History of the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Luke
What seemed impossible has been made possible through the power of Our Lord and we now worship as a community. Through the years the efforts and dedication of many individuals and families were required to establish our Church.
When the need for a new suburban Orthodox community made itself felt in 1976, a dream was born. Twelve couples of interested Orthodox Christians met to establish such a Church. From the very beginning, even before a patron Saint was chosen, the motto of this new Church would be: “THE THINGS WHICH ARE IMPOSSIBLE WITH MEN ARE POSSIBLE WITH GOD.” Luke 18:27.
Once an interim board was established the marathon of meetings began….three to four times a week and many lasting into the early hours of the morning. Advice was sought from Boston, New York and from other newly established churches across the country. The Archdiocese required 50 families to sign a petition requesting a charter. On October 18, 1976 a meeting was held at the Unitarian Church in Springfield and 172 people signed the petition. After submitting the petition together with copies of the presentations made and compilation of the names of all petitioners and their occupations to His Eminence Archbishop Iakovas, the wait began. The Charter was granted in February 1977. On December 16, 1976 at the Unitarian Church, His Grace, Bishop Iakovas of Apameia, celebrated a Vesper service and we accepted the by-laws of the Archdiocese.
Then, an agreement was signed with the Wilbraham-Monson Academy in Wilbraham to rent their Chapel which had been in disuse for 10 years. Since we assumed we would be meeting in a school auditorium or even a store front, the Chapel was a Godsend. In January 1977, a Vesper service and Vasilopeta were held. Officiating was Father George Paulson, an Orthodox Navy Champlain and Springfield native. Then, the day we had been waiting for arrived…with Father Nicholas Marinos celebrating the first Liturgy for the Hellenic Community of suburban Springfield (as we were called then). Over 250 future Saint Luke Family Members worshipped together at the Academy Chapel on that snowy February 20th. This glorious first day was culminated by our now annual Sweetheart dinner dance. The way in which a name was chosen for our new parish in March 1977 served as a pattern for the years that followed. A listing of all the Greek Orthodox names in use in the United States was sent to each family who, in turn, indicated their preferences.
The final selections were made in March from the following: Saint Demetrios, Saint Paul, Saint Andrew, Saint Anna, Saint Luke, Saint Sophia, and Saint Nektarios. It was a thrilling moment to hear the results and know that, from that time, we were to be the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Luke! We were by that time an “Ecclesia” … a group of people worshipping God together.
The struggle to obtain our charter was only equaled by the difficulty in obtaining the services of a priest. The first priest of our parish, Father Nicholas Marinos, served our parish from February 1977 to November 1977. Father Nicholas Rafael came to our parish in December 1977 and guided us spiritually until June 1978. He was followed by Father George Gallas who was assigned to our parish from September 1978 to May 1979.
In October 1979, Father Elias Velonis was assigned by the Diocese to become our permanent priest. He came to our community with Presvytera Mary and their two childen, Margo and Thomas. Father Elias guided our parish through its history including the Ground Breaking Ceremony, the building of the Church, the Openings of the Doors, the Ten Year Anniversary and the Consecration on October 16, 1988. In the winter of 1977, the Women’s Guild was established to serve Saint Luke and give our women the opportunity for meaningful service and fellowship. For several years the Women’s Guild chaired, planned events, and fundraisers such as the Lenten Luncheon, Anastasi Brunch, Vasilopetas, bake sales, shopping trips, Mother’s Day luncheons, and hospital visits. It was also responsible for decorating the Church for Christmas and the Epitaphios for Pascha. The Women's Guild transformed into the Philoptochos Society, which carried on the traditions and the events of the Women’s Guild and, in addition, assumed the responsibly of providing financial aid to those in need. The Yolanda Fashion Show was added to the Philoptochos calendar of events in 1985. From the proceeds of this most successful event, together with individual donations, the Icon screen and other Church furnishings, required for the Consecration, were obtained. In the Saint Luke spirit, each icon and furnishing having been previously selected by a majority vote of the parish.
In the fall of 1977, the Saint Luke Sunday School was organized. Many parishioners have served and volunteered their time as Sunday school teachers through these years. Our Saint Luke parish has always focused on its youth.
In addition to the Sunday school program, mothers have monitored the nursery, “Midget Mania.” The Sunday School sponsors the “Mitten Tree”, annually to collect warm winter clothing for those in need.
The first Saint Luke G.O.Y.A and J.O.Y. chapters were organized in 1978 and they have conducted many activities during these years. These activities included ecology days, bake sales, trips, collecting food and distributing the same.
Our Saint Luke Parish has been blessed since its inception with the dedication of the members of the Saint Luke Choir and our Chanter. Since 1977 many parishioners have shared their talents led by our choir director and organist.
The “Messenger” our monthly parish newsletter - informs all members and friends of Saint Luke of all the activities functions and plans of our parish.
Sponsored originally as a fund-raiser activity to support the building fund, the Happiness column gives each parishioner the opportunity to greet someone socially and contribute to the funds of the Church.
As much as we felt at home in our Chapel in Wilbraham, our dream from the first meeting was to build our own Church. To that end, fundraising had been of paramount importance as evidences by the number and variety of activities conducted by our members.
A partial list includes: First Sweetheart Dance 1977, First Annual Family Outing – July 3, 1977, Spec Pond First Feast Day Vesper and Liturgy – October 1977, First Feast Day Dance – October 18, 1977, First Annual Christmas Concert and Nativity Pageant – December 2, 1977, Saint Luke Annual Harvest Dinner- November 1977, First Annual Grecian Festival – June 1978, Baking Workshops and Craft Workshops, Capital Funds Drive, Communion Breakfasts, Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service/East Longmeadow Churches, Christmas Book – including greetings from parishioners and friends, Gyro Booth trailer at Easter States Exposition – West Springfield 1980, GOYA Annual Spring Dance, Paper Drives, Religious Education, and Adult Bible Classes, Religious Life Committee, snd Fellowship Coffee hours each Sunday. Of all these activities, the “Grecian Festivals” were the financial mainstay.
Because of the tremendous amount of time and effort required by everyone in the Parish, the festivals also serve to keep us together as a family. The Grecian Festivals offered Greek foods, entertainment and a taste of Greek culture and drew 50,000 people each year. Parishioners chaired various booths including: Imports, Fresh Fruit, Plants, Gyro, Ceramics, Religious Artifacts, Pastry, County Store, Art exhibits, Children’s Corner, Stenciled T-shirts, Tag Sale, Corn on the Cob, Taverna, Kafenio, Loukoumades, and cooking demonstrations. The children of our youth groups dressed in costumes and danced the traditional dances of Greece. The Festival Chorus sang Greek folk songs. Each year before the festival, workshops were held to prepare the foods and crafts. A total commitment by all was the answer.
The proceeds from the first Grecian festival in 1978 were sufficient to purchase 9.2 wooded acres on 400 Prospect Street in East Longmeadow. The beautiful land was dedicated to God’s use on October 4, 1980, at a formal groundbreaking ceremony celebrated by Bishop Anthimos of Boston, Father Elias, Orthodox priests, Ecumenical Clergy of East Longmeadow and neighboring communities. Following the ceremony, a banquet was held at the Sheraton West in West Springfield.
With a building fund drive of $220,000 established in July 1977, together with the proceeds from later Grecian Festivals and our other fund raising activities, our vision assumed form. The building project was to include the Church Fellowship Hall and administrative office at a cost of $914,000.
In October 1981, our parish celebrated "The Opening of the Doors” for our new Church with the challenge to complete our dream. During the next several years, the work and commitment continued, In October 1986 the parish of Saint Luke celebrated its tenth anniversary and in 1988 the celebration of the Consecration of our Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Luke.