Our Parish History
A brief History of The Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church of Lancaster, Pennsylvania: A Parish for all People (1921 - 2020)
People from Greece began migrating to Lancaster in the first decade of the 20th century. A visiting Greek Orthodox priest from Philadelphia would visit periodically to conduct worship services and sacraments. For a short period (1918-1921) St. John’s Episcopal Church offered their facilities for the Greek Orthodox priests to conduct the Divine Liturgy.
By June 15, 1921 the Greeks of Lancaster, who identified themselves as “canonical members of the Greek Orthodox Community” established their first parish and named their Church “Evangelismos” (“Annunciation” in English).
By December 2, 1923 at a Congregational Meeting, one hundred and eighty five (185) Greek men signed their names and identified themselves as members of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church. They had migrated from Kos, Chios, Mytilini, Spetses, the Peloponnesus and villages and towns around Constantinople (Istanbul). They came to America to find employment and opportunities not available in their places of origin.
The first-comers (“protopori”) had limited formal education. They worked hard, eventually married, produced families and progressed in their new found country of America. They suffered and struggled through the Great Depression (1929-1936), but their faith in God and the Church kept them united and optimistic.
Greek Orthodox priests were few in those early years. Some had formal theological training, but most had limited schooling. Their mentality was Greek and they were much affected by the political divisions in Greece between the Royalists and Venizelist democrats that following World War I. Parishes often accepted and rejected priests if they supported one or the other political party. From 1921 to 1937 no priest served the parish more than one year. Financial problems, lack of good parish organization, compounded by the Royalist/Venizelist political controversy, contributed to this instability. Archbishop Athenagoras (1932-1948), known for his diplomatic skills and unifying spirit, finally succeeded in bringing greater unity to the Greek Orthodox Church in America and to the Annunciation Church.
Fr. Nicholas Elias (1938-1952) became the first priest to serve the parish for more than one year. His 14 years of pastoral leadership brought stability and laid the foundation for the future progress at Annunciation Church.
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America opened its first successful seminary in 1938 for the training of Greek American candidates for the priesthood. It named the seminary “Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology”. From this point on, Holy Cross would produce most of the Orthodox clergy serving in America.
WORLD WAR II AND A NEW GENERATION OF LEADERS
The children of the first generation of Greek immigrants served in the United States Armed Forces during World War II. Greek American families, eager to assimilate into American culture, displayed their American patriotism openly. They sold U.S. War Bonds, supported the War Relief and prayed for victory against the aggressive Axis Forces of Germany and Japan. The G.I. Bill enabled returning Greek American Veterans to receive a college education. By the mid-1950’s a new generation of Greek American lay leaders stepped forward to lead the parish. Better educated, they were proud of their Greek-American heritage. They spoke two languages (Greek and English) but, unlike their parents, considered English their native tongue. Eager to build upon the foundations laid by their parents, they strove to strengthen the parish Church that nurtured them. Nicholas Gianopoulos became the first American born President of the Parish Council, serving in that leadership role for five years.
For thirty-eight years (1921-1959), Annunciation parishioners worshiped, offered Greek language and religious education classes, celebrated their joys, shared their sorrows, and held their community functions at 215 South Queen Street, the location of their Church in the south central section of Lancaster.
A NEW CHURCH BUILDING
The Parish grew and matured under its post World War II lay and clergy leadership. By 1959 the parish erected a new Greek Orthodox Church at 64 Hershey Avenue in the western section of Lancaster. A dynamic Building Fund Committee made this possible. It was ably headed by Dr. Charles G. Frankos under the steady six-year Parish Council Presidency of Arthur Moshos and the inspired pastoral leadership of Fr. Stanley Harakas (1956-1961). Fr. Harakas was the first Greek American priest trained at the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology to serve the parish. The parish membership supported this new generation of leaders enthusiastically.
A NEW ERA 1961 - 2020
As the second Greek-American priest of Lancaster, born and raised in America and educated in America and Greece, Fr. Alexander Veronis served the parish for the next 59 years, 43 as the pastor and 16 years as the Assistant Priest. He was greatly assisted during this long pastorate by his capable and loving wife, Presvytera Panayiota (Pearl) with who he has five children and fourteen grandchildren. Barbara Drybred, the parish’s very able secretary for over 42 years, contributed immeasurably to the parish’s progress.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE PAST 100 YEARS
The parish paid off the mortgage of the new Church by the mid 1960’s and began accumulating funds for a new Educational All-Purpose Building to be attached to the new church.
The Bible Study ministry begun in earlier years, expanded into seven different Study Groups which reached parishioners of all ages. English and Greek were employed as needed. The Sunday School grew to include 275 students, 35 teachers and 3 Superintendents. A Church Free-Lending Library on topics of Orthodoxy, the Bible, morality, spirituality, Church history, family life and reference books grew to include 6,000 books, videos and cassettes. Annual Religious retreats were sponsored for many years at St. Joseph’s Convent (now the Precious Blood Spirituality Center) for the spiritual development of parishioners and others. Prominent Orthodox theologians an speakers lectured at these gatherings.
A stewardship Program of giving and tithing was introduced in 1965. It encouraged Church members to pledge a certain percentage of their income annually to the Church, as God blessed them. Tithing one’s income was emphasized. The new method of giving through a United Church Budget increased revenues significantly. It taught the faithful to offer their time, talents and money joyfully and willingly for the advancement of the gospel. It made possible a wider ministry of philanthropy, outreach and missions. It provided the means for the parish to expand its professional staff.
Through teaching, sermons, dialogue and social action involving our parishioners, Annunciation Church took a proactive leadership role in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s and 70’s. Attitudes towards blacks, minorities, and oppressed people improved, becoming more compassionate and understanding. Parishioners became involved in issues of fair housing, social justice and reaching out to the poor.
In 1970, the parish erected and All-Purpose Educational Building which gave 15 classrooms to the growing Sunday School, a full size gymnasium and social hall, a Youth Lounge (currently used for the Pre-School), a large kitchen to accommodate the Annual Bazaar and spacious area for use by the AHEPA Family.
In the early 1970s Annunciation Church took a leadership role in the faltering Summer Camp Program of the Diocese, at the request of Bishop Gerasimos. Camp Nazareth would attract hundreds of young people from the parish over the next 45 years and enrich their lives spiritually. Parish young adults have served as directors and counselors of the camp, a number of them serving the Church as clergy and presbyteres today.
SUMMER MISSION TEAMS
The Archdiocese Mission Center began sending out short term Summer Missions Teams in 1987. The first two teams, including six parishioners, built an Orthodox church and a medical clinic in Kenya. In subsequent years over 200 other parishioners of Annunciation Church served on Summer Mission Teams sponsored by the OCMC and by Project Mexico. These teams have build churches, schools, orphanages, seminaries, medical clinics and homes for the poor. They renovated Orthodox monasteries, taught Orthodoxy, served in Orphanages and brought medical assistance to thousands in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana, Cameroon, Albania, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Palestine, India, Korea, Haiti, Mexico, Guatemala and other Orthodox missions of the world.
THE ENDOWMENT FUND FOR ORTHODOX MISSIONS (EFOM)
In 1981, parishioners of Annunciation Church created EFOM and subsequently raised $1 million for the promotion of missions and the endowment of a Chair of Missions at the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology.
LONG TERM PARISH MISSIONARIES
Fr. Luke Veronis became the first parishioner to serve as a long term missionary. Over a period of seven years (1987-1994) he served as a teacher and church builder in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana and Albania. Following his theological training and ordination, he and his wife, Presvytera Faith, who grew up in Annunciation Church, served the Albanian Mission for ten years (1994-2004). Two other life members of our church, Fr. Hector Firoglanis and Presvytera Katerina Firoglanis also served as long term missionaries in Albania.
Our Parish Mission Statement defines Annunciation Church as an Orthodox Church that worships the Holy Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The goal of the parish is to teach parishioners to love God and neighbor according to the teachings of Christ and to live an Orthodox Christian life through worship (leitourgia), fellowship (koinonia), service (diakonia), and witness (martyria).
The parish offers a full cycle of Orthodox worship which observes all the major feast days of the Orthodox Christian year. For almost 80 years, the parish has had church choirs, often exceptional in musical skills, to provide liturgical music at services. Church music, both Byzantine and four part harmony, has played a prominent role in Annunciation Church through youth and senior choirs, cantors, and congregational singing. Directors and organists for most of the parish’s history were volunteers who offered their professional skills gratis. The name of Dr. Charles G. Francos will always stand out as the Choir Director of excellence for over 45 years. He donated all his time and talents to the creation of superb church choirs. Nicholas Kalargyros has served as a Cantor of Byzantine music par excellence for over 40 years. In 2002, the parish hired Maria Koursaris as its first professional Music Director.
The parish can be described as “welcoming and hospitable”. The Philoptochos, the Youth Groups, the Parish Council, the Bazaar Committee, the AHEPA, the Daughters of Penelope, the Pan-Coan Society, the Chiotiko Adelphotis of Sts. George and Markella, the Hellenic Cultural Committee, the converts to Orthodoxy, as well as the Serbian, Russian, Ethiopian, and Eritrean groups of the parish offer programs which promote fellowship, educational , social, cultural and philanthropic activities. Greek language instruction is offered for six years, as well as Greek Folk Dance Groups. The parish sponsors an Annual Greek Food Bazaar which attracts 10,000 people. This popular event introduces visitors to Greek food and culture to the Orthodox faith and to warm hospitality.
Annunciation Church has been active in the LCCC (Lancaster County Council of Churches) for 62 years, supporting its strong social ministry of Food and Clothing Banks, Hospital and Prison Ministries, Counseling Services, Homeless Shelters, and Halfway Homes. Parishioners have participated in ecumenical theological dialogues, choirs and interfaith worship services. Since 1974, Annunciation Church has given leadership and great participation to the Lancaster CROP Hunger Walk of Church World Service. This walk has raised over $5 million to stop hunger, both locally and in 80 countries of the world. Simultaneously the parish supported the PCC (Pennsylvania Council of Churches) which offers Christian ministries to migrant workers, truckers who spend long periods of time separated from their families with attendant problems, prison legislation programs that promote justice and equality, chaplaincy programs to state hospitals and institutions, ecumenical dialogue and annual state educational conferences for clergy, and advocacy programs for the poor. The Crispus Attucks Soup Kitchen and Shelter for the Homeless and the Shelter for Abused Women and Children have received support from Annunciation parishioners for many years. The parish has sponsored refugee families from Vietnam, Bosnia, Albania, Croatia, Romania, Ethiopia and Eritrea by providing immigration documents, housing, clothing, an guidance as they resettle in Lancaster. For those interested, the parish has invited them to worship at Annunciation Church.
In addition to the parish’s ministry of outreach and foreign missions, men were motivated to proclaim the gospel by entering the Orthodox priesthood and were ordained in Lancaster. They include Fr. John Hondras, Fr. Harry Vulopas, Fr. Peter Bournelis, Fr. Nicholas Frangakis, Fr. Constantine Kostaris, Fr. Anthony Ugolnik, Fr. Costa Keares, Fr, Luke Veronis, Fr. John Manuel, Fr. Andrew Tsikitas, Fr. Hector Firoglanis. Eight parish women became presvyteres (wives of priests). They include Presvyteres Elaine Ugolnik, Connie (Manuel) Gianulis, Irene (Frangeskos) Palis, Faith (Stathis) Veronis, Karen Manuel, Chrissy (Matthews) Fakinos, Katherine (Frangeskos) Tsikitas, Katerina (Maillis) Firoglanis. The following priests serves as Assistant Priests and were given some form of training in pastoral ministry at Annunciation Church to fit their particular needs before assuming parishes of their own: Fr. Theodore Pantels (two years), Fr. Andrew Maginas (one year), Fr. Christopher Bender (one year), Fr. Nicholas Palis (6 years), Fr. Christopher Makiej (5 years), Fr. Anthony Ugolnik (2 years), Fr. Dumitru Macaila (3 years).
The Parish youth programs included a HOPE program for children 4-7 years old, JOY for children in grades 2nd-6th, GOYA for teenagers in 7th-12th grades, YAL for young adults, an OCF (Orthodox Christian Fellowship) for college students, a Summer Vacation Church School program and 15 years of religious instruction beginning at age 2.
ORTHODOX COUNCIL OF CHURCH OF SOUTH CENTRAL PENNSYLVANIA (OCCSCP)
For 55 years, Annunciation Church has been active in the OCCSCP which brings Orthodox Christians from 15 area parishes together. Their activities include Pan-Orthodox Services and fellowship during Lent, clergy Bible Studies, Spiritual Retreats and Seminars, an Annual Pan-Orthodox Picnic, charity events for Orthodox seminaries, monasteries, orphanages, mission through the OCMC, and humanitarian outreach through the IOCC. A great sense of unity among Orthodox of various backgrounds and jurisdictions (Greek, Russian, Serbian, Macedonian-Bulgarian, Ukranian, Carpatho-Russian) has been achieved through the OCCSCP. Parishioners of Annunciation are involved in all ministries of the OCCSCP.
CREATION OF A FOREIGN MISSION PROGRAM IN AMERICAN ORTHODOXY
In 1962, Annunciation Church began a Lenten Self-Denial Club (LSDC) in support of foreign Orthodox missions. This Lancaster program quickly spread to the Diocese and Archdiocese and evolved into the first Greek Orthodox Archdiocesan Mission Committee (1967) and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocesan Mission Center (1985). By 1994 the program became Pan-Orthodox under the jurisdiction of SCOBA (Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in America). It was renamed the OCMC (Orthodox Christian Mission Center). The OCMC broke ground (2005) on a 20-acre lot in St. Augustine, Florida for a $6 million Missionary Training and Administrative Center with the summer of 2007 as the completion date. Parishioners Helen Nicozisis chaired the capital campaign, on behalf of the OCMC Board, which has successfully raised the $6 million needed to pay for the new Center.