History of St. John the Divine Greek Orthodox Church
- from "It's All Greek to Us! at the 2006 Grecian Food Festival of Wheeling [festival program]," written by Joanna Gusta; reproduced with permission.
St. John the Divine Church
History of St. John The Divine
The year was 1913. The population of the United States of America was 92,228,495 and Woodrow Wilson was serving his first term as President. The population of West Virginia was 1,221,119 and the governor was Henry Drury Hatfield who would serve until 1917. The population of Wheeling was 41,641 and the Mayor was Harvey L. Kirk. Wheeling was a thriving center with a prosperous economy.
There were many churches of various denominations in Wheeling. The Baptists were represented with five churches. The Catholics had eight churches, many of which are still in existence today, plus the Syrian Catholic Church (known today as Our Lady of Lebanon of the Maronite Rites) which was at 2329 Market Street. There were two Christian churches, four Episcopalian, two German Independent, one German Reformed, two Hebrew, five Lutheran, twelve Methodist, one German Methodist, five Presbyterian, and two United Presbyterian.
While many Greek immigrants came to the city of Wheeling during the beginning of the 20th century, it was not until November 10,1913, that the actual history of the Greek Orthodox Community of Wheeling began. It was on that day, the Very Rev. Archimandrite Parthenios Kolonis came from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to speak to a huge crowd of Greek Orthodox faithful. They had gathered to discuss the establishment of a Greek Orthodox Church to serve the spiritual needs of the community. The Very Rev. Kolonis was a missionary priest from the Holy Monastery of St. John the Theologian on the island of Patmos.
The island of Patmos, Greece, was where St. John the Evangelist wrote the last book of the New Testament, the Book of Revelation. Therefore, the Very Rev. Kolonis named the newly established church "Revelation of St. John the Divine." At that time it was only the second church named for St. John in the United States and the First Orthodox Church in West Virginia. St. John the Divine Church in Wheeling was the 58th Greek Orthodox community. There are now more than 550 parishes in the Greek Archdiocese.
At the first general assembly meeting on March 9, 1914, it was decided that the community should purchase the two story home and adjacent lot that was located at 2346 Market Street. The committee was authorized by the general assembly to apply the sum of $1,150.00 towards the purchase price of $8,150.00.
From May 1, 1914, the doors of St. John the Divine Greek Orthodox Church would be forever open to the religious and spiritual needs of the faithful and to the Glory of God. With expenses totaling $2,919.00, the two-story home at 2346 Market Street was converted into an Orthodox church. All the Holy Icons on the iconostasis, as well as other icons, were painted by the renowned iconographers, the Iosafeous of Mount Athos. These same precious icons adorn the church to this day!
At the general assembly meeting of August 1, 1920, the first constitution was formed and Vasilios Petroplus was elected first president of the parish which consisted of 450 Members. The constitution and by-laws became the rudder of the community until 1933, when the Uniform Parish Bylaws of the Archdiocese were established as set forth by the Clergy-Laity Congress of that year. Our local church was formally recognized by the Archdiocese of North and South America at the Clergy-Laity Convention of 1933.
The Greek School was established in 1921. It has provided valuable , knowledge and enriched the lives of the many students who have attended. The first teacher was Mrs. Evgenia Nickolus. Georgia Liapakis served many years with dedication and distinction until her retirement on March 25, 1990.
After the Rev. Kolonis left the community in 1921, the following priests served the community until 1928: the Rev. SerafIn Stelidis - 1921; the Rev. Gabriel Tsambralis - 1925; the Rev. Christopher Kontogeorge - 1926-28.
During the years of the Rev. Stephanos Lavriotis, 1928-35, the Sunday school and church choir were established.
The Greek Ladies Philoptochos Society "Areti" Chapter was organized March 15, 1935. Mrs. Gramatiki Kappos served as the first president.
During the 1936 flood the church was badly damaged and the Rev. Demetrios Sakelarides was moved to a Pittsburgh parish. Church services and the Greek school continued to be held at the YMCA then located at 32-20th Street and St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, 1410 Chapline Street while the congregation worked untiringly to overcome this adversity. After 20 months the church was reopened under the leadership of the Rev. George Sakelarides. The Rev. Nicholas Speliotis served for the next nine years until 1944.
The need for a larger church and community center was evident during the early forties as the congregation increased in numbers and strength. It was for this reason that at a general assembly meeting of June 27, 1943, with Archbishop Athenagoras present, a committee was formed to consider the purchase of a new church property. The initial sum of $34,095.00 was raised at a special meeting on Sunday, April 15, 1945, of 23 business leaders of the Greek Community called by then President Emanuel Sgouros.
The present property at 2215 Chapline Street was eventually purchased and converted at a cost of $195,000.00 into a church and Hellenic Center. It was dedicated on May 20, 195 L The mortgage burning ceremony was held on September 28, 1958.
From 1945-1952, the community was served by the Rev. John Geranios. The community, under the direction of the Rev. Geranios, assisted by the Greek Ladies Philoptochos Society and the choir hosted the first choir convention of the tri-state area on August 29, 1948, at Oglebay Park. Twelve choirs of 500 members accompanied by their priests gathered together with the then Archbishop of North and South America, His Eminence Athenagoras to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. Phyllis Monroe Waldo of the Wheeling Choir served as organist.
The Tri-State Council of Greek Orthodox Clergy was responsible for organizing this convention and starting the choirs on the path of the formation of the Tri-State Federation of Greek Orthodox Choirs. The federation is now known as the Mid-Eastern Federation of Greek Orthodox Choirs and Wheeling is recognized as its birthplace. The 30th convention was held at Wheeling College in July 1977, and the 40th convention was held at Oglebay Park in July 1987.
After 1952, the following priests served: the Rev. John Sfikas - 1953; the Rev Dorotheos Neamonitos - 1954; the Rev. Demetrios Michaelides - 1955-1962; the Rev. Thomas Ninnis - 1962-1967.
The period from 1968 to 1972 had the following priests serve the community: the Rev. Joseph Antonakakis; the Rev. Constantine Regopoulos; the Rev. Timothy Daris; the Rev. Polycarpos Rameas; and the Rev. Peter Kostakos.
On March 3, 1972, the property adjoining the Hellenic Center to the south was purchased, cleared and paved for parking at a cost of $30,800.00
On October 24,1972, the property at 1432 Warwood Avenue was purchased for a parish home at a cost of $31,000.00
In 1977, the church as well as the Hellenic Center was centrally airconditioned providing comfort for the parishioners that attend the summertime services and the guests that attend the social functions at the Hellenic Center.
The Rev. George Daskalakis served from 1972 to 1978 and the Rev. Demetrios Calogredes served from 1978 to 1984.
The departure of the Rev. Calogredes and the shortage of available priests brought about the sharing of the Rev. Menelaos Papageorgiou, from our neighboring community, The Church of the Life Giving Fountain, Martins Ferry, Ohio. Services were alternated between the two churches.
In January 1988, His Grace Bishop Maximos assigned the Very Reverend Ignatios Apostolopoulos to our parish. The Rev. George L. Livanos served from September 1, 1988 to August 1989. The Rev. Stephen Mazaris served from August 15, 1989 to October 31, 1995. In the interim period priests from the Diocese of Pittsburgh, the Rev. Michael Kontogiorgis, and the Rev. Dumitru Machailo held services until June 2, 1996. The Rev. Spiro Kehayes celebrated his first liturgy on June 9, 1996.
A Time Capsule was blessed by His Grace Bishop Maximos and laid in the cornerstone on September 30, 1990. The capsule contains historical records and remembrances of the 75th Anniversary. It is to be opened in the year of our Lord 2013 for the 100th Anniversary.
Long-time parishioner, Marina Sfinas passed away on April 9,1991 and bequeathed her estate to St. John The Divine. Her generosity enabled the Hellenic Center to be completely renovated and became a beautiful setting for the many social activities of the community.
Many parishioners through their donations brought about the beautification of the sanctuary and narthex. The addition of The Last Supper Icon, the Pantocratora (Creator of All) in September 1994 and the Platytera which was completed in January 1995 visibly enhanced the sanctuary. Improvements were also made to the building, which included the electrical system and renovations of the hanging vigil lights. These are just a few of the many improvements made in recent years.
The Archives Room and Church Library were established in August 1997. The room which had been used for Sunday School and a Bookstore was completely renovated. All memorabilia, photographs, and formerly used religious articles are being displayed. The Church Library includes several volumes of religious books, audiotapes, encyclopedia and other reading material.
In 1998 emergency repairs were needed to the church roof and top wall areas. The church borrowed $113,000 to make the necessary repairs. An Emergency Building Fund was established to meet the obligation of the project.
The exterior of the building in March, 2001 saw two significant changes. A canopy was placed at the sidewalk entrance of the Hellenic Center. This was done to readily identify the location to the general public. The second change was of a great magnitude. A large arch window was installed on the north wall of the sanctuary. This had been a much-discussed project for many years. The generous donations of parishioners saw the completion of this project.
The Living Memorial Endowment Fund was established in the year 2001 to assure the financial future of the church. The purpose was to collect a sum of $1,000,000 or more to be held as principal. The interest from this endowment will be distributed by the Church Council, which will use the money to pay for the day-to-day operation of the church. Contributors are requested to give $10,000 or strive to meet the amount in 10 years.
The property at 2214 Market Street directly behind the church building was acquired on August 1, 2002 at a cost of $10,036.68. This would be used as a parking lot and a source of additional revenue.
The Original elevator which had been troublesome over the years had to be replaced. The General Assembly met on November 24, 2002 and approved the installation of a new elevator. This was to be funded by the "New Elevator Drive". The new elevator was put into service on May 3, 2003.
Our destiny is guided by the will of God, our steadfast faith, and indomitable spirit. God bless us all.
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