The Greek Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas in Jamestown is celebrating its 100th anniversary.
“While the Church’s role as a social center has changed since St. Nicholas was founded in 1922, it remains an enduring connection to our families, our friends and our faith,” said Alexis Singleton. “The Sint-Nicolaas community is small, but stable. History is one of extremely devoted servants of the Church who made an effort to maintain a Greek Orthodox Church here in Jamestown. My grandmother was one of those special people. Growing up and watching her and her friends and then my parents give their time and talent to the Church has been an inspiration all my life. My kids are watching now.”
St. Nicholas is the only Greek Orthodox church in Chautauqua County, although there are multiple parts of the church in the area.
“There are different parts of the municipality throughout the area,” said Victoria Parker, a curator at the Fenton History Center who helped design a Greek Orthodox exhibit, “so even though there is only one church, they serve a wider area.”
The Ladies Erene Society raises money for missions around the world. Recently, the Church partnered with UCAN City Mission to assist in its work. The church also helped establish Jamestown’s soup kitchen known today as St. Susan Center.
St. Nicholas has also hosted the annual Yassou Festival in Jamestown since 1982 to share his Greek heritage and Orthodox faith. Their main fundraiser throughout the year is the Yassou Festival, Parker said.
Under the Rev. Soterios Rousakis, the St. Nicholas Orthodox Youth is working with court-appointed special lawyers to implement the Angel Tree program, which provides Christmas gifts to local children in need.
The reach of the church is rooted in the history of both the Orthodox faith and the Greek Orthodox Church in Jamestown.
“As far as historically speaking, the Orthodox faith dates back 2,000 years and is considered the original church,” said Parker.
The history of St. Nicholas Church is also an important part of the history of the Greek population in Jamestown.
Chistos Tsaconis was the first Greek to come to Jamestown in 1886. After moving from Ohio to Jamestown, he convinced his family and other Greek immigrants to move to the area. In 1896, the first Greek child, Jimmie Checkary, was born in Jamestown.
In 1920, one of the founding members of the Church, Seraphim Depas, joined the Jamestown chapter of the Tsontas Vardas, an Ohio-based Epirote Society. This organization played a key role in the establishment of the Church.
In 1921, Rev. Chrysanthos Hagipappas of the Epirotic Society visited the city and held a celebration of the Divine Liturgy on the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, the day when the “falling asleep of the Virgin Mary.”
The first Greek Orthodox service met in the club room of Odd Fellows Ellicott Lodge at 311 Washington St.
After the first service, Chrysanthos said Jamestown should have its own Greek Orthodox church due to the growing community of Greek residents.
At the second meeting, the Greek community began to consider the idea of establishing its own church. Seraphim Depas, James Ketchy and Vangel Gogolatse were appointed to begin construction of the church.
The community chose Saint Nicholas as the patron saint of the church.
After an arduous process, the church was chartered and the plot of land at 58 Chapman St. 58 in Jamestown was purchased as the site for the new church. The construction of the church started on Saint Nicholas Day in December 1922.
The Rev. Fr. Hagipappas was appointed the first priest of the church and the first service was celebrated on Easter in 1923.
In 1925, Father George Joanethis became a priest and served the community for 31 years. Under his leadership, the congregation of the church grew and the parish expanded to other communities in the region, including Fredonia, Dunkirk, Westfield and Warren.
As the congregation grew over time, several changes were made to the church. A choir balcony was added in 1927 and a bell tower in 1928. Pews were also added to the church, which are still used today in the new building.
In 1930, the basement was excavated to raise the ceiling and create the church’s community hall.
In 1945, a fire damaged St Nicholas’ Church, prompting the church to consider building a new building. The church purchased a vacant lot on Mt. Vernon Place, but the church didn’t build a new house of worship until a second fire occurred in 1963. After an electrical fire caused significant damage to the existing building, the church decided to build a new building on the Mount Vernon Place site in 1965.
The circular structure is designed to represent the cosmos and to allow the congregation to face east. St. Nicholas had to meet the specifications set by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of the Americas.
“In the Greek Orthodox Church, the congregation must face east, so the altar faces east in anticipation of Christ’s return,” said Parker.
The first service of the Divine Liturgy in the new building was in December 1965. In 1968 the ordination service was performed by Archbishop Iakovos.
The new building of the church was built with limited funding.
“They almost ran out of money,” said Parker. “Things were added as they went on.”
In 1975 the church raised enough money to replace the original windows with stained glass windows. In addition, the central ceiling icon of the church, the Pantocrator, was built in 1988.
The Fenton History Center honors the centenary of the Greek Orthodox Church with an exhibit currently on display at the museum. More information about the history of the church is available in the museum.