Brief History of Our Church
The first Greek immigrants that came to Pensacola were seaman that manned sailing vessels in the mid to late 1800s. Late some of the crew settled here as fishermen. Gradually the stream of immigrants from Greece increased. These new citizens made their living in the fishing industry, groceries, restaurants and other small businesses. The first Greek Orthodox Church was built in 1910 at the corner of Wright and Reus Street and was the home to this parish until 1954 when the present church on Garden Street was constructed. The Hellenic Center was built in 1950 and the Fr. Leftheris Education Building was completed in 1961. The church was consecrated by the late Archibishop Iakovos in 1973. Our parish is an active community of 150 families of various ethnic backgrounds.
Note: Our parish celebrated our 100th anniversary in 2010. We are trying to collect photos from our history. If you have old photos that you would like to be included in a commemorative book, please mail a copy to the church or email an electronic/scanned copy to email@example.com.
HISTORY OF THE GREEK ORTHODOX COMMUNITY OF PENSACOLA, FLORIDA
From ancient times, the Greeks were a migrant people. Being by nature nostalgic and primarily a seafaring people, the ancient Greeks always looked toward the open sea, dreaming of the unknown, something new and adventurous that lay beyond the boundaries of their fatherland. They coupled their longing for adventure with the desire to improve their own lot and that of their country and set sail for ports unknown.
History tells us that the centuries before the advent of Christ; our forefathers travelled the high seas establishing flourishing Greek colonies from the Black Sea to the western edge of the Mediterranean to Gibraltar, where they erected as an eternal mark of their passing, the Pillars of Hercules. Wherever one may travel today, regardless of whatever country he may visit, it is most likely that he will meet a Greek and find a Greek Community established there and especially a Greek Orthodox Church.
The first Greeks to come to Pensacola were Greek sailors that manned the sailing vessels during the years 1860-1870. As far as we know, the first permanent Greek resident of Pensacola was Constantine Apostolou of Glossa, Skopolos, Greece who arrived here in 1865. He served as mayor of Pensacola from 1887-1888. Later, from 1875-1890, some of these Greek seamen left their ships, settled here as fishermen and became the first permanent Greek settlers of Pensacola. They in turn sought to bring their relatives and friends from Greece. Practically all of the first Greek settlers were fishermen, grocers, fruit-marketers, or restaurateurs.
The Greek immigrant when leaving his fatherland always had three things uppermost in his mind: 1) To work hard and in every way possible to progress. 2) To help and support his family abroad. 3) To remain faithful to the religion of his forefathers and to be a good citizen of his newly adopted country. Despite all the difficulties, the various adverse circumstances of his new environment, the privations and hardships, he managed to faithfully carry out his program. With the continual increase of the Greek population in Pensacola the need was felt for the establishment of an organization that would seek to preserve the Greek ideals and customs and ultimately erect a Greek Orthodox Church to meet the spiritual needs of the people.
The first organization of the Greeks in the Pensacola Community was established in 1904 and was named The Parthenon with Nicholas Apostolou as President. After 5 years, at a general assembly meeting of the Association held on October 10, 1909, it was decided to reorganize along different lines, because the present organization had not brought about the desired results. A new Constitution was drawn up and approved and the organization was renamed Anagennis Greek Association. The Association was officially recognized by the State of Florida and received its Charter of Incorporation on April 10, 1910. The first officers of the Anagennisis Greek Association were:
President: Constantine Strategakis (from Crete)
Vice President: Nicholas Apostolou (from Glossa)
Secretary: John Epifaniou (from Skopolos)
Treasurer: Demetrios Coucourinis (from Glossa)
Board Members: Nicholas P Galatsanos (Skopolos), Andreas Sahtouris, (Aegina), John Gekas (Litchorion, Macedonia), Savas Stamatiou (Glossa), John Nicholakopoulos (Peleponnesos), and George D. Cassimus (Corfu).
By 1910 there were approximately 120 Greeks in Pensacola.
The first endeavor of the new organization was to purchase a lot and erect the first Greek Orthodox Church of Pensacola, The Annunciation of the Theotokos, at the northeastern corner of Wright and Reus Street. The Church was completed on August 17, 1910. The monthly dues were set at $.50. From these dues, the membership derived, among other things, the benefit of a $4.00 weekly welfare allowance to each sick member. Soon after, a home for the priest was built next to the Church. When the Church was first built, the parish membership numbered 120 communicants, with 8 families. The remaining parishioners were either single men or married men who still had their families in Greece.
In May of 1911, The Very Reverend Father Joakim Georges; from the island of Hydra, Greece, came to serve as its first rector. Father Joakin served our parish until November 1916, 1918 when he died while conducting a Church Fund Raising Drive throughout the State of Mississippi. He was a victim of the Spanish Flu Epidemic, which was prevalent in this area at that time.
On July 11, 1911 the first Baptism in the Church was performed. The son of John and Magdalene Kyparisou of Skiathos was baptized and Nicholas Kyparisos was the Godfather.
On January 22, 1912 the first marriage was blessed between Constantine Tzamouranis (Charles Morres) and Mary F. Bruno. Evangellos Karberis was the best man.
In October 1912, with the proclamation of the Balkan War, the following responded to the call of their fatherland: Nicholas P. Galatsanos of Skopelos; Constantine C. Celitsikos of Skopelos; John P. Valsamakis of Skopelos; Nicholas E. Geeker of Skopelos; John E. Geeker of Skopelos; Soterios Alexandrou of Skopelos; George Tzouvarakos of Skopelos; Vasilios Sklavos of Skopelos; George Kapris of Skopelos, Nicholas Floras of Glossa; and Stavros Kritselis of Skiathos. A fund raising drive was held among the Greek constituents and $684.00 was solicited and sent to help the cause of Greece.
On March 22, 1913, the second marriage in the church was blessed between John C. Tringas and Miss Helen Stavros, both of Volos, Greece. Eleftherias Tsoukalas was the best man.
On January 6, 1921, the Service of the Blessing of the Waters and the Casting of the Cross into the waters of Bayview Park commemorating the Feast of the Epiphany was celebrated for the first time.
On April 25, 1934, the Daphne Chapter #296, Order of Ahepa received its charter from the Supreme Lodge, and Pallas Chapter #34, Daughters of Penelope also received its charter shortly thereafter.
In October 1940, Italy declared war on Greece. A committee was immediately formed to conduct a fund-raising drive. At the first rally, which was held at the Municipal Auditorium, $2,500.00 was raised and sent to the Prime Minister of Greece, The Honorable John Metaxas. A permanent Greek War Relief Committee was then formed as well as a Ladies Auxiliary, both of which were quite active during the entire period of war.
In 1943, The Greek Ladies Philoptohos Society was established in Pensacola. Mrs. Ambrosia Chackney was the first President.
With the increase of the Greek population, it became imperative that a new Church and Community Center be erected. The initiative was taken by The Order of AHEPA, and impetus was given to meeting this need when the Daphne Chapter #296 of the AHEPA donated a large lot on the corner of West Garden and J streets to the community in March 1948, with the agreement that it would be used for a new Church and Community Center. After several meetings, it was decided that the Community Center be built first. Following this decision of the general membership, a Building-Fund Committee was established to conduct a Drive for the new Community Center. The drive began February 27, 1949.
In October, 1949, An 80 foot lot to the west of the lot donated by the Order of AHEPA was purchased by the community for $3,000.00, thus securing the entire property facing Garden Street between J and K Streets. It was then decided to commence building the Community Center. The construction contract was awarded to Osceola Construction Company. The following served on the Building Committee of the Hellenic Center: Rev. Arthur Metaxas, Rector; Angelo Capaduca, Chairman; and members Louis Stassinos; Charles Booras; James Pedakis; Victor Bokas; Pete Geeker; Alexander Nakos; Charles Liberis; Arthur Asters; and George Petrelis.
The building of the Community Center was completed in February, 1950. The Corner Stone was placed by our Diocesan Bishop, Germanos Polysoides.
On March 25, 1950, the first banquet in the new Community Center, commemorating the Annunciation of the Theotokos and Greek Independence Day, was sponsored by the Order of AHEPA.
On March 10, 1951 at a General Assembly Meeting of the community, it was unanimously decided to build a new church next to the Community Center. A special building committee was appointed to make a study and proceed with the work. They were:
Rev. Arthur Metaxas, Rector; later replaced by Rev. George Neofotistos, Rector; John D. Stamatelos, Chairman; Angelo Capaduca; Louis Stassinos; Theames Dimitry; James Pedakis,; Victor Bokas; Van Brown; William Stamitoles; Steve Geeker; Chris Varazo; Nicholas Malamo; George Cassimus; and Peter Kalelis.
The fund-raising drive for the new Church began after a preliminary study had been made. The preliminary plans and blueprints for the Church were drawn free of charge by Peter Kalelis, a Civil Engineer who was a member of our parish and served on the building committee.
On February 19, 1952, by decision of the General Membership, the old Church was sold for $6,500.00 to another religious organization to be used as a house of prayer.
On June 1, 1952, Sunday of the Holy Fathers, the last Divine Liturgy was performed in the old Church by Father George Neofotistos, our parish priest, and Father Basil Kleoudis, pastor of the Jackson, Mississippi Church, who was visiting here. The new Community Center was properly set up and was to be temporarily used for worship services until the completion of the new Church.
On July 31, 1952, at a General Assembly Meeting, it was decided to contract the construction of the new Church to Chavis Construction Company. The work would be supervised by Peter Kalelis, a Civil Engineer, and the Treasurer of the Association, Louis Stassinos.
On August 1, 1954, the construction of the new Church was completed. The Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, which is a tribute to the Greek Community and a lasting memorial for those that worked so diligently and with great devotion, was officially opened and the doors were formally opened. The doors were opened by Louis Stassinos, who was Treasurer of both the Building Committee and the Community. The first Divine Liturgy was celebrated therein by Father George Neofotistos, our parish priest, and Father Seraphim Haginas, the priest of our neighboring Community of Mobile, Alabama. The Fund-raising drive for the Church had brought in $55,475.00 so it became necessary to borrow $15,000.00 for the completion of the Church.
On August 1, 1954, the first baptism in the new Church was the daughter of Nicholas and Theodora Varazo. She was given the name Christine. The sponsor was George Cassimus. The Reverend George Neofotistos performed the Sacrament.
On January 16, 1955, the first marriage in the new Church was solemnized between Michael Gavalas and Sophia Stamitoles. The best man was William Stamitoles. The Sacrament was performed by Reverend Eleftherios Eleftheriou.
On February 12, 1957, the final payment of the church debt was made and a Mortgage-Burning Ceremony was conducted at the Church entrance immediately following the Divine Liturgy.
On April 29, 1957, the Eastern Orthodox Church was recognized as a Major Faith in Florida. Through the combined efforts of all the Greek Orthodox Churches of the State of Florida, which were coordinated under the leadership of the Greek Orthodox Church of Pensacola, The Eastern Orthodox Church, by Resolution passed concurrently by both Legislative Bodies of the State of Florida, was recognized as one of the Major Faiths of the State. The Signed Resolution was presented to Father Constantine Leftheris by Governor Leroy Collins in the presence of all the priests of the Florida parishes.
On June 25-29, the Daphne Chapter of the Order of AHEPA hosted the Convention for Citrus District of the AHEPA.
In November, 1959 the Parish had its 1st Bazaar. The co-chairpersons were Lula Stamitoles and Kay Drograris. The Bazaar netted $947.77.
In November, 1960 a banquet honoring the 50th Anniversary of the Parish was held. His Grace, Demetrios of Olympou attended.
On March 12, 1961, the ground breaking for the Educational Building was held.
On August 2, 1961, the Educational Building was completed and the cornerstone was placed on August 20 by His Grace, Bishop Silas.
On August 21 1961, the General Assembly voted to adopt the Uniform Parish By-Laws of the Archdiocese, and to amend the old Charter to effect the adoption of the Archdiocese By-Laws as the governing laws of our Parish. The name was changed from Anagennisis Greek Association to Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, Pensacola, Florida.
In April, 1964, construction of the Choir Loft and Narthex was completed in the Church.
In February, 1968, the house on K Street adjacent to the Hellenic Center was acquired.
In January, 1972, the Icons of the Pantocrator, Platytera, and the four Evangelists were placed in the Church. The Icons were painted by Alexander Sideris.
On November 5, 1972, a General Assembly meeting was held and it was decided to discontinue the old dues system of financial support for the Church and to replace it with a Fair Share Pledge System effective January 1, 1973.
On February 4, 1973, The Consecration of our Church was held with His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos officiating, with Rev Dean Gigicos assisting. Former priests of our parish were also invited to assist and they were: Rev. Arthur Metaxis, Rev. George Neofotistos, Rev. Constantine Leftheris and Rev. Soterios Gouvellis.
On March 27, 1974, the Consecration albums were received from the print shop. Free copies were provided to all advertisers who had ads costing $12.50 or more. Free copies were given to His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos, His Grace Bishop John, Rev. Arthur Metaxis, Rev. George Neofotistos, Rev. Constantine Leftheris, Rev. Soterios Gouvellis, Rev. Dean Gigicos, Holy Cross Library, U.W.F. Library, P.J.C. Library, Pensacola City Library and Pensacola Historical Museum.
On June 9, 1982, the President of the Parish Council, William Stamitoles, who served as personal representative of the Estate of Gus Carvelis, submitted his final report and turned over $53,875.02 to our Annunciation Church. This was the amount left over after burial expenses and attorney fees had been paid. He waived his fee as personal representative of the estate, which was estimated to be $3,000.00 as well as personal expenses incurred. The will was contested and Judge Greenhut ruled that the church should receive the entire proceeds of the estate. It took eight months to probate the will and Bill incurred a considerable amount of personal expense and spent much time in bringing this to a favorable conclusion for our Church. We are indeed grateful to him for his unselfish service to our church and his labor of love.
On February 9 1983, Harry Booras announced that the GOYA wished to form a Greek Dance Group, and that he would assist them in getting started.
In February 1984, The first St. John Chrysostom Oratorical Contest was held. Jenny Morres was the chairperson and Greg Booras won the Junior Division and later placed 3rd at the Diocesan Level.
On July 25, 1984, William Jonas was honored by the New York Life Insurance Company for his 25 years of service. At this testimonial, it was learned that he had been decorated by French President DeGaulle in WWII and that he had also received the Congressional Medal of Honor. A letter of congratulations was sent to him by the Parish Council.
On July 19-20, 1986, Our own Nick Jonas was ordained as a priest. The Church Council hosted a reception in his honor on Saturday night and also after the Divine Liturgy on Sunday.
In September, 1988, Mr. Hibbert (Waters and Hibbert Funeral Home) died. He had provided many funerals for indigent parishioners and had assisted our Church for many years in many ways, including financial donations to our building funds. A memorial donation was made to the HADJI temple in Pensacola to be sent to the Shriners Crippled Childrens Hospital in his honor on behalf of the community.
On May 3, 1992, the General Assembly decided to establish a Scholarship Fund. It was decided that 5% of the Festival revenue would go to this Fund and that the 10% given to the Endowment Fund from Festival monies be changed to 5%.
On May 20, 1992, Wilfred Tucker made a donation of $50,000.00 to the church in memory of his wife Helen. In his letter, he expressed a desire to purchase a stained glass window and Church Directory Marquee sign on the lawn, with part of the money, and the balance placed in an Endowment Fund. The parish council decided to honor Mr. Tuckers wishes, and $6,239.00 was allocated toward the purchase of a window, a Church Directory sign on the lawn would be purchased and the remaining money ($37,750.00) was put into a newly established Helen Tucker Endowment Fund of which only the yearly interest would be used as the discretion of the Parish Council.
On May 23, 1992, a Founders Day Celebration Service was held at the old church site on the corner of Reus and Wright Streets dedicating a marker that was placed at the site. The wording on the marker states This is the site of the 1st Greek Orthodox Church built in August 1910.
On February 3, 1994, The Parish Council passed a resolution to name the Scholarship Fund and the Educational Building in memory of the Reverend Constantine Leftheris who served our parish for many years. He had a passion for the religious education of all our faithful and had prepared several texts to be used in our adult catechism classes.
On July 18, 1995, the first scholarships from the Reverend Constantine Leftheris Scholarship Memorial Fund were presented. Recipients were: Christina Montgomery, Chris Petrakis, Athena Magoulas and Alex Bamiatzis. A reception for the graduates was held in the Community Center following the Divine Liturgy.
On August 17 1995, a plaque was installed above the cornerstone naming the Educational Building the Reverend Constantine Leftheris Educational Building.
On November 13-14 His Grace Bishop Alexios celebrated the feast day of Archangel Michael by initiating the first annual Archangel Michael Award ceremony. Each year an elder and youth representative from each parish in the Diocese who exemplify the true Orthodox Christian way of life by their deep faith, commitment, dedication and service to the Church and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ would be honored. Our first elder representative was William Stamitoles and our youth representative was Emily Young.
On July 19, 2001, the Parish Council voted to give 5% of the net profit from the Greek Festival to a designated charity each year before distributions to the designated funds of our church is made. They also decided that the Childrens Home Society would be the first years recipient.
On September 16, 2004, hurricane Ivan struck the Pensacola area. There were extensive damages to the church, educational building and the K street house.
On January 29, 2005, a check for $25,000 was presented to Rebuild Northwest Florida for Hurricane Ivan relief from the proceeds of the 45th Annual Festival.
On August 29, 2005, hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast and devastated the New Orleans, Biloxi and Gulfport areas.
On September 10, 2005, two car loads of childrens clothes were delivered to United Way Headquarters for Hurricane Katrina relief. Pat and Mary Blanos coordinated this effort.
On September 17, 2005, Presbytera Diane made several calls to Biloxi to find out what medical supplies were needed for Hurricane Katrina relief. Through Michael Stamitoles and our Philoptohos chapter, supplies were purchased at cost; Dr. Elias Skoufis and his associates at Cardiology Consultants and Dr. Pamela Klien and the West Florida clinic donated several cases of medical samples. As a result, everything that had been requested by Dr. Sewinski in Biloxi was obtained. Presbytera Diane, Father Andrew and Alexios, Pam and Paul Kelly, Bert Merritt, packed up all the supplies in a van and pickup truck and delivered them to Dr. Sewinski.
On September 18, 2005, renovations to the Educational Building were completed (Replacement of North Wall, Mold removal, and other damage from the hurricanes that hit Pensacola last year).
On September 20, 2005, our parishioners donated items (such as soap, shampoo, aspirin, razors, toothpaste & brushes, etc.) to be inserted in Health/Comfort kits for Hurricane Katrina relief. The kits were assembled as part of our monthly family night. These were delivered to centers along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
On October 18, 2005, the Community Health Fair was sponsored by our church. We had 82 people come and participate. Health awareness issues included a Heart Risk Assessment, Diabetes & Osteoporosis checks, Organ Donation Awareness, Information on living wills, Bloodmobile, and several other issues. Michael Stamitoles coordinated this event.
On April 16, 2006, His Eminence Metropolitan Alexios celebrated Palm Sunday with us. During the Liturgy, he elevated Father Andrew to Ekonomos/Steward and Pnevmatikon/Father Confessor; appointed Emanuel Buster Zangas to sub-deacon; and tonsured Ted Werthmuller Jr. as a reader.
On May 23, 2006, repairs of damages to the church caused by Hurricane Ivan were completed by the Morrete Company.
On August 16, 2007, we were named beneficiaries in the trusts and wills of Harold and Antoinette Shealy, who fell asleep in the lord earlier last year, and we received an initial payment of $70,000 from the trust. On September 4th we received the balance of the monies from the estate of Harold and Antoinette Shealy in the amount of $1,100,000.00. May their memories be eternal.
On October 21, 2007, Reverend Panagiotis Papanikolaou, from Lanham, Maryland, was assigned as our parish priest and assumed his pastoral duties.
On November 11, 2007, our Matthew Carter was ordained to the Holy Diaconate at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation in Atlanta, Georgia.
On May 11, 2008, Deacon Matthew Carter was ordained to the Holy Priesthood at the St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Knoxville, Tennessee.
On January 15, 2010, the parish purchased the home located at 21 N. J Street.
On January 20, 2010, Dimitri Georgeades, Nick Geeker and Eli Pagonis were appointed to serve as co-chairmen of the 100 year anniversary of our Church.
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Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church 1720 W Garden St. Pensacola, FL 32501 850-433-2662
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