HOIY TRINITY CHURCH: A BRIEF HISTORY
The Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity is a relatively new parish of the communities in the Tampa Bay area. For many years the Orthodox faithful of the Clearwater area attended services at St. Nicholas, the "landmark" House of Worship in Tarpon Springs, FL.
A small nucleus of the faithful initiated the movement in the late sixties to establish their own parish and assembled the support and cooperation of the few Orthodox in Clearwater and Dunedin. Numerous meetings were held in private homes and restaurants under the leadership of C.P. Saclarides, and finally on the 9th day of November, 1967, Articles of incorporation were filed with the State of Florida, which stated that the purpose of the new church corporation was to, "encourage the preservation and propagation of the Eastern Orthodox faith, tradition, customs... to promote spiritual enlightenment of the Eastern Orthodox faith, to unite the persons of the Eastern Orthodox faith that they more efficiently serve the church and the community at large..." Officers and members who served the fledgling parish for two years until the first official elections of the new community:C.P. Saclarides, President
Raymond Argyros, Vice President
Michael Ergas, Corresponding Secretary
William Alexander, Cust Athanson, Wally Baskovich, Andrew D. Kallivokas, Dr. John T. Karaphillii, Denis Kotopoulis, Nicholas T. Maillis, James Matheos, Peter P. Panarites, Emmanuel P. Petchakos, Stanley Photiadis, Peter N. Saroodis, Peter J. Skordis, William Statis, E. Peter Tragos.
Parish council and general assembly meetings were held in the Hellenic Center of the Ahepa.
Everyone in this original small group experienced the interest and enthusiasm necessary for building a new parish and contributed to the solid unification of the Orthodox in their Christian effort. During those early days, no one was reluctant to donate both their financial resources and their time. For example, the first alter cross used in the church and currently still in use in the school chapel, was made by hand by C.P. Saclarides. Rummage sales, fashion shows, small dinner-dances and all sorts of fund-raising meetings were organized. Contacts were initiated with the Creek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, and the women began to organize themselves and formed the Eastern Orthodox Women of Creator Clearwater. This organization eventually became the formal Philoptochos Society of the parish in 1970 by Bishop Amilianos. One of the first accomplishments of the ladies was to sponsor Greek School classes for children; these classes were held in the Hellenic Center of the AHEPA which was located at 407 N. Belcher Road and began Monday, November 12, 1967. The teachers, Mrs. Vedova and Mrs. Maria Pantalis, offered both adult and children's classes.
The first formal Dinner-Dance of this new group was held at the Jack Tar Harrison Hotel on February 4,1968, where it was announced to the more than 500 in attendance that the site of the proposed new Creek Orthodox Church had been resolved. Mr. and Mrs. James Matheos then presented their check for $32,000.00 in full payment of the purchase price of the present four and a half acres of land upon which the church and Community Hall were erected. The Matheos family was the church's most generous benefactor, and their boundless energy and almost limitless financial contributions played a most significant role in the growth of the church complex.
Shortly thereafter, C.P. Saclarides and E. Peter Tragos travelled to Chicago to examine the many Creek Orthodox Houses of Worship located in that large city and eventually selected the Sts. Peter and Paul Church of Clenview, lllinois, as the prototype of the church they considered most suited for Clearwater. The Chicago architect of the Glenview church, James Economou, was contacted and was hired to draw up plans and specifications for the new Clearwater edifice and, soon afterwards on November 3; 1968, the General Assembly of the Creek Orthodox community of Greater Clearwater approved the plans of Economou for a new church seating 400, and an adjoining community hall to accommodate 500. After approving the plans of Economou, the Assembly granted the donors of the church land, Mr. and Mrs. James Matheos, the honor of selecting the name of the church. The Matheos' chose "Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity" as the name and were subsequently acclaimed Godparents of the church by the assembly.
The two-year efforts of the members of the Clearwater parish took an important step in becoming a reality on December 1, 1968, when the Groundbreaking Ceremonies of the new buildings took place on the four and a half acres of land located on the east side of OId Coachman Road, north of Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard. The religious ceremonies were officiated by Father Constantine Statheron, a retired priest living in the area and by Father John Athas, of the St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church of Daytona Beach, Florida, who eight months later, was assigned by the Archdiocese as the first priest of the new Clearwater parish.
What is truly amazing is that, in a period of two years, the new parish had been conceived, established, and organized by a small band of Creek Orthodox laypeople, without the advice and assistance of a priest. Earlier in '1969 a General Assembly had authorized the president of the governing Board of Directors to procures mortgage and construction funds not to exceed a total of $210,000.00. The Clearwater Federal Savings & Loan Association required the personal endorsements of seventeen (17) individuals to sign the promissory note for the loan, and it was only seven years later, in June oI 1976, that the bank released the personal endorsements. The seventeen individuals were:
C.P. Saclarides, Raymond Argyros, Peter N. Saroodis, Dr. Louis Machael, Wally Bascovich, E. Peter Tragos, James Matheos, Nicholai T. Maillis, Nick Gonatos, Thomas J. Gatsiolis, Dr. John T. Karaphillis, Alexander Dervech, Harry J. Dritsas, Peter Panarites, Alexander Gelep, Andrew Kallivokas, and Frank Photiades.
ln August of 1969, while the church building was under construction, Fr. John Athas was assigned as first priest. The arrival of the priest was a signal for the parish to roll up its sleeves and go to work. The vital organizations - the Sunday School, Creek School, choir, youth organizations, the Ladies Philoptochos - were formed or developed, new church members were attracted and induced to take an active role in the church, and the members embarked upon tremendous fund-raising campaigns in order to pay for the new buildings. The activities and affairs of all our parish organizations were directed toward contributing financially to secure the money necessary for this huge project.
During the months of September, October, November, and December, the Sunday Liturgies were celebrated in the Hellenic Center of the Ahepa. The first Liturgy in the new church was celebrated on Christmas Day of 1969. ln the months prior to the commencement of services, George Saclarides was instrumental in helping organize the choir. Once services began, Katherine Mihail, Vivian Arfaras, and Tina Wilson, shared choir director duties. Evelyn Saclarides was the first organist, and Menelaos Ciallousis was the first cantor. Sonia Stephanides was the first supervisor and director of the Sunday School.
G.O.Y.A. was organized in March 1970 by Fr. Athas and John Tsacrios and started with a Group of only twelve children. By June of 1970, the membership numbered 110. At this time, the group was divided into Senior and Junior groups. The youth, during this time, like their parents, were very active in the fledgling community. They were active fund raisers and workers and among their contributions is the fountain located in the patio area.
ln July ol 1970, the Hellenic Center of AHEPA on Belcher Road was sold and the proceeds of $16,000 were donated to the church fund raising efforts. The united support given by the Ahepa family in the early organizing and building years was critical to the church's success.
The most successful fund raisers in the parish was the Philoptochos group of women, and their financial aid was invaluable during the first ten years of the parish life. During the early years of organization, especially when there was little or no money available, it seemed that either James Matheos or the Philoptochos, whose first president was Cenie Tragos, provided the funds to keep the parish functioning. Well over $200,000. have been donated to the church by our women: the "PLATYTERA" and mosaics of the Sanctuary, the iconostasion, and interior dome iconography, the Narthex wall, the beautification of the church grounds, parking lights, stage drapes, office, kitchen and school furnishings, and more than $21,000. toward retiring the mortgage.
ln addition, the Philoptochos organized and sponsored a parish-wide Bazaar until 1981, when the Parish Council assumed this responsibility. The Bazaar was renamed the Holy Trinity Hellenic Festival, and declared the festival an official church-sponsored, community-wide project. lncome and expenses were thereafter routed through the operating accounts of the church. ln the early years of the Bazaar, the youth dressed in authentic costumes, acted as hosts and hostesses and the C.O.Y.A. dance group entertained visitors.
For the next few years, the parish grew and with that growth inevitably experienced some of the "growing pains" and small crises, all parishes do. But in December oI 1977, the Bank of Clearwater informed the Parish Council that Nicolas F. Papadi, who died a resident of Clearwater, had bequested his entire estate to the Church. The bequest, with an approximate value in excess of one-half million dollars in cash and stocks and bonds, was destined to become extremely important to the future expansion plans of the parish.
A serious fund-raising drive in 1978 was successful enough to retire the mortgage of the Church and Hall. The "Mortgage Burning Party" as it was aptly named, took place in the month of June.
ln August of the same year, Father John Athas was assigned to Price, Utah, and Father John Hondras, a priest of long experience, succeeded Father Athas as priest of Holy Trinity. He found a parish still growing. A hardy handful of laymen had conceived, planned, organized, acquired a House of Worship and a spacious Church Hall, purchased a house for the priest, all of which were free and clear of any debt and mortgage; yet these acquisitions still could not fulfill the needs of a thriving parish. A church building and hall did not have the necessary facilities to meet the educational, social and recreational needs of a community. The Sunday School numbered over one hundred children who convened every Sunday in the Matheos Hall, divided into classes by blackboard dividers. Accordingly with Father Hondras' leadership, the parish decided to build a school building with adequate classrooms, a nursery, a small hall for meeting functions, office of the priest, and storage spaces. This edifice was built in 1980, and, appropriately, was named the Papadi Educational Center, since Papadi funds paid for its construction and later for its furnishings. The total cost was nearly $500,000. The Dedication Ceremonies of the Papadi Center took place on September 20 and 21, with Bishop John of Atlanta officiating.
ln early 1980, a General Assembly purchased property, approximately 6/10 of an acre, adjoining the northeast section of the church property. The cost was $25,000.00. The Congregation was filling our House of Worship every Sunday so that additional seating in the church was imperative. Six additional pews were custom manufactured by the Southern Seating Co. and installed so that seating was increased to 490 people. Also, in July, a pulpit and Cantor's stand were installed, gifts of our parishioners, and thus was our parish's interior finally completed.
But although the church's exterior and interior were finished, there would be no pause, for as it had in the past, our Church's membership continued to grow.