SALT LAKE CITY – Today, the challenges facing the Greek Orthodox Church in America are many, but for the individual parishes, serving the community on a daily basis, the leadership provided by the presiding priest or priests can make serious strides in facing those issues. A recent article in the Salt Lake Tribune (SLT) by Bob Mims focused on the efforts of two priests, the Rev. Archimandrite George Nikas and Rev. Mario Giannopoulos of Salt Lake City’s Holy Trinity Cathedral and Holladay’s Prophet Elias Church. In June 2017, Fr. Nikas who had previously served in New Jersey, came to Salt Lake City after the passing of the community’s beloved Fr. Matthew Gilbert at age 58 from bone cancer. Fr. Giannopoulos was appointed to serve along with Fr. Nikas just over a month ago. He had previously served at the Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church in South Ogden.
In the efforts to raise attendance and funds for maintaining the churches, repairing the buildings as needed, and any lingering issues over “an intraparish rift,” Fr. Nikas told SLT, “We are making progress. We’re here to move forward. The past is the past, but we don’t remain there. We must look to the future.”
Fr. Nikas was born in Athens, Greece. His father was a priest and the family moved to Schenectady, NY and other communities in the Northeastern U.S. as priests often move wherever they are needed. Following in his father’s footsteps, Nikas became a priest, ordained in 1999, and chose to remain celibate. “I felt I could offer more to the community without having to tend to the needs of a family, and, thank God, up to now I don’t regret that decision,” Nikas said, SLT reported, adding, “I’ve made whatever church congregation I’ve gone to, by extension, my family.”
Fr. Giannopoulos, in contrast, is a native of Salt Lake City, served as youth director at Holy Trinity, and decided to attend Hellenic College Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, MA. The married father of four daughters, known for his sense of humor, served for nine years at Holy Transfiguration Church in South Ogden, three years in Phoenix, AR, and eleven years in Albuquerque, NM.
The focus on the youth in the community is a priority for both Fr. Nikas and Fr. Giannopoulos. Fr. Nikas told SLT, “We always say ‘the youth are the future of the church.’ That’s incorrect. The youth are the present and the future of the church. If we don’t pay attention to them now, in the present, they won’t be here in the future for us to talk about and cherish.”
Of course, the older generation is also vital to the community which offers special programs and day trips. Both priests are also fluent in Greek which many older parishioners appreciate. Fr. Giannopoulos said, SLT reported, “I believe the last time that has been the case was with [the late] Father Elias Stephanopoulos and his son, Father George, back in the 1960s.”
The dedication of the two priests is already helping to raise attendance at church services. As reported in SLT, Fr. Nikas “expects to see 700 families attending the parish’s churches by year’s end,” adding that “Now, that we have two of us guiding the parish, our goal is to eventually get back up to at least 1,000 families.”
Seeing “that those people are engaged in the spiritual life of the parish, that they come to the services, bring their children,” Nikas pointed out is vital, SLT reported, adding “We need to be a ‘Cross Faith’ congregation.”
Fr. Giannopoulos told SLT about the importance of following the priestly calling, “If we do what we are called to do, if we take care of our people, everything else will take care of itself.”