Greek Orthodox Church Celebrates 100-Year History
St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Jamestown is celebrating its 100th anniversary.
“Although the role of the church as a social center has changed since St. Nicholas was established in 1922, it remains an enduring connection to our families, our friends, and our faith,” said Alexis Singleton. “The community of St Nicholas is small, but steady. The history has been one of extremely devoted servants of the church making the effort to keep a Greek Orthodox Church here in Jamestown. My grandmother was one of those special people. Growing up watching her and her friends and then my parents give their time and talent to the church has been an inspiration throughout my life. My kids are watching now.”
St. Nicholas is the only Greek Orthodox Church in Chautauqua County, though there are multiple sections of the church in the area.
“There’s different sections of the congregation all over the area,” said Victoria Parker, a curator at the Fenton History Center who helped design a Greek Orthodox exhibit, “so even though there’s only one church, they service a larger area.”
The Ladies Erene Society raises money for missions all across the world. Recently, the church partnered with UCAN City Mission to aid in its work. The church also helped establish Jamestown’s soup kitchen known today as St. Susan Center.
St. Nicholas has also hosted the annual Yassou Festival in Jamestown to share its Greek heritage and Orthodox faith since 1982. Their major fundraiser throughout the year is the Yassou Festival, Parker said.
Under the Rev. Soterios Rousakis, St. Nicholas Orthodox Youth has partnered with Court Appointed Special Advocates to conduct the Angel Tree program, which gives Christmas gifts to local children in need.
The outreach of the church is rooted in the history of both the Orthodox faith and the Greek Orthodox church in Jamestown.
“As far as historically, the Orthodox faith dates back 2,000 years and is considered the original church,” Parker said.
The history of St. Nicholas Church is also an important part of the history of the Greek population in Jamestown.
Chistos Tsaconis was the first Greek to come to Jamestown in 1886. After moving from Ohio to Jamestown, he convinced his family and other Greek immigrants to move to the area. In 1896, the first Greek child, Jimmie Checkary, was born in Jamestown.
In 1920, one of the church’s founding members, Seraphim Depas, joined the Jamestown Chapter of the Tsontas Vardas, an Epirotic Society established in Ohio. This organization played a key role in the establishment of the church.
In 1921, the Rev. Chrysanthos Hagipappas from the Epirotic Society visited the city and held a celebration of the Divine Liturgy on the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, which is the day that commemorates the “falling asleep of the Virgin Mary.”
The first Greek Orthodox service met in the club room of Odd Fellows Ellicott Lodge at 311 Washington St.
After the first service, Chrysanthos said Jamestown should have its own Greek Orthodox Church due to the growing community of Greek residents.
At the second meeting, the Greek community began to consider the idea of establishing its own church. Seraphim Depas, James Ketchy and Vangel Gogolatse were appointed to begin building the church.
The community chose Saint Nicholas as the patron saint of the church.
After a difficult process, a charter was granted for the church and the piece of property located at 58 Chapman St. in Jamestown was purchased as the site of the new church. Construction on the church began on St. Nicholas Day in December 1922.
The Rev. Fr. Hagipappas was appointed the first priest of the church and the first service was celebrated on Easter in 1923.
In 1925, Father George Joanethis became priest and served the community for 31 years. Under his leadership, the church’s congregation grew and the parish expanded to other communities in the region, including Fredonia, Dunkirk, Westfield and Warren.
As the congregation grew over time, several changes were made to the church. A choir balcony was added in 1927 and a bell tower was added in 1928. Pews were also added to the church, which are still used in the new building today.
In 1930, the basement was excavated to heighten the ceiling and create the church’s fellowship hall.
In 1945, a fire damaged St. Nicholas Church, which prompted the church to consider constructing a new building. The church purchased a vacant lot on Mt. Vernon Place, however, the church did not construct a new house of worship until a second fire occurred in 1963. After an electrical fire caused significant damage to the existing building, the church decided to construct a new building on the Mt. Vernon Place property in 1965.
The round structure was designed to represent the cosmos and to have the congregation facing the east. St. Nicholas was required to meet specifications established by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America.
“In the Greek Orthodox Church, the congregation has to face the est so the altar is towards the east in anticipation of Christ’s return,” Parker said.
The first Divine Liturgy service in the new building was in December of 1965. In 1968, the service of consecration was performed by Archbishop Iakovos.
The church’s new building was constructed with limited funding.
“They sort of ran out of money,” Parker said. “Things were added as they went along.”
In 1975, the church raised enough money to replace the original windows with stained glass windows. Additionally, the church’s center ceiling icon, the Pantocrator, was constructed in 1988.
The Fenton History Center is honoring the Greek Orthodox Church’s centennial celebration with an exhibit currently featured at the museum. More information on the church’s history is available at the museum.