PART I - 1918-1993

Specific, factual details on the original Greek inhabitants of Erie are sketchy at best. Most of them faded from the memories of living survivors or swallowed with the passage of 75 years of time, or more. Further, the total destruction of our church by fire on Thursday, November 21, 1985, eliminated any records and pertinent data that might have been helpful in reconstructing various phases of our history. Not withstanding, the brief historical description that follows, which was derived from several sources, official and unofficial, are presented in the hope that it will rekindle memories for some of you.

In June, 1918, a group of Greek immigrants organized with the purpose of forming a church parish and establish for themselves a place of worship in Erie, Pennsylvania. As was typical of Greek immigrants all over the country, those who arrived and settled in Erie initially opened up small restaurants and diners, or shoeshine parlors. A significant problem facing this group of organizers was to find a building suitable for church services. The first Assumption Greek Orthodox Church was located at 12th and Peach Streets. The second location was at the rear of the YMCA on Peach Street near 11th. A third church location was at the corner of 11th and Peach Streets next to the Community Theater, in 1925. It was not until the synagogue on West 8th Street was for sale that the Greek people had an opportunity to buy a church of their own. Rev. Demosthenes Chiamardas was very instrumental along with the Board of Directors in acquiring this church at 212 West 8th Street, which was destroyed by fire on November 21, 1985. Rev. Chiamardas served the Erie community from September 11, 1927 to January 11, 1931; again from April 1, 1941 to April 1, 1957. He retired on that date and passed away on June 6, 1957 at the age of 93.

The first priest to serve our community was Father Daniel Skarpas (1918). Others who served and the approximate date(s) are Father Bretas (1931); Father George Nikolaides (1933); Father John Sfikas (1954-1958); Father Athans (year unknown); Father G. Zagonas (1958-1963): and Father Theofanis Nacopoulos who has served from 1963 to the present.

The church was closed from August 1, 1939 to April 1, 1941, and from June of 1936 to August, 1937. Near 1940, a priest from Jamestown, New York performed the liturgy monthly. accompanied by the Jamestown choir.

Prior to the preparation of this anniversary album, parishioners were asked to submit old or new photos of church activities, parishioners (living or deceased), in the hope that they would jog our memories of our church family from as far back as possible. Over 400 photos were submitted, thus posing a monumental challenge in trying to select 15 - 20 photos for inclusion in the album. And while many of the photos lack a description or date, they are none-the-less interesting. To solve the dilemma of dealing with so many pictures, it was decided to create a video in which over 250 of the photos would be included along with previous video tapes pertinent to the church's activities, historical and present. Hopefully, the video tape will bring back memories of earlier times and happy occasions.


It was reported in the Erie Times, November 22, 1985, "A general alarm fire gutted the Assumption Greek Orthodox Church, 212 West 8th Street, Thursday evening, just hours after firefighters investigated a call about smoke in the basement. The earlier call had been reported by women attending the church's annual bake sale and luncheon. Damages were estimated at more than one million dollars. One firefighter was taken to Hamot Medical Center after he reportedly suffered hypothermia in the 32 degree weather."

"Pumpers were stationed at 7th, 8th and 9th Streets on Sassafras and at 7th and 8th Streets on Myrtle to supply water to fight the fire. About 50 Erie firefighters battled the blaze. At one point, when the fire appeared to be under control, several members of the congregation accompanied the Rev. Theofanis Nacopoulos, pastor, into the church to try to salvage the priest's vestments and various icons. About 7:50 PM, firefighters, fearing that the roof was about to collapse, sounded an alarm to evacuate everyone from the church and the apartment buildings on either side."

The Morning News, November 23, 1985 edition reported "Erie's Greek Orthodox community, numbed by the fire that destroyed the landmark Assumption Greek Orthodox Church Thursday night, has taken the first step to re-building their church. Grieving members gathered Friday to see what was left of the church, which was first built as a Jewish Temple 103 years ago. Among the items saved from the burning church was a $15,000 icon of the Virgin Mary, which was inlaid in gold in Greece. The Reverend Nacopoulos said, "most of the valuable religious material is irreparable, and will be buried in the foundation of the new church, as is our custom."

Thursday, November 21, 1985, started as a day of joy but ended in tragedy for the Greek Orthodox community in Erie. The Philoptochos society had just concluded a successful luncheon and bake sale. By that evening, the Assumption Church had been consumed by an electrical fire which completely ruined the 102 year old structure and its contents. Our community had purchased the building from the Jewish congregation in 1929, and the church had served the spiritual and cultural needs of the Erie, Pennsylvania parish for over 55 years.

One January 17, 1986, Rabbi Bradley Bleefeld of Temple Anshe Hesed, from whom we purchased the church on 8th Street, wrote to us and stated " it is with a shared sense of loss that our Board and Membership expresses to you and your congregation sadness over the destruction by fire of your beautiful house of worship that was our original and historic religious home. Much warmth and friendship has been exchanged between our communities during the more than half a century since the walls of that holy structure saw the transfer of prayers from Hebrew to Greek."

Thus, our beautiful church and community center on 8th Street no longer existed, having been reduced to ashes, charred wood, and a roofless unsafe building. The fire started in the basement of the church in the afternoon and was extinguished by the fire department. Unfortunately, several hours later, the fire started again. In a miraculous way, some of the old vessels and icons escaped the destruction of the flames. Unexplainably, a gold-laden Greek Orthodox Bible, other books and a gold Holy Communion Tabernacle regularly used during the liturgy were unharmed even though the fire raged all around the altar. Heat from the flames melted the iron rods, the chandeliers, and the vigil lamps placed in front of the icons. The altar floor collapsed from the fire as the church became a burning furnace. Yes, we were in shock and in deep mourning. There was a time for tears - the darkest gloom and the deepest anxieties. But no sooner had this despair settled in that our community leaders rallied behind our dedicated and hard working priest, Father Nacopoulos, and provided the necessary funds, inspiration, direction and leadership that led to a magnificent Basilica style church overlooking Lake Erie.

Although the Greek Orthodox of Erie had been orphaned, the congregation, led by His Grace Bishop Maximos of Pittsburgh and its spiritual leader, the Rev. Fr. Theofanis Nacopoulos, retained a singular determination to regain what they had lost. The miraculous survival from destruction of the silver inlaid icon of the Blessed Virgin and Christ the Child (among the few holy artifacts that did not burn) was another major incentive to build a new "home" for the venerated icon.

From the beginning, we were determined to rebuild and on a scale more befitting the needs of our young and growing parish. Building Fund and Building Committees were formed and activities accelerated at a furious pace. John Spanos, Chairman of the Building Fund and Building Committee, and Father Nacopoulos mailed out over 4,000 letters to all Greek Orthodox churches in North America and Canada, to their Boards of Directors, to their Philoptochos Chapters and to all mailing lists of Greek Orthodox communicants that were available to them. You will recall that we had no office, no mailing address, no secretarial help, etc. The cost of preparing and mailing these letters were entirely paid for by John Spanos and Father Nacopoulos. Contributions received, as a result of our mailings, were deposited in high-yielding certificates of deposit and other money-market instruments. Contributions and interest earned thereon approximated $200,000. With a relatively small Greek Orthodox Community, it was perhaps unrealistic to have dreamt of anything beyond a utilitarian structure to care for our spiritual needs. However, a handful of parishioners had a vision to move forward with a plan to construct an edifice supplying not only our liturgical needs, but esthetically enhancing the environs of our community.

For the most part, our parishioners seized the opportunity to make generous pledges to our Building Fund. Approximately 92% of the pledges were collected. As described above, $200,000 was realized from outside sources. Fire insurance proceeds of $524,000 were offset by demolition and removal costs of the destroyed church of $15,000. There are numerous "miracles" attributed by us at the time of the fire and events that ensued - real or imagined. But one very real miracle that the Assumption parish should forever be mindful and grateful for is the manner in which the Great Benefactors and Benefactors stepped forward at a time when our gloom was at its darkest and our hope and expectations were almost non-existent. Without their very, very significant financial contributions, the construction project would have been significantly reduced in scope and our fund-raising efforts would have been much, much more challenging. The names of the Great Benefactors and Benefactors are set forth below so that present and future parishioners remember the names of these generous and caring families: 

Great Benefactors:

Mr. and Mrs. Dean Nacopoulos
Mr. and Mrs. Ahileas Nacopoulos
Mr. & Mrs. Steven Papadatos
Mrs. Pauline Scott
Mr. & Mrs. Nicholas Scott
Mr. & Mrs. John B. Spanos
Mr. & Mrs. Peter G. Volanakis


Mr. and Mrs. George Markopoulos
Mr. and Mrs. Jerome Simon
Mr. and Mrs. Andreas Zafiropoulos

The contributions of these families totaled $585,000, an example of giving that hardly any church in this country many times our size could ever hope to realize! While they ask for none, they are owed the deepest gratitude, admiration and respect of all present and future generations of parishioners.


Included in this anniversary album is a condensed version of an article by Dr. Thomas Parthenakis entitled Basilica Of The Assumption Greek Orthodox Church, Erie, Pennsylvania. This well-written and informative report has appeared in several publications nationally and is an excellent reference for those interested in the design and construction of our new church.

Numerous photos and video tapes of: the First General Assembly following the fire; the luncheon meeting at the Erie Airport Restaurant at which time we contracted with the architect to draw up the architectural designs for our new church; the construction of the church which began in earnest in March of 1988; the "door-opening" services at our new church on October 2, 1988, officiated by Bishop Maximos; Bishop Maximos and Steve Papadatos accepting an architectural design award from the Township of Millcreek; and again on October 1, 1988, when our church was designated an Architectural Landmark by Judy Lynch, Erie County Executive; fund-raising activities by all groups, including the Annual Grecian Festival; of Kostas Skordelis of New York City who was selected to paint the iconographic schema for our sanctuary; the three wonderful, young parishioners Michael, Peter and Elizabeth Geanous who donated the entire cost of the Platytera in memory of their late and very beloved parents, Constantine and Anthula Geanous; and other material, are included in the video tape that was presented at our Diamond Jubilee banquet.

We have seen the results and it shouldn't surprise anyone. Over the past 5 years, our parishioners have performed miracles - the purchase of approximately five acres of ideal property along Lake Erie's shores, the engagement of the foremost Greek Orthodox architect, obtaining financing to construct not only the basic proposed shell of the church, but significantly expanding our efforts to include the Bell Tower, a parish hall complete with kitchen and tile, a paved parking lot with lovely landscaping, a hand-carved, gold-leaf Icon screen, marble altar tables, a magnificent marble church floor, ancient-styled church windows that reflect light even during cloudy weather, ample furniture and kitchen appliances, a church constructed with natural stone exterior, and so on. The list is impressive and our achievements are monumental, and it is important for everyone to realize that we are today a very proud and united community - proud of our accomplishments and proud of each other!

We have toiled unselfishly in the vineyards of the Lord and we pray that we have done well in serving His expectations. And as we dwell on the past and present, our thoughts go to the many faithful members of the past 75 years who contributed so greatly to our beloved Assumption Greek Orthodox Church. And to the young parishioners, even the very young who one day will be asked to take the reins and assume the temporal burdens and challenges of the Church. Awesome though these challenges shall be, we rejoice in the fact that our young people of the Greek Orthodox Faith are people to be admired. Most are excellent students, high achievers, law-abiding, active participants in church life, loving and caring - simply put, they are great to be with! Our expectancy level of them is high and we have every confidence that they will provide our community with the same high standards of strength and sacrifice as did their parents and grandparents before them.

We have received expansive national and local recognition for our success in literally "rising from the ashes", demonstrating an undeniable dedication to Christian Orthodoxy seldom, if ever, exceeded anywhere. As a community, we were afforded a wonderful, exciting, once-in‑a-lifetime opportunity to serve our Orthodox Church and Erie community. With the help of the Lord, we hope to complete the work remaining in the years ahead.