Our Church History
St. George and St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church at 140 East 103rd Street at the corner of Lexington Avenue in the East Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City, was built in 1891 and was designed by Franklin Baylies in the Romanesque Revival style. It was originally the Blinn Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church, until 1930. In 1931, the Greek Orthodox Community of St. George, which was originally located on 105th Street and Madison Avenue, took over the abandoned sanctuary. Father George Stefas, who resided on 169 East 101st Street, presided over this community until February 15th 1935 when it was then joined by the Greek Orthodox Community of St. Demetrios located at 201 East 107th Street in 1935 - the latter was founded in 1927. The official name given to the newly established church was “The United Greek Orthodox Communities of St. George Tropaioforou and St. Demetrios Myrovlitou.” The first Divine Liturgy as one community was held on Feb 24th 1935. Although the two churches merged, the newly established community continued to maintain two afternoon schools and choirs.
In 1938, with the blessings of Archbishop Athenagoras I (Spyrou), the community proceeded to purchase the building from the German Eastern Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church (48 St. Mark Place, NY, NY 10003) for thirty two thousand dollars ($32,000.00).
- Oct 15, 1938 the Certificate of Incorporation of Greek Orthodox Community of St. George and St. Demetrios was filed with the State of New York, and
- Nov 14, 1938 Gustav Hausser, President of the German Eastern Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, proceeded to assign the deed to the property to the Greek Orthodox Community of St. George and St. Demetrios.
From the moment these two Great Saints merged, the parish community and the area began to flourish with many Greek immigrants. Within two decades, it had over 850 members, an afternoon school, a 30-member choir, the Ladies of Philoptohos, as well as becoming a gathering place for many Greek organizations, such as the Piraeus Society, AHEPA, Daughters of Penelope, etc.
In 1952, another era in the lives of St. George & St. Demetrios began when Archbishop Michael assigned Megas Archimandrites Matthew Papavasiliou to the parish. Father Matthew’s vision was to transform the properties interior into a true Greek Orthodox Church – have the altar facing east and walls covered with iconography. This vision sparked a major structural transformation. With great fortitude, Father Matthew was instrumental in:
- Relocating main entrance from Lexington Avenue to 103rd Street,
- Establishing a new interior staircase leading up to the church,
- Relocating the altar to face East,
- Establishing a New Templon, and
- Covering the interiors walls of the church with iconography
The new Templon was designed by C. Triantaphillou, Stelios Maris and C. Yavis (of Art Studio 219 Seventh Avenue NY, NY). It was built from American walnut wood with a natural walnut finish. The ornate art work was of gilded with 23k gold leaf and an antique finish. When it came to the iconography, Father Matthew was very instrumental in securing donors to cover all expenses including the installing of stain glass windows. Father Matthew treated the Church as his home. As such, he commissioned the great master of Byzantine art, Constantine Yousis, to surround the interior of the Church with warm images of Saints and Scenes from the old Testament and the life of Christ – all inspired by the Churches surrounding the village in Greece where Father Matthew was born. The entire parish quickly realized that Father Matthew was a force to be reckon with. With his vision achieved, his Eminence Archbishop Iakovos was invited to preside over Good Friday Apokathilosis services. His Eminence continued to preside over Good Friday Apokathilosis Services until the year that Father Matthew passed in 1981.
In 1972, this parish wrote another chapter in its history. As Good Friday Apokathilosis Services came to conclusion, Father Matthew, in the presence of all, informed His Eminence Iakovos “Wouldn’t it be nice for the Patriarchate to have a home here in New York?” His Eminence, completely surprised, composed himself and responded with “Let it be blessed”. Unbeknown to most, Father Matthew who was very close with Patriarch Athenagoras, had begun discussions with His Holiness on making St. George & St. Demetrios Church the Patriarchate’s NY based church and was preparing to travel to the Patriarchate in the coming months to meet with Patriarch Athenagoras and finalize the matter. Unfortunately, His All Holiness passed away in July, and so did the Parish’s dream of becoming the first church to be directly under the administration and control of the Patriarchate came to an end.
As years passed, this Parish was impacted by the major changes to the neighborhood. Harlem’s declining social conditions gave the neighborhood a sensationalist and negative reputation. Many families had begun leaving the neighborhood in search of safer streets, better schools and homes. Although many families moved to the outer boroughs, a handful of dedicated families and the presiding priests such as, Father Basili Manousos, Evmenios Tselentakis, Father Angelo Gavalas, Father Joseph Kostakis, and Father Constantine Eliades have managed keep this community alive. Each one of these reverend fathers left behind special and fond memories. Fathers Manousos, Tselentakis and Gavalas, in particular, sacrificed their time and “literally walked the streets” to seek financial support for this Parish.
- Father Manousos was known for carrying his own folding chair and visiting various Greek owned establishments throughout NYC seeking donations for the church. He was also the first to convince the Parish to revive its annual dinner dance event (after many years of not having one) and to host it at Crystal Palace to attract attendees from all 5 boroughs.
- Father Tselentakis was also known to “walk the streets” – but his streets were primarily in the Queens area. Every year he spearheaded the publishing of a Parish Yearbook – raising over $20,000 dollars each year. He was also instrumental in having “kandilia” installed in front of the large icons surrounding the church inside, as well as new chandeliers. All through donations.
- Father Gavalas was a very dynamic and special individual. His warmth and compassion for man-kind and the Church was contagious. While presiding over St. George & St. Demetrios, Father also was involved in the Archdiocese’s Youth Programs, as well as the designated Greek Orthodox priest for the NYC hospitals. The Parish began to flourish once again with new parishioners who were dubbed “Father Angelo’s followers”. his love for the Church was limitless. Everyone always looked forward to Holy Week with Father Angelo because with his presence and solemn demeanor, one truly felt the passion of Holy Week. He left this Parish with lots of fond memories. One in particular left a major impression on all of us – the passing away of his son Harry.
One Saturday night, Father Angelo rushed to the hospital to be with Harry who had just had a heart attack. Within hours, Harry passed and Father had to suffer the loss of a 2nd son. That Sunday morning, Father came to Church and performed services. No one knew what had transpired and after services he conveyed to a few Board Members of his loss and expressed his apologies for not staying for the coffee hour. With all the pain and suffering, Father still did not want to abandon St. George & St. Demetrios. As the family prepared to mourn the loss of a son and brother, they had asked in lieu of flowers to have a donation made to St. George and St. Demetrios Church. At the funeral home, Father was surrounded by family and friends who would console him for his major loss. Father’s grief was intense and yet somehow he would manage to turn to his longtime friend and Board member, Niko, and whisper in his ear … “Niko … we raised a lot of money for our Church today”. This continued even on the day of Harry’s burial. His love for the Church was endless. Father Angelo was a very special individual who developed strong ties with several members of this parish that continued until his own passing. May his memory be eternal.
As with life, this Parish has undergone its ebb and flow of existence. Up until recently, this parish had been blessed with several retired priests presiding over services at this historic Church.
Easter 2016, our Church celebrated the resurrection of Christ, as well as a Church’s rebirth with the assignment of Father George Kolios. It has been years since a priest had immersed himself into this community. Thanks to Father, the Parish is now gradually seeing some growth – young couples and families with children are coming. We all hope that this continues and our Church begins to grow again – Everyone is welcomed and yes, eighty-six (86) years later Saint George and Saint Demetrios is still offering a special place for spiritual prayer in a quiet and relaxed atmosphere. There are no huge crowds and no pushing or shoving – just a place of serenity and where one can peacefully connect with his/her creator through prayer.
If you are searching for a church home, we'd like you to know that there's a special place just for you here at St. George and St. Demetrios Church. We hope you will come and feel at home as we worship together.