Our Parish History
Establishing a Community
Early 1900's to 1937
The arrival of the first Greek immigrants in York and Adams Counties was in the late 1800's. They were young men and in many instances, young teenage boys. A number of them came from the same village in Greece following other of their fellow villagers to the United States and York. The first families of Greek immigrants appear to have been established in York about 1910. Some of the young immigrants left York. Others found wives among other immigrants or the families they established. These young couples settled in York and later were joined by other similar families who came here intact from other cities in the United States.
We know there was a strong sense of community among these first Greek settlers in York. There were weddings and, indeed, funerals. In fact, it was the need for a burial plot in 1918 that led to the formation of a formal Greek Community whose first act was to purchase burial lots in the Mount Rose Cemetery. There are records of the officers of this Greek Community beginning in 1920. In 1922, the Virgin Mary Greek Community of York was formally chartered by the York County Court.
Religious services began to be observed at Easter and Christmas when a priest would be brought in. These services were held in rented rooms in downtown York. Priests would also be brought in to conduct marriage and funeral services mostly in family homes.
By the 1930's, the character of the Greek settlers in York had changed from predominantly single young men to that of newly married couples and young established and growing families. Their attention began to focus on preserving their Greek identity. They looked to practicing their Greek Orthodox faith and teaching the Greek language to their children as the primary means to do this.
The first Greek School appears to have been established in 1932 when a number of families engaged a male teacher to conduct school at the residence of one of the families. The Council, the governing body of the Greek Community, established the first Greek School under the auspices of the Community in 1934.
A Community Center
410 South Duke Street
1937 to 1951
Not too long after the establishment of the Greek School, attention turned to having a Community center, which would serve as the place to conduct religious services and Greek School, as well as the social center of the Greek Community. To this end in 1937 a building was purchased at 410 South Duke Street in the City of York. It was renovated into separate apartments on the second and third floors. The first floor contained the altar and iconostasis in the front room. It could be separated by a curtain from the large second room, which served three purposes: for parishioners to sit during church services, to conduct Greek School, and as a social hall. A kitchen and restrooms at the rear of the first floor enabled the nameday parties and birthday parties of the Greek School students to be celebrated in this social room. A portable stage and curtain was placed at the back of the social room for presentations by Greek School students of poems, songs and plays. The women of the Community also presented plays in this room.
From the time of the establishment of the 410 South Duke Street Center, the Community had a full time local priest who served as the priest as well as the Greek School teacher.
During World War II, new challenges were to confront the Community. The role played by their beloved motherland in resisting and driving out the Italian invaders until finally overcome by the German forces served not only to give the Greek Community a tremendous sense of pride, but in the larger community of York and York County it was as though there was a first time recognition of the contribution of Greece not only in ancient time but also in the present. This translated into a heartfelt and expressed appreciation, which seemed like a reaching out and warm welcoming of the small Greek Community into the larger community of York and York County. This was tangibly expressed with the contributions of clothing and money donated by this larger community to the Greek Community, which was conducting the ongoing Greek War Relief drive in conjunction with Greek American Communities throughout the United States.
The First Greek Church
249 East South Street
1951 to 1981
There had been developing within the Community since the mid-1940's, a strong sentiment to move from 410 South Duke Street into a new church edifice. To this end, a vacant lot at 249 East South Street in the City of York was purchased in July 1944. Construction of this new church was begun in 1950. The first service in this new church building took place on March 4, 1951. The Duke Street building was sold.
The new church building was essentially two-storied with the basement or first floor being halfway underground. It extended the entire space under the main part of the church. It included a kitchen, restrooms and some storage area in addition to a very large multipurpose room, which housed the Greek School, Sunday School, social events and various student performances of poems, songs and plays. The main church was arranged like all Greek Orthodox churches.
The thirty-year period when the Church was at 249 E. South Street marked three significant developing trends. The first was the aging of the first settlers and their spouses. The second was the coming of age of the children of the pre-World War II families. They were now young adults. They married. Many married mates who came from a Greek American background and were, of course, Greek Orthodox. Most of them settled in the York area, where they entered the dental, teaching, legal, nursing and pharmacy professions. Others learned skill trades. Still others acquired secretarial skills. One with considerable artistic talent used it in display advertising. Some became entrepreneurs and followed the businesses of their fathers. The third trend was the large influx of a large number of young families and young men and women whose numbers virtually doubled the membership of the Community. Many of the younger ones were of school age. Some initially and others eventually entered the medical, legal, engineering, teaching, real estate and brokerage and sales professions as well as skill trades and business entrepreneurship, many in restaurant businesses.
It was during this period that the Greek Community reached out to play a role in the life of the larger York Community. Involvement with York County Council of Churches and the beginning of Greek Food Festivals brought a large number of non-Greek York Countians in touch with the York Greek Community.
A number of the original founders of the York Greek Community died during this period. Gradually, the formal governance of the Community and the Church was shared by the founders with their children, now adult family members, and the newly arrived immigrants from Greece. Even the chanting at the church services was shared with younger and newly arrived cantors.
In the early fifties, the York Chapter of AHEPA sponsored a basketball team that competed in the league of AHEPA teams from cities in central and eastern Pennsylvania and Maryland. At the same time, a Greek Orthodox Youth of America (GOYA) was established which enabled the young members of the Community to meet and work in a directed and united way of understanding their faith and preserving their Greek heritage. They took part in the choir that quickly achieved a level of performance that not only was very pleasing to hear, but also gave the larger Greek Community an extra measure of pride in the commitment of their youth to their religion and their Greek heritage. The York GOYA Chapter wholeheartedly and enthusiastically joined with other GOYA Chapters in visitations and conferences. Ties of friendship were formed that were as intense and lasting as the ties their parents had made with Greek immigrants of neighboring cities back in the early 1900's.
The number of Greeks arriving from Greece and from short stopovers elsewhere in the United States before settling in York, was increasing.
The membership of the York Greek Community continued to grow, although slowly at first. In the 1925 to 1936 period, average membership was some 26 members or families. In the South Duke Street, 1937 to 1944, the average membership was 28 members or families. In the East South Street Era, 1951 to 1981, it reached over 200 members (counting a husband and wife as two members).
The notion that a larger church was needed became irresistible. The issue was framed whether to enlarge the existing church on East South, adjoining properties having been acquired anticipating such a need some day, or whether to build a new church elsewhere. And was that elsewhere to be in the City of York or in the rapidly expanding suburban area of York.
The Present Church and Cultural Center
2500 Pine Grove Road
1981 to Present
After much debate and soul searching, the decision was made to acquire the property on Pine Grove Road in York Township. Funds had begun to be raised for this project. The new church was to be in a true Byzantine style. A prominent nationally known Greek American architect of Byzantine churches in the United States was engaged. The plans were finalized, architecturally and financially. Ground was broken on March 25, 1979. The Church was built. The first services were held in the social hall of the new building until the church was completed. The formal Thyranixia (Portal Opening) of the new church edifice was held on October 18/19, 1981.
The iconostasis and bare minimum of icons were installed. Gradually other icons and the bishop's throne were installed. The narthex was also properly furnished. After about ten years, the entire debt of the new Church construction of some $900,000 was paid in full.
Attention was then directed to the need for larger Sunday School rooms as well as a much larger social hall/gymnasium. This too was planned, architecturally and financially and was constructed and completed in the spring of 1993. An adjoining residence had been purchased by the Community. This necessitated incurring two new mortgages; the one for $75,000 by refinancing the mortgage on the newly acquired residence and the second to pay the temporary construction loans incurred in the course of building the new addition. Thus for the second time in some thirteen years, the Community had a substantial mortgage debt, this time of some one million dollars.
The new Church and Cultural Center (the new name for the former social hall), have become not only a source of tremendous ethnic pride, but also a proud addition to the larger Greater York Community.
In the new Church, the Community had continued to grow. For another time the mantel of leadership has passed to another generation with an increasing number of Church Council members being of the generation about to enter middle age. The membership today is approximately 200 members involving about 125 families.
Currently an Iconography and Beautification Committee is actively developing plans for the completion of the adornment of the interior of the Church. Plans are also underway for a library and creating and preserving the history of the Greek American experience in York and Adams Counties.
The financial history of the Community merits special attention. In the 1920's and early 1930's, the financial needs were not great. Dues were set to meet the few needs of bringing in a priest on special holidays and especially based upon the cost of operating the Greek School. In 1937, the purchase and renovation of the South Duke Street property was largely met by contributions from the members with some support from the larger York community. The construction of the East South Street Church was similarly financed. Both the Duke and South Street projects were enabled with bank loans, which permitted the costs of construction to be incurred beyond the contributions in hand.
During the South Duke Streetera, spaghetti dinners were held frequently for fund raising. These were largely attended by members of the Community. On December 4, 1965 the first Greek Food Festival was held. These Festivals gradually expanded in size and frequency. In 1980, the first Greek Food Festival was held at York College where they quickly became an established event for the greater York community. In 1975, the first gyro tent was set up and operated at the York Fair by the Community. Gyro Fests have been held at the Pine Grove Road Church complex since 1981, twice per year. In 2004, all four of these events were moved to our Cultural Center, where they are all still held to this day. These programs and facilities enable the members of the Community to give to the Church by their services in kind in addition to their financial support.
The story of the Greek Community in York is inextricably interwoven with the history of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation. It is a story of immigrants who valued family, religion, hard work and education, most, if not all, of whom became members of the middle class. Their dream was to successfully share in the opportunities afforded in this land and to become Americanized without losing their religion and Greek ethnicity. Speaking the Greek language was believed to be important. Preserving their Greek Orthodox faith was indispensable. As the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of these immigrants have increasingly become assimilated into the larger American community, they struggle with what it means to be a Greek American. For most it also means preserving and practicing their Greek Orthodox faith.
A word must be said, in conclusion, of a new and most significant development, that of persons who are not of Greek parentage who are attending and becoming active members of the York Church. Some of these new members come from an ethnic, but non-Greek heritage and have Orthodoxy as their faith. Increasingly the Community is also welcoming visitors to the Church who have neither a heritage of Greek ethnicity nor the Orthodox faith. Reaching out and making them feel welcome may enable them to become acquainted with the Orthodox faith and lead to their joining the Orthodox faith and York Church. Indeed, some already have become members.
The York Church and its priest and members have found in the larger York community a most hospitable welcome. The support of this larger York community of the York Greek Orthodox Church and its fund raising activities is most generous. The Greek Community is comforted in knowing that the greater York community shares the belief that the York Greek Community enriches the larger York community through the preservation of Greek culture and ethnicity and, more importantly, the Greek Orthodox faith.