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Church

St. Vasilios Church in Newport, NH Continues Its Witness to Orthodoxy

January 13, 2022

BOSTON – His Eminence Metropolitan Methodios of Boston recently visited a parish that is small in numbers but in history and faith, the St Vasilios Church of Newport, New Hampshire, on the occasion of the name day of the church. The Newport parish is some three hours away from Boston near the Vermont border and holds Divine Liturgy the first and the last Sundays of each month, served by retired Protopresbyter Robert Athas.

The community warmly welcomed Metropolitan Methodios, who officiated at the Orthros and the Divine Liturgy which were attended by almost the entire membership of the parish. His Eminence commended those present for the community’s example of love and grace. Additionally, the Metropolitan praised Fr. Robert Athas for his faithful service over the many decades of his priesthood. Following the service, the parish hosted a luncheon with a vasilopita cutting.

St. Vasilios Church in Newport, NH Continues its Witness to Orthodoxy. (Photo by Metropolis of Boston)

Metropolitan Methodios remembered that when he was a student at Holy Cross School of Theology in Boston, he accompanied Fr. George Tsoumas on Sundays to the St. Vasilios parish. Fr. Tsoumas of blessed memory was a professor of Church history at the School.

Also, Archimandrite Maximos Agiorgousis, a professor of Systematic Theology at the School who later became Metropolitan of Pittsburgh, once served twice a month at the St. Vasilios parish in Newport and the other two Sundays at the St. Nicholas parish in Manchester, New Hampshire.

According to the history of the parish of St. Vasilios posted on its website it is believed that the first Greek immigrants to settle in Newport, New Hampshire arrived in the 1890’s. As was the case across America, however, the majority of the first generation immigrants arrived in early 1900’s. Most of this first generation, mostly men, were attracted to Newport by jobs in shoe factories and mills. Others opened their own businesses such as restaurants, fruit and grocery stores, barber and cobbler shops, tailoring establishments, etc.

Children of St. Vasilios parish with Metropolitan Methodios. (Photo by Metropolis of Boston)

In the 1920’s, when families began to be formed, the social, educational, and religious needs of the growing Greek community became more pronounced. A Greek school was established and children attended the school after their regular sessions in the public schools. Although they did not have a church building of their own, Greek Orthodox priests were brought in from other parishes to perform baptisms, weddings, funerals, and memorial services.

In the 1940’s, through the Christian kindness of the Episcopal Church, members of the Newport Hellenic Society began holding sacraments at the Holy Epiphany Episcopal Church, on the corner of Cedar and Cheney streets. Also during this period, the celebration of the Divine Liturgy became more common, and additional church services were conducted for Christmas and Easter.

In 1949, a Newport town meeting voted to donate a parcel of land near the airport to the Newport Hellenic Society, with the provision that it be named the Robert C. Hasevlat Memorial Park, and that it would fall under the stewardship of the Greek-American community. Robert Hasevlat, of Newport, was a tail gunner in the Air Force who was killed over Europe in World War II.

In 1950, the lot where the current church is located was purchased. Fundraising for the construction of the church building began in 1951, and the church opened its doors on June 29,1952. The beautiful bell tower was added in 1992.

Many dedicated lay people and clergy have served Saint Vasilios over the years. To this day the hallmark of the community is its love of God, love of family, love of people, love of the Orthodox Faith, love of the Hellenic culture, and love of the town of Newport.

Fr. Robert T. Athas (Epaminondas Athanasakos) was born in New York City, the son of Louis and Joy Athas. He grew up in Bayside, New York and graduated Bayside High School in June 1964. After receiving his BA from Hellenic College in June of 1968, he attended Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary while working part-time at the Archdiocese and earned a Masters of Divinity in June 1974.

He married Anthe Demeter in June 1972 and on December 6, 1972 he was ordained a Deacon by Bishop Philotheos of Meloa at the St. Nicholas Church in Flushing NY. He served as His Grace’s Deacon until he was ordained to the Holy Priesthood by him on October 13, 1974 at the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in New York. He was elevated to the rank of Economos and was made Father Confessor (Pnevmatikis Patrotitos) by Bishop Philip of Daphnousia on November 6, 1983, at Holy Trinity in Tulsa Oklahoma.

The nave of the St. Vasilios Church of Newport, New Hampshire.
(Photo: Website of St. Vasilios parish)

On December 19 of 1999, Fr. Bob was awarded the rank of Protopresbyter by Methodios. Father Bob and Presvytera Anthe served the communities of Saint Spyridon, Newport, RI; Saint Peter, Danville, VA; Saint Nicholas, Babylon, NY; Saint George, Albuquerque, NM; Holy Trinity, Tulsa, OK; Holy Trinity, Norwich, CT and Dormition of The Mother of God, Burlington, VT. Fr. Bob also enjoys serving one week each summer at the Metropolis of Boston Faith and Heritage Center in Contoocook, NH.

Fr. Bob retired from full-time ministry in August 2013, and in response to the needs of the Metropolis of Boston and at the invitation of His Eminence Metropolitan Methodios he served as a substitute priest for the next several years until he was assigned to serve the parish of Saint Vasilios on the 1st and 3rd Sundays of each month. Beginning in 2016, in the weeks when he was not serving at Saint Vasilios he would fill in where needed. As Saint Vasilios was beginning to return to in-person services in June 2021, after having been shut-down as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Father Bob responded again to the needs of the Metropolis and in particular to the parish of Saint George in Keene, New Hampshire. On Sunday, June 13, 2021 he began serving there two Sundays a month.

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