The Greek Orthodox Community of Kimisis Theotokou was founded in the heart of the Depression. In 1931, a small group of immigrants, who despite economic obstacles, sacrificed themselves to establish a house of worship and a community center. These new Americans wanted to keep their Greek Orthodox faith alive in their new country.
Our first home for the parish, then known as the Greek Orthodox Community of Bay Ridge, was located at 861 4thAvenue, near 32ndStreet. Its founder and first president of the Parish Council was Panayiotis Bounacos. In 1932, the parishioners led by Reverend George Menexopoulos soon sold this property and purchased 239 17thStreet. In 1933, Reverend Simeon Emanuel joined the community, who along with the Parish Council was instrumental in finalizing the purchase of our present home, 224 18thStreet.
Kimisis Theotokou began to grow and be known for its ministry and for its commitment to the community. It was a decade of firsts and the community’s organizations flourished. In November 1933, the women organized a Philoptochos Society, which remains the most active society of our church. A Board of Trustees was elected in March 1934. Traditions started in those years continue through today: our annual dance and journal (1931), a choir (1935), Sunday and Afternoon Schools (1933), the annual magazine, “The Herald” (1935), and youth league (1936). The Chiaki Adelphotita of Aghia Markella was also started in 1936, a society that is dedicated to helping those in need, and continues to be a major contributor to our school and parish. In 1936, Reverend John Strongilos joined the Kimisis Theotokou family. Father John would serve our community diligently for 24 years. In 1937, the Archdiocese of North and South America, under the leadership of Archbishop Athenagoras, officially recognized Kimisis Theotokou as a member church of the Archdiocese.
The Greek Immigrants assimilated to the American way of life, and Orthodoxy adjusted to deal with the relative issues, thereby ebracing its parishioners enabling them to worship, learn and grow spiritually.
In the 1940’s, family membership had grown and the dream of a Greek Parochial School began by the purchase of the buildings surrounding the church. At that time, however, the physical restoration of the church was top priority. To finance this program, parishioners posted bonds and gave generously. In 1958, the beautification continued with the construction of the Aghia Markella Chapel, and in 1967 the Chapel of Sain Irene was added.
The focus of the community of Kimisis Theotokou has always been its children. During these years, there was a strong movement to recognize Greek Orthodox Youth into what would become GOYA. Instrumental in the organization of our GOYA was a new addition to our community, James Siligardakis. In 1956, he was ordained and became Father Titus, who joined the community as a second priest, serving with Father John. As our community grew it became more evident that a school was a necessity and the buildings on Fifth Avenue were purchased.
By the 1960’s the concept of an educational center became a reality. The purpose of our school would be to educate the children of Kimisis Theotokou in the teachings of our Orthodox faith, Greek language and heritage, and to also fully prepare them for their future secular education. With the driving force of dedicated Father Titus, President of the Community, James Manos the unselfish work of the Building Fund Members and parishioners this was accomplished. By 1963 the buildings, which stood on the planned sight of the school, were demolished and in June 1964 the groundbreaking ceremony took place, officiated by His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos and then Congressman Hugh Carey. Construction of the building commenced, and the design is credited to a member of our community, architect Emanuel Kontokosta.
With the construction of the building near completion, the cornerstone ceremony was celebrated in February 1966. Philoptochos purchased the gold key to the school. Soterios Ellenas, the benefactor and namesake of our school gave a generous donation of $75,000 and in September of 1966, Soterios Ellenas Parochial School opened its doors. Its opening enrollment was fifty-four students ranging from Kindergarten through Third Grade.
The 1970’s would be no less active for Kimisis Theotokou. Early in 1970 the chapels of Saint Irene and Aghia Markella were consecrated in a service officiated by His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos. Most importantly, 1970 would mark the elevation of Father Titus to Metropolitan of Rethimnos and Avlopotamou, Crete and the arrival of Father Evdokimos Kokkinakis as our new spiritual leader. In 1972, the Bible Society was begun. In the same year with enormous pride, we celebrate the commencement ceremony of the first graduating class of Soterios Ellenas School. In 1975, Father Kokkinakis returned to Greece to serve as Secretary to the Holy Synod of Athens and Father James Bogiatzis joined Kimisis Theotokou. We also took time to honor members of the Community. William Hionas, the single largest benefactor was honored when a plaque was raised to commemorate his continuing generosity. The parish council room was renamed in honor of James Manos, who as a parishioner, council member and president, had until his untimely death in 1975, unselfishly served his church with love and devotion. In 1978 Kimisis Theotokou was honored for its work with the youth of the community. The Archdiocese awarded the parish with a Certificate of Appreciation in recognition of the Scouting Program, which had been organized in the early 1960’s.
The mid 1980’s had given a new and somewhat rekindled meaning to our Great Kimisis Theotokou. The Very Reverend Damaskinos V. Ganas became our spiritual father. He has been the adrenaline in our veins. We have seen over and over his eagerness to have our Community go forward. He has progressed the Bible classes to a new high and the senior citizens have felt the comfort of our generous parish. During this decade the 500 Club of Soterios Ellenas was started. Its development was to raise funds for our school.
The eighty’s also brought about changes to the appearance of our church. The church hall was renovated, the office was moved to the front of the building and the façade of the church was restored to its original brick face.
In the 1990’s with the same pathos and fervor of the early years the parishioners embarked on their next mission, the expansion of our school. It became evident that with the approach of the new millennium the school needed modernization to accommodate the programs it offered. The expansion was a must in order to keep Soterios Ellenas competitive. We needed to house a computer and science lab as well as a library. With this in mind the neighboring property on Fifth Avenue was purchased.
October 15, 1995 marked the groundbreaking ceremony of the school’s new wing. We were blessed as our own architect, Board Member, John Haskopoulos and his wife Dionisia Polyzos Haskopoulos, generously undertook the responsibilities of design and overseeing the project. Once again the community began fundraising. Father Damaskinos and the President of the Parish Council, Stavros Haviaras were instrumental in seeing this project become a reality. Many parishioners donated towards the classrooms as well as our community contractors contributed their time and effort towards the completion of the new wing. The dedication ceremony for the expansion was held in November 1999 along with the unveiling of The Cross of Life, a great display of our parishioner’s generosity. The new wing consisted of six classrooms, housing a new library and computer lab.
The PTO of Soterios Ellenas also played an active part in the up scaling of our school. Its 1997-1998 fashion shows raised funds to purchase computers for the Computer Lab. The following year, 1999, it raised over $20,000 for the Science Lab, an outpouring of love in memory of Billy Manolis, son of our Principal, whose untimely loss affected all young and old in our school and our community.
In March of 1998, Kimisis Theotokou was honored with is first Archon; Patriarch Bartholomew inducted Dr. Orestis D. Finale as Archon “Katstrinsios” (one who is chaplain of the military duties, and the safe keeper of alter and church relics). Dr. Finale has shown his devotion and love to our community. He served diligently on our Parish Council for forty years and thirty-five years on the School Board of Soterios Ellenas School.
With the beginning of the new millennium we had undertaken new projects. We were in the midst of major restoration to our church and continued improvements in our school. In the year 2001, Philoptochos and the Adelphotita of Aghia Markella once again undertook the modernization of the ladies powder room. Our PTO refinished our gymnasium floor and updated our public address system and stage. Work had begun on the exterior of the church and new Byzantine icon stained glass windows were installed. All this was possible, due to the generosity of our parishioners and contractors of our community.
Kimisis Theotokou’s youth programs have also grown tremendously under the guidance of the Youth Director James Pristouris and our former President James Magriples. Our HOPE, JOY, JR. and SR. GOYA have become a very important part of our community. They have built strong roots in our Greek Orthodox faith, as well as, having learned to give back to the community and to help those in need. We have expanded our Youth Athletics to include Youth Soccer teams and Biddy, for our youngest athletes, to go along with our well-established Youth Basketball teams. We have been participating in the Archdiocesan Olympic Games, and year after year we have had one of the largest group of participants. Our youth have performed outstandingly and have amassed a great number of medals. We have also begun Youth Dance Groups led by our amazing and energetic instructor Mr. Petros Fourniotis. We have participated in Parathosi since 2012. For all this we thank our coaches, past and present, and our youth advisors for their dedication.
In 2005 with great pride we leased our school premises to the Hellenic Classical Charter School. It is the first elementary charter school to offer the Greek language and Hellenic history in the Metropolitan area. The Hellenic Classical Charter School serves grades Kindergarten through Eighth grade. Once again, amongst our community, the generosity flowed and our own parishioners, Jennifer and Kostas Gerakaris, who were the architects that designed and helped build the new expansion, undertook the expansion of the school and community center.
Soterios Ellenas continues to serve our community’s Pre-school children with a Nursery and Pre-K Program for three and four year olds.
In the summer of 2011 we welcomed the newest members to our Kimisis Theotokou family, Deacon Demetrios and Diakonisa Dianna Kazakis. The Deacon served the community under the guidance of our spiritual Father Damaskinos Ganas and became a central figure in our Youth Programs. In 2012, Deacon Demetrios was ordained a priest and became the proestamenos at St. Nicholas in West Babylon.
In the last few years, we have been honored with two additional archons; Stavros Haviaras was inducted as Archon in 2013and Paul Bregianos was inducted as an Archon in 2015.
Our community continues to grow with numerous restorations and renovations projects. Some of the major restorations include the Narthex, the elevator, refinished pews, new marble floors, air conditioning system, new gates and many new and beautiful mosaics and icons. Our hall and kitchen have also been completely renovated and updated.
As our community grows, so do our needs, and once again, we have great plans for the future. Some of the projects we hope to begin in the near future include the renovation of the church boardroom, underground parking, and additional community facilities at the rear of the Church.
As we look forward into the future, we anticipate accomplishments equaling and exceeding those of our past. The community of Kimisis Theotokou has consistently responded to the needs of its own neighborhood and to the calling of the world at large. We have throughout the years displayed generosity consistent with the teachings of our faith and we will continue to do so with love and devotion into the future.