Keeping the Faith for 100 Years in Houston, Texas

(AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

HOUSTON, TX – Greece gave the world democracy, philosophy, literature, art, and music.Nowhere is this legacy of wisdom, creativity, tenacity, and grace more apparent than in the immigrants who came to the United States, braving physical and cultural obstacles, to forge new lives for themselves.

Houston, TX, was one such destination.When the first recorded Greeks arrived in 1889, Houston was not much more than a swamp.But their hard work and perseverance became the foundation for one of the largest Greek communities in America. Maintaining their cultural identity while becoming good citizens was crucial to these pioneers.Their desire for their own church, where they could worship as Orthodox Christians, motivated the community to build the Evangelismos of the Theotokos at 509 Walker Street.

Once the church was completed in 1917, the community established a choir to enhance the services and a Greek school to preserve the language of their faith and culture.The formation of Greek-American fraternal, social and educational organizations followed, easing the transition into American society. Believing that, through education, Greeks could peacefully combat the prejudice perpetuated by the Ku Klux Klan, the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) was formed in 1922.The Greek American Progressive Association (GAPA) was established the following year.The most profound demonstration of pride in their new country was the sacrifice of many men during the World Wars and the contribution of women here at home to the war effort.

Whereas the founders of Annunciation Cathedral began working as fruit peddlers, ditch diggers, dishwashers, cooks, and railroad workers, they assimilated into the Houston community, building businesses and educating their children.But as the community grew, its focus turned, again, to the church.In 1952, the Evangelismos of the Theotokos moved to a larger site on Yoakum Boulevard.The state of Texas declared the Greek Orthodox Church a major faith in 1955, but the immigrants who had arrived less than a century before already knew that. They may have come to escape war and poverty, but in their hearts, they carried the faith of their fathers and, because of their commitment, “the Lord added to the church daily.”In 1967, Houston became the see of the Eighth Archdiocesan District, and the Annunciation Church was elevated to the status of a Cathedral.

Orthodoxy made its presence known, not only in the Byzantine architecture of the church, but through parish participation in the Houston Council of Churches, Interfaith Ministries and, especially, the Philocardiac Ministry in the Houston Medical Center.Houston Metropolitan Ministries programs included the Hunger Pantry and Meals on Wheels.Political involvement helped pass Cooley’s Anemia Act, an initiative that provided research and treatment protocols for this disease, also known as thalassemia, which primarily affected individuals of Greek/Mediterranean descent.

When the parish celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1967, weekend festivities included a Greek Night.Given the energetic participation and hard work of several hundred parishioners and the enthusiastic response of the Houston community to Greek Night, it became the first Greek Festival the following year.Over 50 years later, Annunciation continues to showcase its faith and culture through food, music, crafts, iconography, and church tours, and has become the largest ethnic festival in the southwest.

In 1970, Annunciation Orthodox School was conceived as a preschool by Fr. Nick and Presbytera Diane Triantafilou.Their goal was to create a spiritual environment for the children.The school opened with ten students, and Presbytera Diane, a certified teacher, donated her services the first year.The school has since been extended through the eighth grade and is considered the premier Orthodox parochial school in the country.
Over the years, the Cathedral complex grew in its Montrose neighborhood to accommodate a larger congregation and a growing influence in Houston.In 2011, the parish council initiated an expansion project that would increase the size of the Cathedral, add classroom space, a bell tower, a courtyard, and a Byzantine dome.Construction began in 2017, and the first liturgy in the renovated space was celebrated on September 30, 2018.

During the weekend of November 9-11, the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral celebrated its 100th anniversary – Keeping the Faith for 100 Years – with a series of activities that included food, music, testimonials, and videos that brought the entire community together.On Saturday morning, Archbishop Demetrios and Metropolitan Isaiah toured the Annunciation Orthodox School.After an ice cream social, parish teenagers engaged in a Q&A with the Archbishop and Metropolitan, asking thoughtful questions as to how to reconcile Orthodoxy to the challenges and demands of the 21st century.

At the Grand Banquet on Saturday evening that included Houston area clergy and Greek Consul Ioannis Stamatekos, Mayor Sylvester Turner declared the day Greek Orthodox Annunciation Cathedral Day.Guests received a special icon created by the nuns of Agia Paraskevi Monastery, an image of the Panayia and Christo taken from our original iconostasis and beautifully mounted and jeweled onto a piece of the original marble from our church that was lifted during reconstruction of the new building. On Sunday, Archbishop Demetrios and Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver co-celebrated a Hierarchical liturgy in the new sanctuary with past and present Annunciation clergy.

The Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral community initiated dramatic changes over the decades: creation of the Altar Fund; transition to the Fair Share Commitment program; founding of the Annunciation Orthodox School; construction of the Greek Orthodox Community Center; formation of charitable, fraternal, social and academic organizations; outreach ministries to the greater Houston community; liturgies in Greek and in English to accommodate the numerous converts and non-Greek speaking members.And, of course, the Greek Festival.Maintaining their Greek heritage, the immigrant pioneers and their families confirmed through their hard work and adaptability that they were also good Americans.Outreach to the Houston community included military service and stateside contributions by the women during the great wars; participation in the Houston Council of Churches and Houston Metropolitan Ministries; the Philoptochos Philocardiac Ministry in the Texas Medical Center; and even a radio program, “Religion on the Line.”

The founders of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral did not know how their community would grow and thrive.They had a simple dream: a new home, extraordinary opportunities, and a Church that would eternally sustain them.Generations later, the faith and character of their descendants and new arrivals in Houston honor that dream with their dedication to their Church and their Greek heritage.

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