The front of the church in the past.
Taken sometime between 1930 and 1940.
Click on the picture to enlarge it.
The Greek Orthodox Community of the Annunciation
A Brief Historical Survey
Compiled by Father George Dimopoulos (parish priest from 1998-2012)
“Out of monuments, names, words, proverbs, traditions, private records, and evidences, fragments of stores, passages of books, and the like, we do save and recover somewhat from the deluge of time.” – Sir Francis Bacon
Taking the lead from Sir Francis Bacon, we have examined the books, records, and archives, as well as tested the memories of our parish leaders, in an effort to present to our Greek Orthodox community a brief review of the history of our parish in the light of our existence in the New World.
We believe that this effort will result in a small first step that might inspire others to supplement the panorama of our background, to satisfy, inform, and gratify our present and future generations about the deeds and accomplishments achieved, as well as the problems that our forefathers had to face when they migrated from their homes in Greece to come here to the Land of Opportunity. It is a well established fact that these first pioneers, mostly young men in their teens, came here from poor homes, hoping to save enough money to help their parents, and even to create dowries for their unwed sisters, and then to return back to their homes and people. However, these dreams were only partially fulfilled. Yes, they worked hard and sent money to parents, and they provided dowries for their sisters, but conditions were such that most of them never were able to return, except after many years, and then only as visitors.
The same story and conditions were repeated all over America in the late eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries. Of course, we are more concerned here to limit our exposition to our own area. In doing so, we shall endeavor to be objective and unbiased so as to avoid mentioning names, since our purpose is purely historical. However, out of necessity, history is made up of men, and only where historically necessary will we mention the names of those that are recorded in the minutes of the parish, hoping that this will not be misunderstood as favoritism because we do not wish to be considered as biased.
The city of Wilkes-Barre was founded by two army officers, who were loyal to the British Crown. They were John Wilkes and Isaac Barre, and they founded the city in 1769. Many American cities grew up on the banks of rivers, and for two reasons. First, because it was more convenient for the transportation of material goods, since transportations was carried out by boats. And second, because the rivers always provided greater protection of the cities from enemy attacks and piracy.
The Valley, from Carbondale down to Berwick, PA, was compared to the Mecca of Arabia, or more properly it was like the oil-producing Saudi Arabia. The reason for this comparison was the “black gold” as the people of that time used to call it—for the abundance of coal in this area. Coal became the moving power that was needed for all types of machinery—coal for steam engines, coal for running the railroad trains, coal for factories, coal for cooking, coal for heating homes, etc. But America was still young and did not have enough people to work in the coal mines. As a result, the federal government allowed thousands of laborers to come from abroad to this area, especially from the Slavic countries. Thus, entire villages moved from Europe to America. They were qualified especially for work in the coal mines because they had worked in the coal mines in their own countries. But here in America, they had a greater hope for a better life, and plenty of good food for themselves and their families.
In the meantime, the few Greek immigrants that came here took advantage of the opportunities that opened up to them in this area. Instead of working in the coal mines, they, being more business oriented, saw the opportunities that restaurants, candy stores, and cleaning establishments and the like offered them. And thus, we find that in the early 1900’s there were in Pittston, PA Greek businesses such as restaurants and cleaners that served the needs of the people here, run by the brothers George and Anthony Marinakos, Nicholas Kambourakos, and Vasilios and Athanasios Tomaras. The first restaurant there, “The Prestor,” was run by Vasilios Liakakos. Since there was no Greek Orthodox church there, the Greek immigrants attended the Russian Orthodox churches for their religious needs.
Their hearts were longing to hear the “Kyrie, eleison” in the own language. And the first contact that they had with a Divine Liturgy in the Greek language was on January 27, 1908. They had invited a retired Greek priest, the Rev. Father Demetrios Petrides, from the Evangelismos church in Philadelphia for the Liturgy. Father Demetrios came to Wilkes-Barre and celebrated the Divine Liturgy in the Russian church of the Resurrection. On that same day, Fr. Demetrios performed the wedding ceremony for Athanasios Alexopoulos and his bride. That Fr. Petrides would come to Wilkes-Barre from time to time to serve the religious needs is apparent from a letter that he wrote them dated April 13, 1910 stating, “I will come to celebrate with you ‘brave young men’ (leventopoula) from our unforgettable homeland of Greece…because when I am with you, I forget my old age…and bitterness of the harsh living abroad (mavri xenetia).
The First Official Organization
The Greek immigrants who had settled in the area of Pittston, feeling the need for comradeship with their compatriots, soon organized a club for their social and secular needs. They named the new organization “The Society of the Lyra of Regas Fereos”. The address of their headquarters was 71 North Main Street. They all became members and were fervent supporters of their motherland Greece. Their first official act was to send a monetary donation to the Greek government to be used for the needs of the Greek navy, addressed “To the Treasurer of the National Fleet”. The amount was sixty-one English pounds.
The Syrian Orthodox community was instituted around the end of the eighteenth century, and by the beginning of 1900 they had acquired their own church. Their priest came from Lebanon but was of Greek descent, named Father Joseph Xanthopoulos. He was fluent in Arabic, Greek, and French. He lived to a ripe old age, over one hundred years, and died in Chicago. He was a dynamic power for the Arabs as well for the Greeks. He took the initiative, and on March 20, 1912 called for a general meeting of all the Greek people in the area for one and only one purpose, “to establish a Greek Orthodox community”. The Greek people were temporarily renting the Lutheran church on 452 Main Street in Wilkes-Barre. Father Petrides would come from time to time from Philadelphia to serve them. The first Divine Liturgy in this church was on March 25, 1912, and it happened to also be Easter day. Following the Divine Liturgy, the first parish council was elected with Mr. George Marinakos as president. The Greek immigrants residing in the area of Scranton also joined the church of Wilkes-Barre since they had no church of their own.
In 1915, the Community of Wilkes-Barre purchased a house on 176 North Main Street. The worship services were held on the second floor. The first floor of the house was provided as a residence for Father Xanthopoulos and his family.
A New Era for the Greek Orthodox Community of Wilkes-Barre
The Greek population was increasing daily, not only in Wilkes-Barre, but also in the entire area, and especially in the small surrounding cities. And the members of the community took measures to have their own priest. Thus, they hired their first permanent priest, Father Petros Kaisaris. In 1923, the community drew up its first set of by-laws consisting of 25 articles, for its better governance and particularly, to develop religious consciousness of our people and to preserve our Greek language and traditions by establishing a Greek school for our children. Their purpose and ambition was to make enough money in order to return back to the land of their birth, Greece. A particular expression for their love and loyalty for the motherland was that they gave their children names, not taken from the list of Greek Orthodox saints, but from the pages of classical Greek history. Consequently, we find in the families such names as Homer, Euripides, Miltades, Antigone, Artemis, Democritos, Alexandros, Socrates, etc.
According to the by-laws, members had to pay monthly dues of $3 per family, and the single men paid only $1. The poor and especially sick were absolved from paying any dues at all. The by-laws also gave unlimited powers to the parish council. And the priest, according to Article #7, was to also serve as a clerk of the community. Article #13 stated that the parish council had the authority “to hire a suitable priest, and the chanters, and to regulate their salaries.” Any violation of the priest or the chanters must be dealt with according to Article #7 of the by-laws.
From the minutes of the community, we read, “In our last general meeting, it was unanimously and without dissent decided to purchase the Lutheran Church on 32 East Ross Street.” The purchase was finalized on Wednesday, May 29, 1924 and at a cost of $24,000. Mr. John Porfiris was elected president at the meeting.
In 1925, Father Kaisaris was asked to leave the parish and was succeeded by the celebrated Father Petros Theodorides, who only a few months later left the parish and was succeeded by Father Ioannis Vournakis. These were the years of great financial crisis in America. However, the Greek people here did not fare too badly, and that for two reasons. First, because as restaurateurs, they were in the food business, and second, because they had not invested at that time in the Stock Market, which in October 1929 crashed and brought about the Great Depression.
However, our Greek Orthodox people did feel the results of the Depression in 1932 and in 1932, they could not meet the mortgage payments and Miner’s National Bank foreclosed them and took ownership of the church. But not all was lost because the parish council managed to rent the church from the bank for $50 a month and thus continued to have church services. In 1934, Father Vournakis was transferred, and Father Michael Thomas began to serve the community. He only served for a short period and was replaced by the Rev. Vasilios Koskoris.
The Community of Wilkes-Barre under the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese
Father Koskoris was an active priest and had a fairly good educational background. At this time, the community took a very significant step; they applied for recognition from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, with the prerogative of having the Archdiocese assign a priest for the parish. In 1934 in a general meeting of the members, the parish constitution and by-laws of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese were adopted. The Archdiocese provided the assurance and guarantee that only canonically ordained and qualified priest were to be assigned to the parishes under her jurisdiction.
In 1936, the whole area of Wilkes-Barre and surrounding cities became inundated by terrible flood waters, and the first floor of the church, which served as a recreation hall for social gatherings and dinners, was flooded; the community raised enough money to repair the damage. In the meantime, bank officials raised the rent of the church from $50 to $75 per month, and the parish council decided to start a campaign to raise the necessary funds to re-purchase the church from the bank to get out of the renting situation. And drawing up a list of donors with amounts that they could manage, they collected necessary funds. The campaign was successful, and as a result, the church was again the property of the community. The community began to make good progress.
The New Greek Orthodox Immigrants Arrive
As it is well known, on October 28, 1940, Italy declared war against Greece. Italy and Germany had formed the so-called “Axis Powers” against the rest of Europe and the United States of America. Greece’s borders were blocked and every communication of the Greek people in the USA with their relatives in Greece ceased. In 1944, Germany fell, especially with the intervention of America, ending World War II. This resulted in opening the borders of Greece and America. The federal government imparted many privileges to the Greek people for their heroic stand against the Axis Powers. One such privilege was to allow Greek-American citizens to invite close relatives in Greece to immigrate to the USA. In 1965, President Johnson legislated that for the next 20 years, up to 1985, up to 180,000 Greek citizens who had close relatives here could upon formal request immigrate to the USA. This in turn brought new members to the community of Wilkes-Barre.
The Community to the Present Day
Many priests have served at our community over time. Most of those priests only remained at our community for a short time, a few months to a few years; this was because many priests desired to serve at larger communities in bigger cities with more families. To this day, the community has retained the parish on East Ross Street and the jurisdiction of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. The parish became better known to the community as time went on. This was due to participation in a variety of Wilkes-Barre city events.
In 2001, the V. Rev. Father George Dimopoulos, the current parish priest, began a new Greek school to educate students about the Greek language, history, religion, and culture. A weekly Sunday school occurs after the Sunday Divine Liturgy. The church also features educational programs which occur during the time of Greek Independence Day and Christmas.
In 2003, the parish purchased the adjacent garage next to the church, which was previously used by the Wilkes-Barre Fire Department. Its uses today are for parking and storage. From 2010-2011, two additional properties, located on Gildersleeve street, were purchased by the church. One property was demolished early in 2011, and the parish is currently making arrangements to demolish the other. The church plans on using the space for parish events, such as the Greek food festival. Specific uses have not yet been determined.
In 2006, the parish began to feature semi-annual Greek food festivals in the social hall of the parish. The festivals have become well known to the entire Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area and continue to grow. Other annual parish events include dinner dances, Greek cookie sales, Christmas and Easter dinners, a Vasilopita dinner held in January to benefit Saint Basil Academy for Orphans and Children in Need in New York, and Greek Independence Day (March 25, 1821) celebrations.
Although many Christian parishes are experiencing a decline in the number of parishioners, our parish continues to grow. We are continually expanding and forming new ministries. Our parish is welcoming to anybody interested in learning about the Greek Orthodox faith. In order to preserve our Greek heritage, our services are still mainly performed in Greek mixed with some English. However, our service books contain a full translation of the Divine Liturgy in English alongside of the Greek text. We hope you will join us! If you have any questions about our community, please contact Father George Dimopoulos at the church at (570) 823-4805, or send an e-mail to the church at GreekOrthodoxChurch@hotmail.com .
April 4, 2008- Greek Flag Raising Ceremony at the Luzerne County Courthouse
April 6, 2008- Greek Independence Day Luncheon
April 27, 2008- Pascha 2008
May 2-4, 2008- 2008 Spring Greek Food Festival
June 12, 2008- Greek Dancing Performance by Children at the Social Security Center
September 26-28, 2008, 2008- 2008 Fall Greek Food Festival
October 25, 2008- Children Halloween Party held at Rollaway Skating Rink in Dallas
November 2, 2008- Church Dinner Dance
December 7, 2008- Ahepa Community Christmas Party
December 17, 2008- Philoptochos Christmas Dinner held at Theo's Metro in Kingston
January 18, 2009- Philoptochos Vasilopita Dinner
March 25, 2009- Greek Flag Raising Ceremony at the Luzerne County Courthouse. Click here for a video.
March 29, 2009- Greek Independence Day Dinner. Click here for a video.
April 19, 2009- Pascha 2009. Click here for a video.
April 24-26, 2009- 2009 Spring Greek Food Festival
May 1-3, 2009- Ahepa Convention held at Woodland's Inn
May 6, 2009- Greek Dancing Performance by children at the Social Security Center
August 12-14, 2009- Wyoming Valley Orthodox Vacation Bible School
August 23, 2009- Church Field Trip to Knoebel's Amusement Park in Elysburg
September 19, 2009- Church Field Trip to St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, New York. Click here for more information.
October 1-3, 2009- 2009 Fall Greek Food Festival
October 24, 2009- Church Halloween Party held at Rollaway Skating Rink in Dallas
November 1, 2009- Church Dinner Dance
December 13, 2009- Ahepa Community Christmas Party
December 20, 2009- Philoptochos Christmas Dinner held at Bistro on the Avenue in Kingston
January 10, 2010- Philoptochos Vasilopita Dinner
February 7, 2010- Visit of Metropolitan Ignatios from Madagascar, Africa
March 25, 2010- Greek Flag Raising Ceremony at the Luzerne County Courthouse. Click here for pictures.
April 4, 2010- Pascha 2010
April 11, 2010- Greek Independence Day Dinner
April 18, 2010- General Meeting
May 6-8, 2010- 2010 Spring Greek Food Festival
May 16, 2010- Ahepa Day
October 7-9, 2010- 2010 Fall Greek Food Festival
November 7, 2010- Church Dinner Dance
December 12, 2010- Philoptochos Christmas Dinner
January 9, 2011- Philoptochos Vasilopita Dinner
March 25, 2011- Greek Flag Raising Ceremony at the Luzerne County Courthouse
March 27, 2011- Greek Independence Day Dinner
April 24, 2011- Pascha 2011
May 11-14, 2011- 2011 Spring Greek Food Festival
May 15, 2011- Ahepa Day
June 26, 2011- General Meeting
October 13-15, 2011- 2011 Fall Greek Food Festival
November 6, 2011- Church Dinner Dance
December 11, 2011- Philoptochos Christmas Dinner
January 8, 2012- Philoptochos Vasilopita Dinner
March 23, 2012- Greek Flag Raising Ceremony at the Luzerne County Courthouse
March 25, 2012- Greek Independence Day Dinner
April 15, 2012- Pascha 2012
May 9-12, 2012- 2012 Spring Greek Food Festival
October 4-6, 2012- 2012 Fall Greek Food Festival
October 23, 2012- Fr. George Dimopoulos' Repose in the Lord
For additional Recent History information, you can visit the archives of the old church Web site.
Click here to access the archive of the old church Web site from February 7, 2004.
Click here to access the archive of the old church Web site from February 9, 2005.
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Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church