The Greek immigrants who came to Queens and Long Island had hopes and dreams. They had great faith and they wanted to see that faith passed on to their children's children. They knew instinctively that the tradition had to be maintained. They were Greeks who fought and worked hard to keep their roots and heritage alive.
They conceived a dream and that dream was to build a church and subsequent community where all neighboring Greeks could gather and instill their culture in the generations to come. Their homeland was behind them but they created a new one in Jamaica. It was then to become the first church of Long Island, familiarly called the Mother Church, and it flourished.
And so the realization of the dream began. The founding group made up the original religious and cooperative organization called “The Free Greek Community of Jamaica”. They had chosen the area of Jamaica as their home base because they thought it provided the ideal setting for the family life. It had dual advantages. They enjoyed living in suburbia as well as being in close proximity to Manhattan.
Yet, this small community and organization, headed by George Stavrakos, President and John Cheliotis, Vice President, wanted to establish their own church therefore purchasing a site at 90-38 139th Street (and 91st Avenue). While our first edifice took approximately two years to build, we used "Grace Episcopal Church" on Jamaica Avenue, and our afternoon Greek language program was held at the "Normal School" on Hillside Avenue. The Jamaica Greek Orthodox Church was completed in 1927 and was considered by all Greeks in New York as one of the finer churches and communities. According to Father Emmanuel Pratsinakis, it was the first Greek Orthodox structure in New York built by Greek Orthodox parishioners. Other New York churches had renovated from existing Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish houses of worship for their congregations.
There is little factual information as to what exactly transpired prior to 1927. Most of it comes from long standing members' memories, each giving a slightly different account. Some have said that there were discussions to start the church, as early as 1921. Yet we do know that the first parish constitution was drawn up on June 29, 1927. The first services, at this new site, were held on October 26,1927, the feast day of our Patron, Saint Demetrios. Conducting the first Divine Liturgy was also our first parish priest the Reverend Father Petros Christakos, who served our community from 1927-1934.
In its infant years, Saint Demetrios had only 150 families. Working very closely with the first parish council president and major benefactor, George Stavrakos, Saint Demetrios was able to successfully complete not only the building of the church edifice at the height of the depression but also sponsored several welfare programs, including feeding and clothing destitute parishioners.
Father Christakos offered a creative ministry by sponsoring the first Greek Festival in New York. It was soon to be emulated by sister parishes. Saint Demetrios, during his tenure, also instituted the first envelope system in the church to allow parishioners to make weekly donations to their church. Father Christakos was innovative, creative, education and welfare oriented and most important, an organized fundraiser.
This church served its community both spiritually and culturally. Yet this community grew with each year, gradually encompassing not only Jamaica and its surroundings (Richmond Hill, Hollis and Forest Hills) but areas as far away as Bellrose and the tip of Montauk Point. Former Pastor Reverend Father Peter Kastaris was once quoted as saying "when it (meaning the church of St. Demetrios) was founded, it was only one for the entire area, and now St. Demetrios has 14 daughters and grand daughters." The State of New York finally noted the growth of the community and on March 18, 1937, officially incorporated it as “The Free Greek Community of Jamaica”. Then executive board members included James Scaltsas, Michael Chris, Christ Baries, Angelo Koutonaris, Dennis Lukas, and Anthony Romanou.
The years following saw rapid growth of the community. Parish leaders discussed relocating the church to a larger lot where it could better facilitate spiritual, educational and recreational needs. By 1948 it became apparent that a move to relocate the church was imperative. Consequently, the parish purchased a large lot on 182nd Street and Hillside Avenue. Unfortunately, this lot was not large enough and in 1954 our present lot, a property formerly known as Judge O'Brien Estate, was acquired. It is important to understand what was happening within the community at this time. The Reverend Father Nicholas P. Papageorge, who served our community from 1956-1977, wrote the following. The parish was growing steadily and rapidly. The immediate need for expansion was felt more and more. A clear indication was the remarkable and spontaneous growth, which put the parish in a difficult situation as far as space and facilities were concerned. Those who felt the need more than others were the children. There was hardly enough room for them in the Sunday Schools and no gym facilities whatsoever. In the year 1956 Saint Demetrios inaugurated two Divine Liturgies and two separate Sunday Schools. The school committee launched a far-reaching Greek Language educational program with the intention of going right to the very doorstep of our children so that they may learn the Greek language.
A fact finding building committee comprised of: Fr. P.N. Papageorge, John Linakis, Peter Stris, George Tzougros, George Hatzigeorge and Theodore Katsigris was formed. It was their responsibility to interview architects and select one which best understood the needs and construction of a Greek Orthodox Church. William Chirgotis was finally selected and members George DeVoucallas and Douglas Dengeles assisted him on a voluntary basis. After plans were approved, the official Building Program Committee was appointed. It included: Fr. P.N. Papageorge, John Linakis, Chairman; Peter Stris, Parish Council President; Frank Parlamis, Solicitations Chairman and Mimis Therry, Secretary. Members included: George Tzougros, Demetrios Marangos, Douglas Dengeles, Michael Pariamis and Theodore Katsigris.
As noted by parish history the Ground Breaking Ceremony took place on Sunday, November 4, 1962. Archbishop lakovos officiated at the Divine Liturgy and official blessings ceremony. Many church, state and city officials were present. The following day, November 5, 1962, the construction commenced and lasted a period of three years.
The laying of the Corner Stone was held on June 30, 1963, at which time the Divine Liturgy was conducted at the northwest corner of the church by the then Bishop of Nyssa, Reverend Germanos Polyzoides. Earth from the grave of St. Demetrios at Thessaloniki and Holy Oil from the perpetual votive light under the catacomb below the church there, were placed at the base of our present church. Services were held in the building during its construction, but the triumphant day was Palm Sunday, April 18,1965 when it became the community's permanent home. Since then, the church has grown into what it has become today. It has kept the faith and the traditions and succeeded in instilling these things and the Greek heritage through today.
Here Greek Orthodoxy in Jamaica stands today... keeping faith with its heritage, remaining true to its traditions, carrying forward the simple, humble beginnings of early immigrants. It is a lifting climax to a series of milestones, which have marked the development of the parish through the years, which include also the following significant events:
1 - Founding of the first Greek afternoon School in Eastern Queens and Long Island before 1927.
2 - Founding of the first Greek Orthodox Sunday School in Eastern Queens and Long Island about 1930.
3 - Founding of the first Greek Orthodox choir in Eastern Queens and Long Island in 1930.
4-Founding of the first Ladies Guild of Eastern Queens and Long Island in 1935, which was the forerunner of the now Ladies Philoptochos Society.
5 - Purchase of a large lot on 182 Street and Hillside Avenue with the intention to build a church in 1948. This property was viewed inadequate because of lack of space and was assumed by the city for the Susan B. Anthony Grammar School in the early1960s.
6 - Founding of the first Boy Scouts Troop in 1951 under the leadership of Harry John, George T. Hayes, and Theofanis Bays.
7 - Founding of the first Girl Scouts Troop in 1953 by Sasi Baker and later reactivated in 1965 by Poppy Fotopoulos and Sadie Stathes. Purchased the property, which our current church is situated in 1954.
8 - The historical “Birth of a High School Banquet” was held at the New York Hilton in 1982, Peter Coufos-chairman.
9 - Founding of the first Cub Scouts troop in 1962 by Bill Liras.
10 - In addition to beginning our efforts for a new edifice by keeping the corner store in 1963 but also purchased in 1955 the adjacent parking lot and paved it in 1975.
11 - Increasing our educational network to include 12 afternoon Greek Schools in 1965 under Paul Prodromides-chairman.
12 - Founding of Mr. and Mrs. Club in 1965 with Norman George, elected first president.
13 - Founding of our Jamaica Day School, an inspiration of Paul Prodromides, who was the driving force in 1966, with the assistance of Mimis Therry and George Tzougros, Paul Demas, Parish Council, president. Originally, the School included grades Kindergarten through eleventh, but due to lack of separate physical facilities, it was reduced to kindergarten through ninth grades.
14 - Founding of Day School PTA in 1967 - Nina Pourakis serving as first president.
15 - The -Church Appointment Committee- (for the decoration and iconography of the church) was established in 1972 under George Pourakis. Our new pews were installed that same year. A new Committee was appointed to include Sarantos Moustafellos, chairman, and George Pourakis, Peter Coufos, and Peter Chronis, as members. Stained glass windows were installed in 1974 and iconography and church appointments began to be installed in 1979.
16 - Founding of Afternoon School PTA in 1974.
17 - High School Program was established in 1981 with the addition of the tenth grade. This was named in honor of our spiritual leader, Archbishop lakovos by unanimous decision of the parish council. Peter Coufos - President.
19 - In 1982 the Metropolitan Life Building on Parsons Blvd. became the home of the Archbishop lakovos High School. Spiro Ziangos chaired the H.S. Building program, he was assisted by Nick Ziozis, Mannie Frangas, Steve Spridellis, Kerry Katsorhis, Nick Angelis, and Norman Liebman. Parish Council President was Andreas Costea. In addition, the Solicitations Committee revised the necessary funds to finish the first phase. Committee members were llias Papadopoulos, Theofanis Karakostas, Constantinos Xifaras, Bobby Pavlatos, and James Karitenos.
The immigrant Church has now grown up. Its story has been one of dedication and hard work, of hope and inspiration. But it does not end here, for there are new and greater challenges ahead. A viable Greek Orthodox Church, with a spiritually involved and concerned people, will continue to meet new challenges with the same determined sense of purpose. That is its history, its tradition. The Greek Orthodox of Saint Demetrios Jamaica, NY has proved this to date and is justifiably proud and undeniably full of new promise. We will continue to do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
The Nineties began a new era. With the Assignment of Father Nicholas Soteropoulos the Community began new goals and new successes. Andreas Costea, Thomas Kougiemitros and Steve Georgatos served as Parish Council Presidents. Presently Faye Pappas, who for many years has served on the Board and chaired several committees, is serving as President.
Some of the accomplishments are the replacement of the two chandeliers, the installation of the three stain glass window on the southern side of the Church, the painting of the Pandocrator. The Archbishop Iakovos High School moved back to the main building after a renovation program was completed. A JOY program for 7 to 12 years was established. A Computerized program introduced to the office. An Archdiocesan Clergy Laity workshop and a local Clergy Laity Conference was hosted by the Community. Many new Retreats and Workshops for Sunday School Teachers, GOYA Leaders and Members and for JOY we held and organized by the Clergy. One of the first things that Father Nicholas Soteropoulos organized was “THE VOICE” and monthly publication printing religious articles in both languages and bring the Parishioners up to date on the happenings within the local Community and within the Archdiocese. Along with the monthly publication a weekly bulletin printed all year was also started.
A Senior Citizens Program was also initiated. The program developed from a monthly program to a daily program that will take place at the new Senior Citizens Center. This is the first time a Greek Orthodox Church has purchased a building for the sole purpose of serving the needs of our Senior Citizens.
The Church of Saint Demetrios is a progressive Community serving the spiritual and physical needs of our over 2,000 families. We always thinking of the future and also new ways of better serving our Parishioners.