Deseret Morning News, Saturday, October 29, 2005
100 years: Utah's Greek community
By Susan Whitney
Deseret Morning News
On Wednesday morning, at Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church, Father
Matthew Gilbert celebrated a service of Divine Liturgy for Saint
Demetrios the Great Martyr. The congregation included dozens of
children from the St. Sophia parochial school, which is housed in
the Prophet Elias Church.
During the homily, Father Gilbert told Demetrios' story in simple
words, so the children could understand. He talked of the bravery of
this saint who was born in the year 270 A.D. and who was killed
because he would not give up his faith in Christ. Father Gilbert
urged his listeners to be brave as well.
Be brave in doing what is right, even if others laugh at you, he
said. Be brave enough to be a peacemaker. Be brave when you make a
mistake. Ask for forgiveness and try again.
"What do you do when you make a mistake on your paper in school?" he
asked the children. "You erase. You ask for help." In the same way,
we must ask for God's help every day, he said.
The children, even the littlest ones, appeared to be paying
attention to his words. They also seemed to know the liturgy of the
church. As the service progressed, they knew when to say "Lord, have
mercy," and when to say "Grant this, O Lord," and they knew when to
say these words in English and when to say them in Greek.
Meanwhile, at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in downtown
Salt Lake, Father Michael Kouremetis also conducted a service in
honor of Saint Demetrios on Wednesday morning. His congregation was
older, for the most part. But the liturgy the prayers and the
responses and the chants and the Bible readings were the same. In
fact, the same words and the same service for Saint Demetrios was
said in Orthodox churches all over the world, on Wednesday.
This weekend, Utah's Greek community will celebrate its 100th
anniversary. People will dine and dance and take in a history
display. They'll honor the first immigrants, the men who came to
work on the railroads and in the mines and the women who married
them and started families half a world away from their own mothers
Constantine Skedros has just finished a church history called "100
Years of Faith and Fervor."
Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
Above all, they'll celebrate their faith. One hundred years ago this
month, on 400 West and 400 South in Salt Lake City, the first Greek
Orthodox Church in Utah was consecrated.
Father Kouremetis says it is the church that has kept the Greek
heritage and culture alive in this state. The church has kept the
language alive and kept families united, generation after
generation. "The church is the bonding agent which kept us all
together and gave us, always, hope. Even in the darkest times."
And there were some hard times, says Constantine Skedros, who has
just finished a church history called "100 Years of Faith and
Fervor." The immigrants who came here at the turn of the past
century came because their families were desperately poor, Skedros
They probably never intended to stay. They thought they'd send some
money home, perhaps help pay for a dowry so their sister could
marry, or tide the family over in a year when the crops had failed.
When they realized they would stay, they knew they would need to
make the observances of their faith.
The 1900 Census showed three Greeks in Utah. But by 1904 there were
several hundred Greek men working in and around the Salt Lake
Valley. Their labor came cheap, but they worked hard and they were
saving a dime here, a nickel there to build a church.
In 1905, 200 Greek men met and formed a corporation. They bought
land near 400 West on 400 South for $1,600 and got a loan from the
Walker Brothers' bank for $7,000. The first Holy Trinity Church was
consecrated on Oct. 29, 1905.
Salt Lake City, then, became the site of the 14th Greek Orthodox
Parish in the United States, the first parish to be established
between St. Louis and San Francisco.
The Greek community quickly outgrew their church, Skedros says. In
1924, they built a new Holy Trinity Cathedral on 300 South and 300
West. They moved the altar from the first Holy Trinity, along with a
reliquary containing the remains of saints, the reliquary that had
been placed in the first church when it was consecrated.
In the 1960s, the community struggled over whether or not to build a
second church. By this time, there were more than 1,000 children in
the Sunday School and the church had gone to two worship services
and two Sunday Schools every week. Everyone worried that their
tightknit community would suffer if they didn't meet in the same
building each week.
Eventually 75 percent of the members approved the proposal to build
a second church on Highland Drive. Prophet Elias was finished in
Over the years, more and more English has been incorporated into the
liturgy, Skedros notes. A typical service at Holy Trinity will be
half in English, half in Greek. At Prophet Elias, it will be 60
percent or 70 percent English.
There's no reason for people who don't understand Greek to get lost,
Skedros points out. The service is printed in both languages, in
little books, in every pew. And the liturgy books also give an
introduction to an Orthodox service. They explain what Orthodox
worshippers have been doing, in a variety of languages and in a
variety of countries, for 2,000 years.
It is what the children were doing last Wednesday. It is a way of
worship that the Orthodox faithful hope will continue for all the
generations to come, here in Utah. The description reads:
On the verbal side of the Liturgy we hear: eloquent prayers of
praise, thanksgiving, intercession and confession; litanies,
petitions, acclamations, greetings and invitations; hymns, chants,
psalmody and creedal statements; and intoned and scriptural readings
and a homily. On the non-verbal side, we are involved with solemn
processions and an assortment of liturgical gestures. The eyes are
filled with the actions of the servers, as well as with the sights
of the Lord and his saints gazing at us from the icons. The nostrils
are filled with the fragrance of incense, and the heart is grasped
by the profound silence of the divine presence. People touch hands
gently, saying, "Christ is in our midst," when called upon to love
one another before the offering of the gifts as a sign of mutual
forgiveness and love. With one voice and heart they recite the
creed, and recommit themselves to the fulness of the truth of the
Orthodox faith. Participating in Holy Communion, the faithful taste
and see that the Lord is good.
Everyone is invited to share the 100th Anniversary Hierarchial
Divine Liturgy, when both of Salt Lake City's Greek Orthodox
congregations worship together at 10 a.m. Sunday in Abravanel Hall,
123 W. South Temple.
His Eminence Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver will be assisted by local
and visiting clergy and the combined choirs of the Prophet Elias and
Holy Trinity Churches.
© 2005 Deseret News Publishing Company