Written Parish History
The Saint Barbara Community was founded in 1919 in the City of New Haven, Connecticut, following the influx of Greek immigrants beginning, according to public records, in 1895. Early immigrants included Turkish citizens fleeing from the Greek and Pontic genocide of the Christian population in Anatolia by the government of the Ottoman Empire against the indigenous Greek population during and after World War I (1914-1922).
Whether from Greece or Turkey immigrants were inspired by the hope of a better life. Among the first to settle in the New Haven area, were Christos Koutsoheris (1895) and Peter Proestakis (1899), closely followed by Alcibides Koutsoheris, Thomas J. Bouzoucos, Andrew Bouzoucos, Nicholas Gianoukakis, James Proestakes, Thomas Laesarus, Andrew Laesarus, Thomas Adamis and Fotios Fotopoulos. The women followed shortly thereafter, beginning with Mrs. Christos Koutsoheris, who arrived in 1906. Soon after, the first child of Greek descent, George C. Koutsoheris, was born on April 15, 1907.
From the very outset of their lives in America, Greek immigrants displayed an ability to engage in business and commerce with energy and resourcefulness. Most arrived with little capital and no experience in the restaurant, confectionery, shoeshine or any type of business in which they were to become so conspicuous. Most were young men who lived in crowded rooms above or in their businesses, or in boarding houses. The main reason for these living arrangements, was to live as economically as possible, in order to establish their businesses, send money to their families, pay their fathers’ debts and sisters’ dowries, or to enable a wife or fiancée to join them in America. Social lives were very limited. And in the early 1900s the Pan-Hellenic Union was formed to provide education and assistance to newcomers as well as serve as a binding force to unite Greek youth in their mutual experience acclimating to life in their adopted homeland.
The Pan-Hellenic Union officers were the first elected officials of our community and exerted the first efforts to arrange for occasional visits from a priest to celebrate the Divine Liturgy and other sacraments, beginning in 1910 at Crown Hall on Crown Street. The first president of the Pan-Hellenic Union of New Haven was Gregory Kypriotelis, followed in the next decade, by Costas Pandajis, Louis Atnes, Emanuel Cocolas and Frank Pandajis, who would all hold the position.
As the composition of our community changed from a colony of single men to a settlement of young families, the spiritual needs of the community increased and priests from other cities occasionally came to New Haven to tend to these needs. Between 1914-1918, Thomas J. Bouzoucos served as President of the Pan-Hellenic Union. He believed that Greeks were moving away from their ethnic and religious roots during this time, and he began to try and locate a church in which to hold services on a more regular basis. He was able to arrange for the use of an Ukrainian Church from 1914-1916, and later obtained permission to use the parish house of Christ Episcopal Church on Broadway, in New Haven. On occasions when the parish house was not available services were held at numerous other locations.
Reverend Thomas Daniels was the first priest to travel to the area on a regular basis and tend to the spiritual needs of the Greek Orthodox community in New Haven. He did this from 1916 to 1919. Beginning in 1918 efforts were made to enroll members in order to establish a formal community parish.
A formal request for an assignment of a permanent priest, was made in a letter from Alexander Eftimes, to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, dated October 12, 1919. A reply from the Archdiocese was received, stating that there were certain conditions that needed to be met before this could happen.
In 1919, the parish of Saint Barbara was officially established. Reverend Thomas Daniels was assigned to the community as its first Parish Priest. In 1921, the Ladies Society, The Progress, was organized. A Greek School was also established that same year.
In 1922-23 the Saint Barbara parish was ministered by Reverend Michael Skopelites, who was also assisting the parish of Waterbury at that time. During this time the congregation made arrangements with the Syrian Orthodox Community in New Haven to allow us to hold our Liturgical Services in their church located on Kossuth Street. The Syrian community did not have a priest at the time, so for approximately two years the service was celebrated in Greek with the Psalti William Basel, with Lavrentios Pappas chanting the hymns in Greek, and the Syrian Choir chanting the responses in Aramaic.
Fundraising efforts began in 1923, to purchase a building which would serve as a permanent home for the Saint Barbara community. And the former Second Advent Christian Church, located at 109 Beers Street, was purchased for $8,000, for this purpose. The structure, originally a barn, needed extensive repairs. Parishioners came together to accomplish this task. The congregation did not however, wait until the church was completed, but rather, almost immediately began to hold weekly services there.
On May 10, 1924 the Parish Council President Demetrios Comninos, wrote to the Archdiocese to request that Reverend P. Manoliades be assigned to minister to the community in New Haven. In response to the Archdiocese’s request for statistical information concerning our community it was reported that the parish consisted of “90 families, 100 community members.”
Reverend Manoliades was assigned to the parish on May 24, 1924 and remained until September 6, 1924 at which time he was replaced by Reverend John Aslanides. Father Aslanides was the first priest to keep complete and accurate records and the first sacrament recorded in the church registry was the wedding of Miss Amelia Daniel to Mr. Kostas Klarides on September 7, 1924. The first recorded baptisms were those of George Anastasion (Christos Koutsoheris, godfather) and Marianthe Psathas (Savas Anastasion, godfather) on October 5, 1924.
Father Aslanides, who served our community until 1929, was one of the twenty-six charter members of the local chapter of AHEPA #98 which was established in 1926. That same year the parish also sponsored a play in Dorscht Hall on Crown Street which was well received and expressed their Greek heritage.
Reverend Evangelos Triantafilides was assigned to lead our parish on August 1, 1929. The entire Triantafilides family actively served our community and in 1930 the first Sunday School was organized by Presvytera Triantafilides. The Triantafilides children were also very active in church activities. Mary and Lillian were members of our first choir and Nicholas was an Altar Boy. In addition, Father Triantafilides is fondly remembered as the priest who reorganized the structure of the church and who “brought order to it.”
A play, written by Reverend Triantafilides was presented at the Hejaz Grotto Theater in 1936. This play, which starred local talent, succeeded in raising over $1,000. Also, during Father Triantafilides’ tenure in New Haven, an article appeared in the New Haven Register on Sunday, April 13, 1930. The subject of the article, reproduced on the following two pages, was a “resume of life” in our community.
Reverend John Andreadis guided our community from October 9, 1937 to May 22, 1938. He was succeeded by Reverend George Nicolaides, from November 15, 1938 to July 20, 1939.
On April 18, 1939 a meeting was held in the basement of the Beers Street church to discuss the fact that facilities for Greek language classes would no longer be available from the City of New Haven. It was decided that a building committee would be appointed to locate a new and larger church. A property was located by said committee, at 56 Dwight Street and purchased for $10,000, on November 21, 1939. Between the time the Building Committee was established and the final papers were signed, for the purchase of the property at 56 Dwight Street, a new priest, Reverend Christos Papachristou, was assigned to our community. Father Papachristou is given much of the credit for the fundraising which was done during this period.
On March 16, 1940 a fire destroyed the Beers Street church, the cause of which was defective wiring. Father Christos guided the community through this tragedy as well as the adjustment to two temporary locations, and with the building and consecration of the Dwight Street church. Archbishop Athenagoras, later Ecumenical Patriarch, visited our community on Friday, March 29, 1940, to view the damaged structure and to consult with community leaders on a future course of action.
During this transition period, Reverend Papachristou continued to serve on the building and fundraising committee and, together with the committee, met with Archbishop Athenagoras and Bishop Kavadas to discuss the building of a new church. Bishop Kavadas was very influential in the design of the Dwight Street church.
A second piece of property was purchased on June 1, 1940. This property, located at 48 Dwight Street and adjacent to the first piece, had a small house standing upon it. In June of that same year the committee awarded a contract to demolish this structure. The new church was built upon this site.
In June of 1941 the Jack A. Halprin Company, Inc., submitted a bid for the construction of our new church. Architect Charles Abramowitz was retained to draw plans and specifications for the church, and in November of 1941 a building contract agreement was entered into with the Halprin Company - Savas Anastasion, John Pappas, and Milton Psathas.
December 7, 1941 is a day that will live in the memory of Americans for many years to come. For our parishioners this day has a double significance. It is the day that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the day of the cornerstone laying of the second Saint Barbara Greek Orthodox Church in New Haven in a ceremony led by Archbishop Athenagoras, head of the Greek Orthodox Church in North and South America, and Father Papachristou. The privilege of placing the cornerstone was awarded to Mrs. Peter Daniel. In the cornerstone was placed the names of the Building Committee, donors, Parish Council members and other information. Between the time of the cornerstone laying and the consecration, in 1943, our community was deeply involved in the Greek War Relief Effort; the Ahepa War Bond Drive; and with numerous other war relief efforts.
The new church was completed on September 20, 1943. Archbishop Athenagoras officiated at the consecration services for our new church on October 10, 1943. The Archbishop was assisted by Reverend Papachristou and numerous other clergymen. Hymns were sung by the combined choirs of the Greek Orthodox Seminary in Pomfret, CT and Saint Barbara.
Reverend C. Papachristou was the priest during the transition from the Beers Street location to the Dwight Street location, and in the interim, when services were held at Christ Church and Saint Thomas Episcopal Church. While in New Haven Father Papachristou arranged for the first signing of a proclamation of Greek Independence Day and for the Greek flag to be flown from the City Hall.
On September 10, 1946 Father James Christon was assigned to tend to the spiritual needs of the growing community. Reverend James Christon was a dynamic leader, particularly devoted to the youth. And while he served our community all of the youth groups experienced an extremely active time. Under his guidance the first Greek American Youth of Orthodoxy (G.A.Y.O.) was formed; the 1950 Church Dinner was distinguished by the presence of Bishop E. Tsoukalas; a summer day camp was begun; a series of Friday night movies was presented; a concert featuring Vaughn Monroe was sponsored; Boy and Girl Scout troops were organized; the Sunday School was re-organized, and the children also enjoyed their first Easter Egg Hunt and first annual excursion. In addition, $1,000 was raised for audio-visual aids; monthly Family Nights were held; membership dues were raised plus the monodollarion; Miss Sophia Chaltas was employed as the first full-time, paid church secretary; and our community participated in the first city census sponsored by the Council of Churches.
Father James was the first priest to deliver sermons in English because he felt that “all are entitled to hear and understand the word of God” (there were about 50-60 families in the community who, although Greek Orthodox, understood only their native tongue, Turkish. Most however, understood some English). A policy was established whereby the church was open for fifteen minutes each morning to accommodate the approximately 50 students who would stop at the church on their way to school. Father Christon was also very involved outside of the Greek community and was often called upon to lecture to various groups.
Father James would be succeeded by Father George Kerames who was ordained and assigned to the Saint Barbara community on January 28, 1951. Father Kerames served our community for 31 years. He demonstrated pastoral care for the growing flock throughout his tenure.
In 1952, a second parcel of land was purchased on Dwight Street and in 1959 a third parcel. Both were donated to the Church by C. Koutsoheris. A fourth property at 66 Dwight Street was purchased and a “Burn the Mortgage” fund drive was started.
When the parish celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 1969 there were 434 member families and 243 students in the Sunday School program. A referendum held on June 5, 1969 indicated that the community wanted to relocate, and in 1970 the Parish Council appointed a Building Committee, chaired by Bill Contaxis, charging them with the responsibility of locating and purchasing a property. A separate building fund was established to set aside monies for this project. The committee researched various properties in many towns including New Haven, Hamden and Orange and reported their findings at numerous General Assemblies from 1970-1977. In 1976, Alex Alexiades was appointed Chairman of the Building Committee and in 1977, with the approval of the General Assembly a parcel of property was purchased for $120,000 at 480 Racebrook Road in Orange.
The following years were very busy ones for the Building Committee and the Parish Council as they completed the necessary steps leading to the construction of a new church, including securing special use permits, speaking to the neighbors bordering the new property, selecting an architect, deciding on a design, contracting a builder, arranging financing and selling the Dwight Street property. Julian K. Jastremsky, A.I.A. was chosen as the Architect of the new Church.
It was also during this time that the Saint Barbara parish moved from “annual dues” to adopt a “Fair Share Pledge” system, with Harry Pappas serving as the newly formed Stewardship Committee Chairman.
In 1981, the first Odyssey Festival was held at Lighthouse Point, the week after Labor Day, to help raise funds to build the new Church.
In 1982, Father George retired and Reverend Mark B. Arey was assigned to the parish. Father Mark was a young and energetic priest who brought a sense of energy to the growing parish, invigorating many of the youth programs.
In September 1983 Father William Kehayes was assigned to the parish. Father Bill was instrumental in the parish’s move from Dwight Street to Racebrook Road in Orange, Connecticut. It was under his guidance that a building program raised $1,000,000 to construct a new Church edifice at 480 Racebrook Road. Father Bill and and his wife, Presbytera Christine, offered dynamic leadership to the church community during the early years of transition at the new location.
On September 14, 1984, a major step was taken when Archbishop Iakovos of North and South America celebrated the ground breaking ceremony at the site of the new church on 480 Racebrook Road. It was also during this time that George Anastasion was appointed the Vice Chairman of the Building Committee.
On July 16, 1985 with His Grace Bishop Athenagoras presiding, the General Assembly voted to proceed with the construction of new church buildings at 480 Racebrook Road. A $2.6 million contract was signed with Kapetan Construction Company following a bidding process. Construction of the new church started later that month while the property on Dwight Street was sold to Ebenezer Chapel, Inc. in November.
For historical accuracy it should be noted that while the majority of parishioners were overwhelmingly in favor of the move from New Haven to Orange, there was a segment which was not. And the community did undergo a period of turbulence during this time. On the December 28, 1986 the last service and de-consecration, was held at the Dwight Street Church. The official Thyranixia (opening of the doors ceremony) of the Racebrook Road location, took place on December 3, 1987.
From the first days in Orange, the Saint Barbara parish has enjoyed a wonderful interaction with the other religious denominations in the town, as the Clergy of Orange and their congregations, warmly welcomed the Saint Barbara family into the town, with our immediate neighbors, including the Holy Infant Roman Catholic parish, which led the way by allowing our parish to hold services in their gymnasium while construction of the church was completed.
The parish continued to establish itself in the Town of Orange, with the 1987 Odyssey Festival being the first to be held on the Church grounds on Racebrook Road.
In 1995, the Saint Barbara community played host to the Greek and Cypriot Delegations to the World Special Olympics that were held at Yale University, with our parish hosting and holding various events for the Special Olympians and their families.
On July 21, 1996, Archbishop Iakovos of North and South America visited the Saint Barbara Parish and ordained then Deacon Peter J. Orfanakos, who had served as His Eminence’s Deacon since 1993 to the Holy Priesthood. Also present that day was Mr. Panagiotis Theodore Angelopoulos, the Great Benefactor and Great Logothetes of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Father Peter and Presbytera Vangie, accompanied by their son, John-Peter Iakovos, would begin ministering to the Saint Barbara community, on September 1, 1996.
Father Peter, working together with the lay leadership of the community, brought a renewed sense of growth to the parish, building on many of the ministries that had already existed, in addition to new initiatives to assist the faithful in their understanding of the faith. One such new initiative was the Saint Barbara Summer Day Camp which was established in 1997. The program, which was designed by both Presvytera Vangie and Father Peter, focused on creating a healthy, safe, Orthodox learning environment for campers and counselors, as well as encouraging camp staff development on a parish-wide level. The five-day one-week program would run for 21 years ministering to 1,945 campers (ages 4-14); 678 counselors (ages 14-18); and 781 adult staff members, prior to becoming the one-day 12 hour Saint Barbara SuperCamp in 2018.
With the parish experiencing more growth and involvement from parishioners with a continuing growing list of ministries, it was becoming obvious to parish leadership that the parish was beginning to outgrow the auxiliary facilities. In the Fall of 1997 the parish undertook a three-year fund drive, titled “Saint Barbara 2000,” which sought to eliminate all debt of the parish and construct an education center, social hall and gymnasium. The fund drive was successful in the sense that it eliminated the $1,000,000 still left on the mortgage from the construction of the Church. It also helped seed a building fund that would grow to help with a planned future expansion of the church campus infrastructure.
Over the course of the next decade the parish would continue to grow, not just in membership, but in participation and the varied amount of ministries available to parishioners of all ages, assisting them on their path towards salvation. The parish itself would also become the first in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America to live stream all of its liturgical services via the Internet, beginning in 2001, with hundreds of thousands of unique visitors, joining us in prayer.
The parish was also very involved in hosting a multitude of metropolis-wide events for teens, young adults and choir members that brought about a renewed sense of growth to various ministries outside the walls of the Church.
To meet an ever-growing need, the parish General Assembly, in 2008, approved the Master Plan Expansion Project. Building commenced and concluded in 2009, with the completion of the education center, industrial kitchen and foundation of the gymnasium. It was also in 2009 that the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox parish in Ansonia officially merged with the Saint Barbara community and Father Joel McEachen, who had served the Holy Trinity parish for 35 years, began to assist Father Peter on a part-time basis.
In 2012 the parish completed the transformation of a garage/kitchen into the Holy Trinity Chapel on the grounds of Saint Barbara Church using many of the liturgical items and Icons from the Ansonia church, including the installation of a bell just outside the chapel that was originally located in the bell tower of the Ansonia church. Many weekday services now take place solely in the Holy Trinity Chapel.
Also in 2012, Father Steven M. Sarigianis joined the Saint Barbara community, assisting both Father Peter and Father Joel. Father Steven had just recently retired from 58 years of ministry and moved to the area to be close to his family. Father Steven never received a salary, but the riches he gives from his heart prove immeasureable.
The parish continues to expand its ministry programs, enhancing the opportunities for the adults of our parish with the establishment of the Mustard Seed Faith Group in 2014; the Grief and Wellness Group in 2015; and the ΙΧΘΥΣ Reading Group in 2017. Expansion of the ministry offered by the Saint Barbara Book and Icon Store grows, as well as many other facets of our philanthropic work in the greater community.
In 2017, the Saint Barbara Young Adults are selected from a large pool of applicants to be one of fourteen Orthodox Parishes in the United States to take part in the Telos Project.
In the Fall of 2018, as part of the centenial celebration of the parish, the community held events honoring various milestones including: couples married 50 years or more; parishioners who have served in the armed forces of America; teacher volunteers; and a Christmas Concert.
These official centennial celebrations continued into 2019 and included a weekend of festivites in September that featured a Centenial Gala Event; the celebration of the Archieratical Divine Liturgy officiated by Archbishop Elpidophoros of America; and a luncheon that highlighted the younger members of the community and their vision for the continued growth of the parish.
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