History of Our Church & Community
The parish of Warren, Ohio Saint Demetrios was inaugurated by way of a series of provisional meetings beginning in 1917, not three years after the Guns of August inaugurated the First World War. Throughout the teen robust and hearty young Hellenes, largely bachelors, were arriving at a speedy pace in Trumbull County to establish themselves, if not as employees of the Republic Steel plant, then as proprietors of local businesses not far from it, along South Pine Street. On July 15, 1918, a meeting concluded that the parish would be called Saint Demetrios, to correspond with a name common to churches throughout northern Greece. Both the old (no longer standing) Roumanian Hall (127 Walnut Street), and Park Avenue Schoolhouse (305 South Park) served as meeting places and halls in which to conduct Sunday services, or Divine Liturgies.
On May 5, 1920, the parish was chartered. That same spring, the location of the former Finnish Lutheran Church, then at 242 Clinton Street, was purchased and became the Church of Warren Saint Demetrios, parishioners attending there as of November 9 of that year. Even prior to the purchase of that edifice the first Hellenes Orthodox marriage connected to the newly organized parish was performed in a house on nearby Dawson Street, where one of the parish founders, Demetrios (James) Tambures, would be betrothed to Angeliki (Angeline) Asimakopoulos, on April 18, 1920. This has long been presumed to be the first Greek Orthodox marriage performed in Trumbull County.
Internal conflicts within the Greek motherland arising out of positions advanced on involvement in the First World War filtered across the seas into parishes worldwide. The then-Royal Family of Greece, with its part German heritage, felt uneasy about the Allied effort, whereas the brilliant but incendiary Cretan-born Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos, also reflecting the newly liberated islander mistrust of mainland control, had no qualms about committing his country to a war against the Kaiser and his European coterie.
Adherents of the Royal Family’s position were known as Royalists, whereas those who embraced Venizelos were called Venizelots. Long after the Armistice of 1919, Greek passions on this topic were further inflamed, particularly when Archbishop Theoklitos of Athens, who strongly opposed the positions of Venizelos, became the Greek ecclesiastical authority after the Venizelot Archbishop Meletios Metaxakis was deposed by Royalist forces. Greek Orthodox communities world-wide followed suit in pledging allegiance to either side. Archbishop Meletios was deeply committed to Greek Orthodox parishes in the United States and it was by his efforts that the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America was founded in 1921. Meletios had found a kindred spirit in the person of Archbishop Alexander of Rodostolon, under whose aegis the first priest at Saint Demetrios, Gabriel Tsamparlis, was installed on July 15, 1920.
When in January 1921 Alexander had ceased to follow the directives of the Holy Synod, the political weight upon any semblance of Greek Orthodox Christian unity in the United States became overwhelming.
Accordingly, a year later, on January 22, 1922, Warren’s Greek Orthodox community found itself enmeshed in the political and ecclesiastical debate to the point where the differences were seemingly irreconcilable, and the community itself was torn asunder. The Venizelots established a second parish, Saint Paraskevi, in a meeting-hall at 524 1/2 South Pine. Ultimately passions cooled, and the Warren Greeks, like their compatriots internationally, reaffirmed the strength in their unity of devotion to faith and heritage, whatever their political side. The parishes were reunited on April 1, 1927, to be known once again and to this day as the church of Warren Saint Demetrios. Henceforth there has never been another Greek Orthodox parish in Trumbull County. The first elected president of the reunited community was Christ Charnas.
Particularly from the time of its reunification, the parish has been fervently devoted to causes ranging from Greek War Relief during the Second World War to local community benefits beyond the parameters of the parish community itself. For example, the Philoptochos, or Ladies’ Aid Society, whose Warren chapter was founded in April, 1935, has given its utmost to service a multitude of philanthropic efforts. And to perpetuate the parish’s strong faith, culture and language, of Greek-Americans have had easy access to a bilingual education is an enduring testament to the force of tradition carried over to these shores by the hale and hearty pioneers. Then in the spring of their youth, nonetheless they were infused by centuries of a Greek desire for excellence; to wit, εις ανώτερα!, or “to the higher” has long been, and remains, a popular phrase.
After extensive fundraising drives through much of the early 1940s the Warren parish purchased what was then lot number fifty-one, measuring 88 by 308 feet, on High Street, on May 16, 1943. After the sale of the Clinton Street property, the Saint Demetrios governing board contracted with the B&B Construction Company of Youngstown, Ohio in July of 1946 to begin a new church edifice. Designed on the order of a fifth cornerstone was laid on June 8, 1947.
Officiating at the ceremony, the Reverend Nikiforos Maximos would comment that this new church “would be the pride of our generation.” And that, the new church certainly was, for after leading his flock out of the Clinton Street edifice in a procession wending its way down Pine around the Court House and onto High, on May 22, 1948, the parish had moved into a house of worship uniquely its own. The first wedding ceremony held there was on June 6, 1948, church organist Liberty Foundoulis was betrothed to Peter Mitchell.
“A Jewel on High Street”, the church edifice came to be called, reflecting not merely upon its exterior design but rather upon its exceptional interior decoration, with sacred pictures and icons bearing the brushstrokes of Victor Maris, the mosaic artistry of Constantine Triantafillou, sculptures by Vincent Bartolini, and stained glass windows from the studio of Oliver Mannella. With another decade devoted to its interior plan, the church was finally dedicated with the pageantry of an encircling procession led by Archbishop Iakovos, Bishop Polyefktos, and the Reverend Dennis Michelis, on the afternoon of November 13, 1960.
Father Dennis’ arrival here, on September 23, 1955, in fact opened the most recent era in the church history, for his long tenure (succeeding twenty-six appointed priests between 1920 and 1955) spanning forty-nine years coincided with a period of unprecedented church growth hand proliferating properties.
Father Dennis (a highly literate scholar on a multitude of aspects of Greek and Orthodox history, and the subsequent author of some six published studies), alongside a succession of parish presidents, pioneers of Warren Saint Demetrios, would also preside over the purchase and annexation of a Religious School building (formerly the Saint Paul Lutheran Church) in 1968, and of groundbreaking ceremonies on December 1, 1975 for the twenty acres of prime Atlantic Street property on which would stand the Saint Demetrios Community Center, itself completed the following year. Indeed, the dedication of the Community Center as presided over by then-Archbishop Iakovos, Bishop Gerasimos and Father Dennis signaled, since the completion of the church edifice on High Street, the most singular advance of the area Greek-American community. In testament to that advance, and in return for a potential meeting with His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos, are industrialist R. J. Wean would donate an additional thirty-three acres of property adjoining the parish’s own twenty acres. This auspicious gift was celebrated by way of a Trumbull Country Club gala on November 27, 1977, where indeed His Eminence would personally congratulate Mr. Wean for his generosity.
The Saint Demetrios Community Center now became the locus for a whole galaxy of area Greek-American functions. Younger generations of parishioners, whose own formal organizations had existed from the latter 1940s, now found a permanent social and recreational center, whether for basketball tournaments or G.O.Y.A. (Greek Orthodox Youth of America) activities. Parish wedding receptions would become a staple feature of the Community Center.
The surviving parish pioneers, now well advanced in years, found representation in an organization all their own when the Saint Demetrios Senior Citizens Organization was established in 1979. Its success would inspire the “Yiasou Over Fifty Club,” organized to accommodate the ceaseless energy of ever younger groups of retirees. However it was the establishment of the annual summer festivals, whose antecedents could be traced to a carnival on Saint Demetrios Church grounds in August, 1962, to the first formal festival on Elm Road School grounds in September, 1969 and to a string of annual July festivals again on Saint Demetrios grounds subsequently, which became the bonanza of Greek-American affairsparticularly after the first Atlantic Street festival was held on July 28-31, 1977.
That affair garnered some $17,000 in clear profit, a considerable advance over the $800 festival profit garnered in 1969-and all of whose sums (which in more current years well exceed $100,000 in clear revenue) have been returned to the Saint Demetrios parish for all manner of philanthropic efforts. All of these fundraisers were brainchildren of the now-deceased Warren City Police Captain William Andrew Poulos, who served as general chairman, almost to the time of his passing in 1998. He was assisted by his longtime co-chairman William Ahladis, Gus Michelakis and Tom Raphtis, all themselves with long family traditions of devotion to their parish. The three succeeded Mr. Poulos for the 1998 festival. Aided by an exemplary group of passionately dedicated fellow parishioners who annually volunteer to work the multitude of festival functions even as they seek to nurture festival goals, the late Mr. Poulos and now Mr. Ahladis and their teams transformed the very definition of church summer festival, so that these heady Saint Demetrios affairs are as eagerly anticipated by non-parishioners as they are by those who frequent the activities of the Saint Demetrios Saint Demetrios social calendar. The result has been one of the most extraordinary of yearly festivals to be found anywhere in the United States.
If the ancient Greeks were “blessed by the gods” in establishing the foundations of Western democracy, philosophy, architecture, theatre, medicine, astronomy, geometry and other natural sciences, as well as athletic competition by way of the Olympic Games, then the Greek-Americans of Warren, Ohio were singularly blessed by their One True God to yield from their Saint Demetrios parish the first American born Archbishop of America, His Eminence Spyridon, born George Papageorgiou in Warren on September 24, 1944.
The son of the Rhodian born physician Constantine Papageorgiou (“Dr. George” for short) and the American-born (her parents hailing from the island of Fourni) former Kalliope (“Kalli”) Tsourakis, the future Archbishop was the third born of their eventual six children. After some six years the family would leave Warren for Steubenville and after a few years there the family would live in Greece, among Dr. George’s relations in the area of Rhodes, the capital city of the island. Young George would return to the states to live among relatives and attend high school in Tarpon Springs, Florida. But soon he found himself adhering to a higher calling and returned to Greece to obtain a thorough European ecclesiastical and cultural education before making his mark in the vanguard of promoting Orthodoxy within heavily Roman Catholic Italy.
After the retirement of Archbishop Iakovos, who for thirty-one years was a staple figure among Greek Orthodox parishes in the Western hemisphere, the former George Papageorgiou, now called Spyridon, was advanced to the highest of Greek Orthodox hierarchy within the United States. Appointed on July 30, 1996 by His All Holiness Bartholomew and the Holy See in the former Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey), his advancement was greeted by much fanfare throughout the United States, in Tarpon Springs, Florida and Steubenville, Ohio in particular, but no where more so than among the parishioners of Warren, Ohio’s Saint Demetrios.
Spyridon was formally enthroned at the Holy Trinity Archdiocesan Cathedral in New York City on September 21, 1996. Less than five weeks later, to help commemorate the annual feast day of Saint Demetrios, His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon returned to his Warren birthplace, and was properly feted in a splendid ceremony attended by then-Ohio Governor George Voinovich and several other federal, state and local officials, held at the Saint Demetrios Community Center on October 26. Three years later, however, internal ecclesiastical conflicts resulted in his resignation and replacement by Demetrios, who assumed the office of Archbishop on September 18, 1999.
Still, the fanfare which greeted His Eminence’s “august journey home” was merely axiomatic for a community which has always saluted the achievements of its own and their fellow Greek Orthodox peers world-wide. So that ensuing generations might be fully apprised of the epochal breadth of luminous Hellenic achievement, both ancient and modern, the Warren Saint Demetrios became one of the first to establish a Cultural Affairs program, worked in conjunction with its well-established Greek School, conceived in the summer of 1999.
For all generations in the community of Warren Saint Demetrios, the immigrant pioneers had left their strength behind.
By Larry James Gianakos
Author of “The Strength They Left Behind: Seventy Years of the Community of Warren Saint Demetrios“ [as presented to the United States Library of Congress Bicentennial Local Legacies Project, March 20,2000; modified on March 21, 2002