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Greek Orthodox Church celebrates its historical roots

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.herald-review.com/articles/2008/04/06/life/features/1031519.txt Saturday, April 5, 2008 1:01 AM CDT Greek Orthodox Church celebrates its historical
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 7, 2008
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      Saturday, April 5, 2008 1:01 AM CDT

      Greek Orthodox Church celebrates its historical roots
      By SHEILA SMITH - H&R Staff Writer

      DECATUR - A tragedy brought the small group of Greek immigrants
      closer together in Decatur.

      Most of them had come to Decatur to work on the railroad lines and
      worshipped at St. John's Episcopal Church.

      Unfortunately, two young Greek men fell asleep on a railroad car that
      caught on fire, and they died in the flames.

      The Greeks banded together to maintain their own traditions. They
      sought a charter from the state in 1919, to be known as the Hellenic
      Society of Decatur.

      By 1927, the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation was built at
      570 N. Union St.

      The brick building with a Byzantine copper dome and cross over it has
      aged well and preserves its Greek charm.

      Inside the church, a picture of God holding the world in his hand,
      cherubs and the 12 apostles are painted on the ceiling of the dome.

      As with most Greek Orthodox churches, the sanctuary was designed to face east.

      A beautiful fresco of the Last Supper is painted on the cement walls
      inside the sanctuary.

      The nave is separated by several iconostases or altar screen doors in
      the pulpit area. Behind those doors is the holy altar, where the
      priest prepares for the liturgy and communion.

      A few of the screen doors have paintings of important moments in
      Christ's life, from an angel telling the Virgin Mary of his birth to
      his Resurrection.

      Other screens are painted over with the archangels Michael and
      Gabriel guarding the doors of heaven, St. Nicholas, patron saint of
      all sailors, choirboys, captives and children, and St. George, patron
      saint of soldiers, peasants, animals and the poor.

      An annex was added onto the main church in 1959; it included a hall,
      classrooms, offices and restrooms.

      For years, it was the only Greek church between Chicago and St.
      Louis. Greeks traveled from Springfield, Champaign, Danville,
      Rantoul, Bloomington and Peoria to attend the church in Decatur.

      "There are so many wonderful memories at the church," said Bess
      Greanias, whose father was part of the original group that formed the
      Hellenic Society of Decatur. "During our 70th anniversary (in 1997),
      there were so many emotional tears of happiness of being together
      again from those who had moved away and came back."

      Christine Kareotes said her mother, Fannie, was the first teacher at
      the Greek School that started at the church in 1931.

      "Our whole social life is at the church. And the whole feeling at the
      church is one of strength and courage," Kareotes said.

      Since 1962, the public has enjoyed young Greek church members
      dressing up in native costumes and performing dances at the yearly
      "Stars Over Athens" dinner, where the finest of Greek delicacies are served.

      Sheila Smith can be reached at sheilas@... or 421-7963.

      The Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation

      * The church was built in 1927; the Rev. Emmanuel Papapanagiotou was
      its first priest.

      * The Rev. Theodore Vaggalis has served as priest since 1993.

      * The church has 60 members

      * Sunday services include an Orthos service (chanted prayers in
      Greek) from 9 to 10 a.m. The regular worship service is 10:30 a.m.

      Upcoming events

      * Orthodox churches use a different method of determining the date of
      Easter, so it frequently is celebrated later than in Catholic and
      Protestant churches. This year's Easter observance begins at 7:30
      p.m. Friday, April 25. A midnight service is planned Saturday, April
      26, followed by a breakfast and a celebration of Greek customs, such
      as cracking of the red-dyed eggs. An agape service, which includes
      prayer and the story of Christ's Resurrection told in six languages,
      will be 1 p.m. Sunday, April 27.

      * The 47th annual Stars Over Athens dinner on will be Thursday, May 1
      at the church. This year's event begins with a bake sale at 9 a.m.
      Dinner seating times are 5:30 to 7 p.m. and 7:30 to 9 p.m. Carry-outs
      are available. Entertainment will be provided by Gus Kastanis and the
      Holiday in Greece Band and the church's Athenian dancers. Tickets are
      $20. For more information, call 875-8388 or 425-6796.
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