. was also reorganized and our children's participation in the Connecticut Orthodox Basketball and Volleyball leagues was expanded. The G.O.Y.A.L. was founded in January, 1983
In the late 1970s, the Parish Council began sponsoring Greek Food Festivals, which under the guidance of Fr. Constantine Mathews, evolved into a very successful Grecian Festival and Carnival. Due to the financial needs of the community, two Festivals, a summer and a fall Festivals, were held for many years. Currently held on the parish grounds and lasting 4 days, this very popular event continues today, providing our parishioners with the opportunity to share our rich Hellenic culture and heritage with the greater Stamford community. Along with the Grecian Festival, a very successful car raffle is held annually. Parishioners and friends including James Sofronas, George N. Skroubelos and the Bosak-Talboy Funeral Home, who have had the good fortune to win the car have donated the proceeds back to the Church.
In the early 1980's a Building Fund was established to rise funding for the new church. Finally, in 1985, Mr. James Varvitsiotis, Parish Council President, formed a Fact-Finding Committee to gather information for the building of the church, Phase II of the building project. This information was gathered and presented to the General Assembly of May 18, 1986, which decided to proceed in building the long-awaited new church. With this mandate, the Parish Council, under the leadership of its President, Mr. Gus Panageas, filed for the proper permits from the Zoning Board of the City of Stamford, and hired an architect, Mr. Michael Blanc, to draw preliminary plans.
On November 22, 1986, the Ground Breaking Ceremony for the new church took place with His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos, Primate of North and South America officiating, and a successful fund drive was launched. The official plans were approved by the Archdiocese and, on August 14, 1987, under the leadership of the Parish Council President, Mr. James Varvitsiotis, the Building Committee Chairman, Mr. Dennis Vlahakis, and under the pastoral guidance of Rev. Constantine Mathews, the actual construction of the cross-shaped Byzantine church began. This was the first of many significant events to come, including: the laying of the Corner Stone in 1987; the dedication of twenty-four "Dalle-De-Verre" stained glass windows in 1988; the dedication and the placement of the Golden Dome in 1990; and the placement of the Cross, donated by the Ladies Philoptochos Society in 1990. His Grace Bishop Athenagoras of Dorylaion (now Archbishop of Mexico), officiated at these events. The unofficial opening of the new church took place on March 24, 1991. The carpeting, pews, and the "Allen" organ, which was donated by Gus and Julia Markis, were installed in the spring of 1991. The completion of the Young Mothers' rooms, donated by the Ladies Philoptochos Society took place in the same year.
On November 17, 1991, the community celebrated a long-awaited dream come true, the official opening ("Thyranoixia") of the $2,000,000 mortgage-free project, with His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos officiating. After holding services for 15 years in a small hall originally dedicated for Greek and Sunday School classes, the Annunciation finally had a new church structure! The official opening of the church would not have been possible without everyone's help and support. Although it is impossible to name all of those who contributed in some way, Mrs. Angie Viscardi in particular, was instrumental in acquiring a $150,000 portion of her brother Louis Alexander Vanech' s- estate for the Annunciation. The classroom areas were dedicated the Vanech Educational Center in Louis' memory. Mrs. Viscardi was also responsible for acquiring donations for the pews. A $100,000 interest-free loan from the late Louis Bratsenis and his family also helped immensely at the time.
Additional work completed in later stages over the next two years included: The Heating and Air Conditioning Systems were prepared by Mr. George Psathas of Olympic Oil and the Bletsas brothers of Hellas Air. The work has continued with: the landscaping improvement donated by Mr. Theodore Gianokos; the marble floor at the Narthex donated and installed by Mr. Sirjohn Papageorge; the railing installation of the outside balconies donated by the Pellana Society; the installation of the vestment and robe rooms, donated by the Ladies Philoptochos Society in 1992; and the walkways from the driveway to the stairs in 1993.
In 1994, the hall/gym floor was replaced. In March 1995, the Ladies Philoptochos Society completed its project of purchasing new curtains for the multi-purpose hall/gym. The air/heating duct and control work was completed in the spring of 1995, and the counter, sing and cabinets in the area of the Altar Boys room, donated by Mr. Elias Katsos, were installed in the summer of 1995.
In 1997, a "Church of Annunciation Trust Fund" was established by an anonymous donor. Half of the funds were to go towards the interior church decoration, with the remaining funds to continue in an ongoing building trust. On March 24, 1999, the then Archbishop of America, Spyridon, officiated at the celebration for the completion of the Outer-Narthex and the dedication of the Pastors Wall featuring the portraits of the priests who have served the Annunciation.
On May 15, 2000, the Iconographer, Eleftherios Gourogiannis, from Greece was hired to prepare the iconography of the interior of the church for the agreed upon sum of $250,000.. The first part of the work completed in March, 2001, was the "Platytera," and the surrounding area of the altar. In July, 2002, the remainder of the iconography, including the Pantokrator, the Evangelists, and representations of the life of the Virgin Mary were installed..
In September, 2000, the Ladies Philoptochos Society voted to sponsor the creation of an interior Chapel dedicated to St. Nektarios. The community had the blessed honor of acquiring Holy Relics of St. Nektarios and construction of the Chapel was completed in November 2001. In 2002 the Iconography of our St. Nektarios Chapel was installed and donated by the Iconographer, Mr. Eleftherios Gourogiannis of Greece. In September 2002, the Bridal Room was donated and completed by Mr. Harry Nikolopoulos.
Another major Parish milestone was reached on November 23, 2002, when under the leadership of Rev. Mathews and Parish Council President Mr. Peter Katsaros, the Mortgage Burning Celebration took place in the Parish Hall, marking the end of a twenty-five year burden of the community. Recognizing the maintenance repair needs of the aging community complex, in May, 2003, a special "Save our Building Fund Committee" headed by Mrs. Cathy Zoumboulis was formed. The charge of this committee is to find ways and means to complete much needed repairs. With the help of the Committee, in February 2004, a new roof over the entire complex was installed and a new telephone system was donated by the Nick Skroublelos family. In 2005, our church celebrated the 100th Anniversary of our historic parish. In June of that year, the interior of the small hall was remodeled into beautiful classrooms.
In July 2011, our community welcomed our current parish priest, the Rev. Father Evan Evangelidis.
The good works of our parishioners, friends and community continue. Many names have been mentioned. However it is impossible to mention the countless more that have helped in so many different ways, offering their time, skills, talents and treasures. May this Parish and our great church of Christ provide them with countless blessings and revere the memory of those who have passed. The sacred commitment which began at the dawn of the 20th Century by the pioneering immigrants who founded Stamford's Hellenic Community and the Church of the Annunciation continues. The unwavering efforts of our parishioners and friends are untiring and endless. Our present efforts give honor to those who have come before us, are on behalf of today's families and children and are dedicated to the future generations which will work to preserve and pass on our Hellenic heritage, culture and language and more importantly, the traditions, teachings and faith of our Orthodox Church.