Our Parish History
THE EARLIEST GREEK IMMIGRANTS who settled in New York City can be traced back in 1824, but their numbers were slight. By the 1850's Greeks involved in both the tobacco and cotton exchanges settled here, some coming by way of England.
The first Greek Orthodox Church in America began when a Greek Orthodox priest was sent to New Orleans from Greece, in 1875. During this time the Greek population in New York City was also growing. By 1901 a Greek language newspaper was established in New York to serve a sizable community. In a 1903 article, the chief editor of "Atlantis" estimated that there were approximately 80,000 Greeks in America. New York, as the main port of entry, probably held the lion's share.
In 1891 an organization was established in New York City calling itself "Athena Society." Its 1,000 or so members dedicated themselves to helping Greek newcomers to adapt to life in the United States. Its founder Solon Vlastos, an established businessman was also the founder of the Greek newspaper "Atlantis." It was the Athena Society which petitioned the Ecumenical Patriarchate to send a priest to the community which eventually became known as Evangelismos. The Patriarchate responded by sending Archimandrite Kallinikos Dilbey, an erudite and well spoken graduate of Halki Theological School. Fr. Dilbey, from Pontos, had already served the Greek community in Marseilles, France. He arrived in late 1892 and began holding services at the most convenient location (in relation to where the bulk of the Greek immigrants then lived) - Washington Square. The Judson Memorial Baptist Church, then at West 4th Street, between Sullivan and Thompson streets, was made available to our community by pastor Edward Judson, a known philhellene. The Church which still stands at that location, has since been declared a national landmark. Due to spatial limitations the community was forced to seek larger accommodations and by 1894 was operating out of the Asbury Methodist Church on the corner of 5th Street and East Washington Square (today known as Washington Place). The new building was able to hold a larger group, as at one Easter service over 700 parishioners attended. However, our stay at this new home was abruptly terminated by demolition of the church, in order to make room for the expanding facilities of New York University (Press Building).
The parishioners of Evangelismos then moved to the United Methodist Church located at 146 West 4th Street between McDougall and Sixth Avenue.
From this point there seem to be gaps created by unavailable information either through the lack of good record keeping procedures or as result of losses or recorded documentation. We do know that in 1899 one of our past presidents, J. Counes, signed a certificate of incorporation for the Holy Trinity Church, which functioned further uptown on the West Side. During this vague period we also know that our church at various points operated out of different sites. In 1907 for instance, while John Counes was president, we moved to a location on Lexington Avenue between 57th and 58th streets. Later we made our home on West 23rd Street and still later by June of 1908 at 329-335 West 30th Street (just across the street from the French Hospital). During the above period attempts were made to merge Evangelismos with the Holy Trinity Church but they were to no avail. In 1909 our church officially incorporated as "Greek Orthodox Community", this is the first recorded Greek community in New York.
Up until this point the records show that in 1907 Father Leonidas Adamakos served as the priest at Evangelismos. But in 1908, Father Nikolaos Lazaris, who was a prominent priest became our spiritual leader for the next quarter century. He had been a graduate and lecturer at the Athens Theological University and during his tenure he was decorated by the Patriarchate and was given the ecclesiastical title of "Economos". The cross and bible that he received from the Patriarchate he donated to our church and his chalice was given to the St. Nicholas Church, Flushing, NY. In 1923, Father Lazaris hosted at our church Prince Paul who later became King Paul of the Hellenes.
As the number of Greeks increased on the West Side of Manhattan, so did the role of the church as the center of the Greek community. It soon became necessary to find a more suitable building. President Counes and a forthcoming president, Euripides "Ery" Kehagias became benefactors and purchases the former Amity Baptist Church at 310-12 West 54th Street, as well as an adequate sized lot on the north side of 53rd Street. Amity Baptist Church had built a new edifice only 6 years earlier inspired by Agia Sofia with a Byzantine style of architecture. At this center Evangelismos hosted many community affairs. It sponsored an afternoon Greek School. Community organizations gravitated to the Church such as the Greek American Athletic Club and the Phaedon Society (Alumni Association of the Plato School.) Many other organizations used the Church as headquarters and for meetings. During this period the Church had an active parish with thousands of people attending Easter Services.
On August 15, 1929, there was an official merger of the "Greek Orthodox Community" and the "Greek Eastern Orthodox Church". A combined executive board was formed and our president Ery Kehagias was on the committee until 1939. The nature and purpose of this combination is not very clear. Nevertheless, Ery Keehagias who was a self made millionaire did very much for our Church. as well as his wife Grace, who, it has been recorded had served on the Mayor's Committee for National Defense.
In 1932 for some mysterious reason the Church began to hold services in a church on Ninth Avenue, just down the street from the 54th Street church, but they returned later. In 1933 under the leadership of Limberis Liplnaois our church was incorporated under the name of Evangelismos (Theotokou). But within a short time Evangelismos had to be demolished in order to make room for the 18th Police Precinct Station House which was erected in 1938 and still stands on 54th Street. All that remains from our church is a brick wall that was part of the original complex and is facing the north side of 53rd Street.
The next site of our Church was on 325 West 85th Street, between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive. (Today at this site is a convalescent home called "Bridge" .)
In 1932 after the death of Father Lazaris for a brief period Father Amphiloochios Sarantides officiated. Eventually a more permanent priest came to Evangelissmos. His name was Father Dorotheos Bourazanis (Archimandrite) and he continued the Lord's work here for almost eight years.
In January of 1940 Eirineos Tsourounakis a former Dean of the Theological Seminary of Crete, with previous service in Gary, Indiana and Chicago, Illinois, officiated until he was appointed Bishop of San Francisco. On November 3, 1942 Reverend George E. Nassis became the priest of Evangelismos and served for twenty years.
The most recent relocation of our church took place in 1953 when our community realizing that the 85th Street Church, was too small for our community and purchased our present Church for a sum of $250,000. The Church on 91st and West End Avenue was formerly the 4th Presbyterian Church and was built in the same year that our Church officially began, 1892. The purchase of our present Church building, took place under the administration of D. Trilivas and the first president at the new church building was Peter Chagaris. The moving to the new church was marked by a procession through the streets carrying the Icon of the Virgin Mary Theotokos.
Sometime during the early 1960's Constantine Karamanlis visited our church. Also in the early 1960's Father Nassis left our church and his assistant priest Father Nectarios D. Kehagias became the spiritual leader of Evangelismos and remained so until 1979. In 1979 for a brief period Dr. Leonidas Contos, former Dean of the Brookline Theological Seminary served our community. Since 1980 a line of spiritual leaders have come to serve Evangelismos, a church richly steeped in historic tradition.