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Historical Boston Greek Cathedral celebrated 110th Anniversary

By Petros Kasfikis

Katherine Karagianis, a 95 year-old grandmother, woke up last Sunday true to a habit that lasts for 80 years. Many things have changed in her life and Boston over the passage of the last decades, but as Karagiannis recounts she never stopped to attend the Sunday liturgy of the historic Greek-Orthodox Cathedral of New England.

Last Sunday was a special day for both Karagianis and her church since the Cathedral celebrated its 110th anniversary.

During these years the Cathedral became a symbol of unity for the Greek Americans, an immigrant community that numbers more than 80,000 members in Massachusetts.

Its location between the Northeastern University and Museum of Fine Arts together with the unique architectural design, which interweaves classical and Eastern-Christian elements, led the National Register of Historic Places to classify the building among the Boston's historical sights.

After the end of the Divine Liturgy, the church hosted a lunch and invited the Greek Consul General of Boston Ifigenia Kanara and the Athens News Agency correspondent in Canada Justine Fragoulis to address the occasion.

But for Karagiannis these speeches echoed a lot of memories and offered more a time lapse of her life instead of new information.

"I was 15 years old when I joined the choir of the Cathedral. I have seen this place growing piece by piece for more than 75 years," Karagiannis said. "I feel very fortunate that I have lived through all this."

Although Karagianis is among the eldest members of the Church, last Sunday she was not the only one who felt nostalgia for the past and pride about the progress of the community.

Eleni Demeter is a second-generation immigrant who witnessed as a kid the existence of a well-established and prosperous church.

But Demeter says things had not always been like that. She believes that her family is deeply connected with the Cathedral because they cannot forget the tales about the sacrifices that her grandparents went through for building this community.

"This place reflects the story of my whole family; full five generations of being members of the Cathedral," Demeter said. "My marriage, the birth and christening of my children and grandchildren, everything was always through the church."

Demeter's grandparents arrived as immigrants in Boston in 1907. It was the year that the community built the first and small chapel of the Annunciation of Virgin Mary, which was located behind the former Bradford Hotel of Winchester Street.

Although the parish of the Annunciation Cathedral was established in 1903, four years before the erection of the chapel, the community lacked the resources for building a church. So, the services were taking place in a rented hall on Kneeland Street.

The incumbent Dean of the Cathedral V. Rev. Father Cleopas Strongylis said in his speech that the historical course of the parish is parallel to the live and the development of the Boston Greek-immigrant community.

It may all began in a small rented hall room, but as the community kept growing and fresh immigrants did not stop to arrive, the parish expanded and built the first small chapel and the first Greek school.

By 1915, the small chapel on Winchester Street had become overcrowded and could not continue to support the growing Greek population.

So, the members of the community decided to buy a new piece of land on which the church is located today. It took seven years of hard and collective work for making the dream of the Cathedral to become a reality.

The less privileged members of the community worked in the construction for $.025 per hour, while the most affluent ones, like Eleni Demeter's grandparents who maintained a downtown grocery store, guaranteed personally a mortgage of $120,000.

The project was finally completed in 1924, when the Greek community unanimously celebrated the success.

The golden age of the Cathedral arrived under the leadership of Father James Coucouzes, who later became the Archbishop Iakovos of America.

His eminence became nationally known after deciding to become the first non-African American religious leader to support the civil rights movement and march together with Martin Luther King in Alabama.

Father Koukouzes served as Dean of the Cathedral from 1942 to 1954. After the end of the WWII, he played a catalytic role in spearheading the efforts to organize and send humanitarian aid towards the battered motherland.

He also reinvigorated the institution of the Sunday school by deploying 20 buses that carried students from every corner of Boston to the Cathedral.

Katherine Karagiannis remembers that the buses were really significant back in the days because most immigrants did not have cars and the subway system had not yet get fully developed.

Also, Father Cleopas does not forget that Archbishop Iakovos provided him the scholarship that allowed him to come in Boston.

"Yes, it is extremely inspirational to think what our archbishop accomplished in this community for 12 years. As I recall his presence coincided with the most beautiful and dynamic years in the history of the Cathedral," Father Cleopas explained.

The 110th Anniversary of the Cathedral did not only celebrate the past, but also addressed the future.

Over the last year, the Church invested $1,000,000 for renovating the grand hall, while building a small chapel, a playground, and a museum, which includes an old collection of community artifacts and Hellenistic and Byzantine coins.

Father Cleopas said that all the money came from generous donations. He expressed his belief that the renovation of the Cathedral both honors the legacy of the past and prepares the church for welcoming and embracing the new generation.

Eleni Demeter, who continues to bring her grandchildren in the church, seems to agree with Father Cleopas.

"I know that our grandparents are looking us and applaud our effort to continue this history. I feel now that we renovated this hall room we will go forward," Demeter said. "Now it is ready for the next generation to appreciate it and keep up of what we did as our grandparents did."