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Greek Immigrant Chronicals (Excerpts)

4 – Faith and the Church

The first large group of Eastern Orthodox communicants in continental America was Greeks from various parts of the Mediterranean basin who finally abandoned the settlement of New Smyrna, Florida in 1777 because of disease and death.

Russian monks (Eastern Orthodox) settled on Kodiak Island, Alaska (then known as Russian America) in 1794. In 1900 the diocese of “Aleutian Islands and North America”, established by the Holy Russian Synod, established its headquarters in San Francisco. From there, the diocese sought to exercise its jurisdiction throughout the North American continent.

In 1905 Bishop Tikhon proposed that the Russian synod establish an independent (autonomous or autocephalous) church in North America to include all Orthodox ethnics. Farsighted, he also recommended the translation of the liturgy into English, for he foresaw that many future communicants would understand only English.

Meanwhile, other ethnic Orthodox communities began to spring up in America. For example, Greeks played a major role in establishing the Eastern Orthodox Holy Trinity Church in New Orleans (1866). Other Greek immigrants founded church communities in major American cities like New York, and Chicago (circa 1892). In Lowell, MA, which was to become the home of one of the largest Greek communities in America within twenty-five years, the first Divine Liturgy was celebrated by Greek immigrants in 1893.

Orthodox communities, especially Greek and Rumanian, ignored the assumed jurisdiction of the Russian diocese. For example, the Greeks turned to their mother-country church to establish a familial umbilical cord to nourish their religious communities, and also to sustain their cultural identity as Greeks.

The steps that led to the creation of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox community of Lowell, MA were typical of those followed by other Greek immigrants in creating their own religious communities in other cities of America. First, the scattered Greek immigrants gathered together and formed informal “associations” which served to identify both individual and collective needs. As their numbers grew they organized themselves into a more formal community (kinotis), with an elected council or board of directors (symvoulion).

In Lowell, in 1895, the association was called the Washington-Acropolis society and consisted of approximately two hundred members. By 1895, about four hundred and fifty (450) Greek immigrants resided in Lowell. Up to 1900, among other endeavors, the “Washington-Acropolis” association assumed the task of persuading Greek Orthodox priests to visit Lowell, and also of renting suitable quarters in which to perform the liturgy. One of the more frequent visitors was Archimandrite Rev. Kallinikon Delveis from New York City (NY).

Later, the Greek immigrants of Lowell organized themselves as a Greek Orthodox Community, and elected officers and board members for the “Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church”. The elected officials quickly undertook the task of incorporation under Massachusetts Laws (March, 1900), and chose “Greek Orthodox Community” as the corporation name.

Up to that time the Lowell Greeks had held church services in rented quarters, such as the Associate Hall (1895), and the Urban Hall (1900), which were within walking distance for most of them. In 1901 (February) they purchased a house at the corner of Lewis and Jefferson Streets, in the heart of the Greek community which was located in a section of Lowell called the Acre. Subsequently, they used this house for church services. In 1903 (November), they purchased an adjacent tenement on Lewis St.

The first property cost sixty-five hundred dollars ($6500.00), of which the Greek community raised one thousand fifty ($1050.00), and mortgaged forty-five hundred dollars ($4500.00). A second mortgage of twenty-eight hundred dollars ($2800.00), again with The Lowell Five Cent Savings Bank, secured the second property.

On Suffolk St., parallel to Lewis St. but separated from it by the Northern Canal, stood imposing St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, directly opposite the Greek Orthodox “tenement house” church. The grey stone structure dominated the neighborhood of mostly wooden tenement houses by its sheer size, its soaring bell tower, and its complex of accompanying buildings. As testimony of their faith, Irish immigrants to the Acre had built St. Patrick’s in 1850.

Equally intense in their faith, the Greek community resolved not only to erect a church for worship, but also to create a building that would proudly and unequivocally proclaim its Greek Orthodox heritage.

The cornerstone was laid on Sunday, October 29, 1906, attended by approximately one thousand Greeks, with the ceremony officiated by the Reverend Nicholas Lazaris. The next day, a Lowell Sun newspaper article describing the event, also reported that the procession of Greeks from Mathews Hall on Dutton Street to the building site included St. Patrick’s Cadet Band. Seventeen and one-half months later, on Sunday, March 15, 1908, the Reverend Lazaris officiated at the official opening of the church doors.

The Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church of Lowell was the first Byzantine-style Greek Orthodox church built in America. Today the church is a national treasure, and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The faith of the Greek immigrants, their determination, and their sacrifice, brought into being a vision of spiritual beauty.

Money problems from trying to meet the mortgage payments, and church expenses, threatened the existence of the parish in 1920. After a plea by church leaders, Greek immigrants donated money, jewelry, wedding bands, and other personal valuables which saved the church from foreclosure. The 75th anniversary book states that, “16,000 (dollars) was contributed that day.”

During the decade of the 1920s, the political and religious turmoil in Greece, a continuation of the political and religious upheavals starting in 1915, discombobulated even the most placid of Greek immigrants in America. Greek political authority changed unpredictably between the royalists and the republicans, sometimes followed and sometimes led by changes in ecclesiastical authority both in the Church of Greece, and the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

The changes in ecclesiastical authority especially provoked quarrels in Greek church communities in America for the changes created confusion about who had jurisdiction and control of the local parish’s administration and finance.

Aside from the paramount religious importance in their lives, the proprietary interest of the Greek men in the local church rose from several factors. Some had helped to establish and build the church. Others managed its finances, and directed its policies. Members supported it by paying dues from meager and hard-earned wages. Personal ambitions and animosities played a role. Even those on the sidelines of political involvement expressed their opinions on church affairs.

All Greek men believed that they had a right to talk about any subject however little they knew about it. They also believed that such an occasion was very rare, but being fair-minded, they conceded that once – maybe twice – that might have occurred. Each maintained that accusations of ignorance from other participants in a discussion came from their frustration in failing to demolish his analysis. On proof of that, he said, was that the others bellowed and grew apoplectic, in contrast to his reasoned words and calm demeanor. Until – unfortunately – in self defense, he also had to explode.

During the early years, the Greek immigrant “public” community meshed with the “religious” community. Thus, the “church community” offered the Greek immigrant men a democratic forum in which they could voice their thoughts and feelings about all matters that concerned them, both religious and secular.

During the mill strikes of 1912 in Lawrence (MA) and Lowell (MA), the downstairs hall of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church served as the meeting place for striking Greek workers, and also as a forum for guest speakers such as Helen Gurley Flynn, a union leader in the I.W.W.

To recapitulate, three major disagreements divided members of the early Greek church communities in America: political (Royalists vs. Venizelists), religious (Julian, old calendar, observance vs. Gregorian, new,), ecclesiastic jurisdiction (royalist appointed bishops vs. Venizelist appointed bishops which entangled the Church of Greece and the Ecumenical Patriarchate).

A controversy also existed between the various Orthodox ethnic churches. By history, from the Byzantine times, the Patriarch of Constantinople was a Greek. It, the Church of Greece and the Archdiocese of North and South America, all ethnic Greek Orthodox, resisted other ethnic Orthodox churches, especially the Russians, in their attempts to establish jurisdiction over Greek Orthodox communities, or even to ordain priests.

To complicate the quarrels, many Greek immigrants held conflicting beliefs about the disagreements. However, as generally defined, the “Frouri” were old calendar royalists, the “Laiki (pronounced La-ee-ki)” were new calendar republicans or Venizelists.

On a Wednesday evening (December 27,1922), President Apostolos Johnson of the Holy Trinity presided over a meeting – more than 1000 members attended – in which the assembly voted to secede from the Holy Synod of Athens and the Patriarchate.

Among those in forefront of a committee to draw up a new set of by-laws and petition the secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for a new charter were: Constantine Vurgaropoulos, Constantine Constantinides, Christos Ziogkos, James Kirkilis (secretary), James Danas, Peter Rigopoulos, John Tavoularis, James Angelopoulos, Vasilios Christakos, Louis Gagalis, John Batsillis.

The above action followed similar actions of about fifty-four other Greek communities throughout America. Approximately sixty-six other communities had taken no action so far.

A newspaper report on the next day contained other information about the Greek community in Lowell. On Sunday, January 7, 1923 would be Greek Christmas Day according to the Julian calendar, and more than a thousand children were expected at the celebration.

Also a new teacher, Aris Voyatjis, had been added to the Holy Trinity Parochial School staff. He had taught at some of the principal schools in Greece for over fifteen years. A member of the Greek bar, having graduated from the University of Athens, he spoke Greek, French and English fluently. Ousted by Venizelos as a teacher, he had later been appointed a secretary in a ministry by Prime Minister Gounaris during the reign of King Constantine. He declared that he loved this country, and determined to stay here indefinitely. The school had approximately 400 boys and girls, and five Greek and two English teachers. The principal was Peter Souflis.

The secession of the Holy Trinity was declared illegal by President Johnson. At a tumultuous meeting on Friday, January 5, 1923, the members deposed Johnson, and ratified their vote to secede taken a week earlier to 1) renounce allegiance to the Holy Synod of Athens and Patriarchate of Constantinople 2) pledge allegiance to the Greek Independent Church of the United States and Canada, and Bishop Germanos of New York, head of the Independent Church 3) change the name of the community from Greek Orthodox community of Lowell, Mass., to Independent Greek community of Lowell, Mass., Holy Trinity.

Deposed President Apostolos Johnson sought a court injunction to prevent use of the church and its funds by the opposing faction. Ousted Rev. Nestor Souslides declared that the community was under the spiritual government of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and direct jurisdiction of Bishop Alexander Rodostolou of New York. “Bishop Germanos Troianos has been recalled by Constantinople, and has no jurisdiction in America.” Despite the efforts of the deposed president the church remained in the hands of those who had seceded.

However, like the law of physics that states that every action has a reaction, Greek immigrant factions acted and reacted in a seemingly endless cycle of bickering, quarrels, and even violence.

On January 20, 1923, Mr. Johnson and Dr. D. Generales requested the presence of police officers at next day’s services. Edward T. Tierney, counsel for the Vurgaropoulos faction, declared that no one would be barred from attending services, but that Rev. Souslides would not be allowed to officiate. Services would be conducted by Rev. Costos Papanicholas who had been assigned by Bishop Alexander of New York.

A regular church service was conducted at 8:00 A.M. by Rev. Nicholas Meniedes and Rev. Constantine Papanicholas. At 12:30 P.M. Mr. Johnson, Rev. Fr. Souslides, and about thirty followers attempted to enter the church, but were confronted by board members who declared that people could enter the church but that Rev. Fr. Souslides could not officiate at a service. After discussions, with Counsel Tierney also present, Mr. Johnson and his followers left.

A church announcement stated that the following Sunday a memorial service would be held for the late former King Constantine and that Bishop Germanos of New York, head of the Greek Independent Church of the United States, would officiate.

The same week President Constantine Vurgaropoulos received the news that his brother Alexander, age 22, a lieutenant in the Greek army, was a Turkish prisoner. Constantine's brother Harilos in Greece wrote in his letter that he feared for their brother’s life because most of the Greek officers captured by the Turks were being put to death.

On February 11, 1923 more than six thousand Greeks attended the memorial service for the late king at the Holy Trinity, officiated by Archbishop Panteleimon of Neapolis (Greece).

In November of 1923 Metropolitan Vasilios Komvopoulos of Methimnes, a royalist and an adherent of the Julian calendar, arrived in Lowell, MA and the Holy Trinity. The members voted a by-law pledging ecclesiastic allegiance to him for four years. Meanwhile the groundwork for his break with the Archdiocese of North and South America had already been established because the Church of Greece and the Archdiocese, earlier in the year, had accepted the Gregorian calendar. Disregarding his excommunication by the Holy Synod and the Patriarchate, Vasilios proclaimed Lowell, MA as his see, and designated the Holy Trinity as his cathedral for the Independent Royalist Communities of the United States and Canada during December of 1924.

            Unrest simmered continually in the Greek community; trouble flared on Friday, February 1, 1924. Church officials refused admittance to a group of dissidents who wanted to hold a meeting and adopt resolutions condemning by-laws and regulations passed the previous December. The petition to hold the meeting was said to have the approval of Vice-President Achilles Natsios, but was opposed by President Panos Rigopoulos.

The president declared that although only 101 names were required to hold a meeting, and the petition contained 123, many of the names had not been signed in person. Further, the petition had not been presented to the proper authorities for official approval. Upon refused admittance early Friday evening, the dissidents broke open a door and entered the church. However the police, who had been summoned by the president in anticipation of violence, persuaded the trespassers to leave peacefully, if noisily. Bishop Vasilios, away at the time, expressed his sorrow at the trouble and turmoil between his parishioners, all of whom he loved.

Later the president declared that the malcontents numbered only 125 out of more than 1000 parishioners, and he deplored the harm done to the peace and stability of the church community. Since the start of the controversy, the church had paid out two thousand dollars for legal fees. Some church officials accused involved lawyers of advising people to go to court instead of settling differences.

In defense of the church-board’s handling of finances, President Rigopoulos gave an accounting: church holdings were valued at 500,000 dollars with a mortgage of 65,000 dollars. The real estate consisted of the church edifice, property on Dummer, Worthen, and Market Streets consisting of 40 tenements including three stables, several stores and two school buildings.

During the past year the church paid 6000 dollars on the debt, 2000 dollars interest on principal, and spent 4000 dollars on tenement repair. Furthermore, since the coming of the new archbishop (Vasilios) church collections increased and average of over 100 dollars a month.

Finally he said that elections would be held on February 22 (1924), and that he did not fear another disturbance.

On February 21, 1924 the East Cambridge superior court refused to issue an injunction sought by George Patsourakos and George Genekos which would have postponed the scheduled 22 February election, and also restrained the adoption of by-laws making Bishop Vasilios head of the community. President Panos Rigopoulos and Treasurer Theodore Gavriel appeared for the current board.

A group of dissidents in the church community, which included many prominent Greek immigrants, decided that they no longer wanted to be part of the Holy Trinity congregation.  Gathering together, they incorporated themselves under the name of the Transfiguration Greek orthodox community, they rented quarters to hold services; within a year they erected their own church building.

Emmanuel Kaknes served as president from 1924 to 1928. Others who served as president, up to WWII were: Antonios Sampatakos, Costas Georgeou, Costos Deros, Theodore Thomatos, Leonidas Keramidas, James Sintros, Arthur Veves, Christos Svelantopoulos, Michael Pappas, George Malliaros.

Spiros Sintros: “For the first time, we had services in a building on John street, where the parking garage is now.  There used to be a Protestant church there. They closed it and we rented it. Yes, my father went there. I can’t tell exactly but we stayed there about two or three months.

Then they decided to build a church here (present location at the corner of Father John Sarantos Way and Hanover Street). The cost was going to be about sixty to sixty-five thousand dollars.  As I remember they borrowed fifty-five thousand dollars from the bank, and paid back so much per month.

“But the Problem was, they couldn’t pick up enough money on Sundays. What – thirty-five dollars! How were we going to pay the priest, the psalti, heat, electricity? So we were going under.  We did all we could, we couldn't pick up the money.

“My brother Jimmy was involved at that time. So a group of them – trustees – went to the bank and gave them the keys. ‘Here are the keys to the church, we can’t pay you.’

“The banker says, ‘What am I going to do with that building. If it was level ground it could be a garage. What are we going to do with it?’

“ ‘What then can we do?’

“ ‘Can you pick up any money at all?’

“ ‘Possibly. How much money do you want?’

“The banker says, ‘Four thousand dollars.’

“The Holy Trinity was having the same kind of trouble. They were in financial trouble too. Who bailed them out – Laganas. He bought the mortgage for thirteen thousand dollars and stayed (as president or board member) until be got his money back.

“This is the way they decided to raise the money.  I own a couple of bricks there, in this church. They went around, and sold stock, ten dollars each, and got two hundred people to buy twenty dollars each to get the four thousand.

“The church was ours. Two hundred people own it today.

“Then at the end, business is very good. The young people take over the church, and they make some money. And they decide to build up. Something like three hundred thousand dollars. Some people said to build it at the bottom of the Lafayette Club.

“You can’t do what you want. This church owned by two hundred people. We’re going to give them questionnaires and let them decide. So they did.

“And I signed. I said, ‘I want it right here. I don’t want it moved. Eighty to eighty-five percent said right here.”

He explained his feelings about the Transfiguration. “How does it feel when I come to this church?

“When we go by here with my grand-daughter, a little baby, my wife says, ‘Christina, it’s Papou’s and mine church. Do your cross.’

“I feel part of the Transfiguration. Absolutely. Absolutely.

“I know that some people don’t support the church regularly – not only this one, but like the Holy Trinity, and the others. They use it for baptisms, or weddings, or funerals. Well, if they feel they don’t want to give to the church that’s the way it is.

“The people who built this church are not here anymore. There were many businessmen. The time came when the banks were after us for the money. Whatever they owned, they put in their wife’s name, or relative because they were afraid the bank was going to attach what they owned.

“Everybody had to sacrifice to support the church all through the Depression, to keep the church going.

“Listen, I don’t want you to think that I and the others did tremendous things. Whatever we did, we did for the good of the community, and the people know it. We don’t want to feel that if it wasn’t for us, this never would have happened. Yes, it would have. We have good people in this community (Transfiguration), good people.

“Why they picked this location for the church, I don’t know, I can’t tell you. But I can tell you one thing though. Down at the bottom of the hill here was a big block, a big house. We bought that house.

“We knew we needed more land, for parking, and other things. Whatever the church needs, people are willing to get together and do.

“We are still here, we’re happy. I think we got the best Ladies Society in the country. The board, the members, all work for the church.

“When I was a vice-president, George Dristiliares was president. He owned the Ymittos Candle Company. Every Easter, all the candles we used, he’d say, ‘No charge.’

The political upheavals in Greece continued unabated between 1922 and 1927. Due to the catastrophic Greek defeat in Asia Minor King Constantine had abdicated in favor of his son George in September of 1922.

King George left Greece in October of 1923; in December the Liberals (Venizelists, anti-monarchists) won the election.

In 1925, General Theodoros Pangalos seized the government. However, in August (1926), General Georgios Kondilis deposed General Pangalos.

Venizelos to Greece from exile in March 1928, became prime minister in August, and remained in power until 1932.

In Lowell, MA the political and religious turmoil of the early 1920s in the Greek community, had subsided during 1925, 1926, and 1927. In 1928, violence erupted in the Holy Trinity church community.

However the Transfiguration church community remained quiet, and its members worked diligently to support the church. For example, on January 31, 1928, the Ladies Association held their annual ball at Association Hall for the benefit of the Transfiguration school. Officers and members who directed the affair included: Mrs. Helen N. Houpis, vice-president; Mrs. Ithome J. Athanasoulas, secretary; Miss Cornelia Spyropoulos, treasurer; Mrs. Pota P. Vekos and Mrs. Pota D. Coumoundoureas. Men who assisted included: Emmanuel D. Kaknes, Sam Houpis, James Athanasoulas, Constantine Ganellas, Arthur Nakos, Sam Sampatakos, James Papacostas, George Harkoplis, James Sintros, Demetrios Kates, Athanasios Serfes, Efstratios Gazos, John Dagoumes.

In February, the Transfiguration basketball team made ready to play St. Anne’s at the Church of All Nations gym on Worthen St. Starters for the Transfiguration: Fypeas, lf; Saunders, rf; Paul Coumoundoureas, c; Peter Coumoundoureas, lg; Faneros, rg.

In March the Transfiguration Juniors defeated the Holy Trinity Juniors at the Y.M.C.A gym, 21 to 11. The local newspaper declared it a fast game. Transfiguration players were, Skandalis, Saxones, Katsiganis, Georgecoulos, Georgon, Salpas; Holy Trinity, Voyatjis, Vergados, Sarris, Mangianos, Sokorellis, Busbanes, Fafasanos, Tsonpnokokos.

In February of 1928, Holy Trinity church elections returned the Laiki to control. The new church board immediately disowned any jurisdictional claims by Archbishop Vasilios and his followers. Also, they refused to allow the bishop or any of his priests to conduct services.

On a Wednesday evening, March 21, 1928, violence broke out at the Holy Trinity Greek Parochial School involving the ladies society of the church.

Refused admittance to the school to protest the presence of Rev. Jakin C. Malahias as a speaker, several women stormed the school.

As a result of the riot, one man and five women were arraigned in district court: George Birbilis, charged with carrying a pistol; Fotini Chiakos and Diamanto Phelan charged with assault and battery on President Aristides Malicourtis; Hresanthe Demetropoulos, Sophie Favas, Mary Bosenie, charged with assault and battery on James Pappacostis.

By 8:30 P.M. the Wednesday evening of the riot Greek immigrant men had started to leave the coffeehouses on Dummer Street for home. Usually they walked in pairs, or small groups loathe to end the conversations that they so enjoyed as they sat and sipped their Greek coffee in the coffeehouse. They would stop, usually on a street comer, to discuss or argue a particularly important point, sometimes one, and sometimes all, talking loudly and gesticulating.

Here and there though a man walked alone, hands clasped behind his back, deep in his own thoughts. Which immigrant man did not at one time or another face the problem of not enough money – whether to pay the rent, or buy fuel, or pay something on his grocery bill, or send even a few dollars so desperately needed by his mother, father, brothers, sisters, back in the village in Greece.

This evening many were later than usual in reaching home. If they were fortunate enough to have work the next day, and as they prepared their sandwiches or “extra”, they told their wives what they had seen, with amusement and amazement, “…a frenzied crowd of wild women, rushing in and out of the school like they had gone mad, shouting and gesturing with their fists. I stayed across the street.”

At the court trial Mrs. Christina Dedousis described her experience. “I came down from the ladies gathering upstairs to the office where President Malicourtis introduced me to Father Malahias who was to be our guest speaker.” Also present in the office were George Birbilis and Mr. Pappacostis. As she left, several angry and highly excited women pushed her aside and rushed into the office toward President Malicourtis.

Under questioning by Atty. Tierney, who was representing George Birbilis, she testified as follows:

Q:    Did you see anyone strike him (Malicourtis)?

A:    They all rushed at him at once.

Q:    Did you see anyone in particular strike him?

A:    I saw several hands strike him, but I could not identify any of them.

Q:    What did you do?

A:    I left the school, called a taxi, and went home.

Officer Francis J. O’Loughlin described what he had encountered. “There were people crowded on the street, in the hallway, on the stairs.

“President Malicourtis came out of his office bleeding from a gash on his forehead. The windows in the office had been broken by projectiles thrown from outside.

“I asked him if he knew who had struck him, but he didn’t give me any name. Someone shouted that someone else had a gun but I didn’t see that.

“I advised Father Malahias to leave by the back, since when he appeared at the front door, the crowd surged forward, jeering. Though some cheered also.”

The cases were disposed of as follows: Fotini Chiakos, fined fifty dollars; Hresanthe Demetropoulos, Sophie Favas, Mary Bosinie, twenty dollars each; Diamanto Phelan, not guilty. George Birbilis was found guilty of possessing a pistol and sentenced to six months in the house of correction suspended for one year.

The riot at the Greek parochial in March foretold of further disturbances to come to the Greek community but all remained quiet until July.

On Good Friday at 9:30 P.M., April 13, 1929, Father Malahias and the church congregation conducted Epitaphio from Jefferson St., to Broadway, Worthen, Market, Adams, Cross, Suffolk Streets, and back to Jefferson St. The Greek Orthodox observance of Holy Week was according to the Julian calendar.

On Thursday, July 19,1928, the weather report stated that it was the sixth day of a heat wave. More than 3000 people slept outdoors on the North and South Common. The oppressive heat turned the North Common in the Acre into an outdoor bedroom as people fled their stifling tenements and slept on benches, on blankets spread on the grass, on cots, in sleeping bags. Baby carriages were everywhere.

“It was a big get-together, everybody friendly and trying to make the best of it,” said Ted Lekas. “But the Greek people knew, at least the men, that there was going to be trouble at the church, too many things were happening, too many rumors floating around.”

The following Sunday, July 22, began the occupation of the Holy Trinity by the Vasilios faction. Bishop Vasilios Komvopoulos, three priests, and followers, gained entrance to the Holy Trinity before daylight and at 5:00 a.m. held services. At the conclusion about one hundred men remained in the church, bolted the doors, and retained physical possession of the church.

The next day, the Malicourtis faction asked the court for a contempt citation against the following people: Bishop Vasilios Komvopoulos, Rev. John Pappadopoulos, Rev. Anastasion Anastasiou, Rev. Constantine Harmantas, Demetrius Danas, Michael Bucouvalas, Nicholas Protopapas, Demetrius Lianeris, Vaios Karamousianis, Panagiotis Athanasopoulos, Lampros Papaiaprou, A. Sgonis, Louis Sperounias.

The events that had led to the forced entrance originated from the election of a new church board the previous February: as president Aristides Malicourtis, Demetrius Demetroulakos, Christos Ziongos, Constantine Vurgaropoulos, George Tsouprakakis, Thomas Papacostas, Phillipos Karabatsos, Christos Kakris, Anthony Balatsos, Theodore Koutras, George Birbilis.

In May, the elected board drew up a new set of bylaws negating the recognition of Bishop Vasilios as head of the Holy Trinity.

The bishop then filed a bill of equity which claimed the election had not been proper or legal.

In turn the board filed a demurrer on July 16; the court set a hearing for July 30.

Bishop Vasilios declared that only he had the authority to conduct the affairs of church corporation, both temporal and ecclesiastical.

In reply, the board contended that the bishop was no longer connected to the Greek Orthodox church; he had been excommunicated by the Patriarch of Constantinople.

On the Saturday (July 28), Atty. Tierney for the board, interlocutory decree in hand, demanded entrance to the church. Police arrival prevented his bodily removal by an agitated crowd aroused by the pleas of help from the besieged.

The board decided not to take any further action pending the court hearing.

The following Tuesday (July 31), the doorkeeper for the besieged men gave an interview to the local newspaper (The Sun). He refused to give a list of the men inside. Police believed there were not more than eight. Further he said, “...we’re going to stay right in this building with the doors locked until we die, or until the judge gives the church to the bishop...” He said that last night he rang the bells to alert sympathizers because he and the others had heard a pistol shot in the rear of the church. A crowd quickly gathered, but then dispersed peacefully.

Atty. Tierney said that the Malicourtis faction would await court action.

Eight days later (August 8), the occupiers released a written statement: denied defiance of any court order since no decision had been issued ordering them to leave; the majority of the community sympathized with them; a fair vote would favor the bishop; the community had urged them to keep possession of the church despite any loss or sacrifice.

The day before Atty. George G. Eliades and Professor Simpson of Boston represented Bishop Vasilios at a hearing before Superior Court Judge Qua on a bill of equity against the Malicourtis board. The judge took the matter under advisement for a week.

In the community, like a rising wind presaging a storm, incidences of violence foretold of more violence to come between the civil faction (Malicourtis faction) and the ecclesiastical faction (Vasilios faction).

On August 15, police charged John Demas, age 22, with assault and battery on Rev. Joakim Malahias (civil faction). Rev. Malahias said that while walking on Fletcher St., near Dutton St., that morning John Demas accosted him, accused him of making derogatory remarks about Demas, and punched him in the face breaking his glasses.

Later that evening another assault occurred involving four other people. As they argued about possession of the church, the arrest warrant for three of the men alleged that Peter Apostolakos struck Efstratios Kakrimanis twice with a sharp instrument, and that Athos Apostolakos and William Malicourtis punched and kicked Kakrimanis as he fell to the ground. The three then jumped into an auto and sped away; Malicourtis has also been charged with driving to endanger the lives and safety of the public.  Efstratios Kakrimanis was treated by Dr. Xenophon Vurgaropoulos and released.

In district court, John Demas was found guilty and sentenced to six months in the house of correction, suspended for two years. Panagiotis Goulas, in whose car Demas left after the assault, was found not guilty.

The three defendants in the alleged Kakrimanis assault were released when the plaintiff failed to appear for the prosecution. However driver William Malicourtis later was fined fifty dollars when convicted of driving his auto at 35 miles per hour through a crowd of about 600 people gathered at Dummer and Markets Streets.

Concurrent with the violence, court actions proceeded. The following day (August 17, 1928), Atty. Tierney filed for a writ of assistance in Boston superior court to allow the Malicourtis faction to take possession of the church.

On August 28, 1928, a deputy sheriff served writs charging the following people with contempt of court: Archbishop Vasilios, Rev. Constantine Harmantas, James Tsakonas, James Kouloheras, Peter Goulas, Harry Sarris, and Athas Georgopoulos.

In superior court on September 4, the judge gave Atty. Tierney time to research for citations to buttress his request for contempt citation against the occupiers of the church.

The bitter dispute between the two factions inevitably affected the parochial school. The monarchists held the Holy Trinity Church on Lewis and Jefferson Streets, the republicans the Holy Trinity Parochial School building on Broadway and Worthen Streets.

On September 12, 1928 John Tsigas and James Danas of the Vasilios faction called upon the associate commissioner of state education, Mr. Wright, to report that 160 parochial school children had been refused admittance.

Mr. Wright said that some immediate action should be taken, but that it was strictly a city matter.

On September 17, 1928 the Vasilios faction reported that they had hired the Worthen St. Baptist Church (later to become St. George Greek Orthodox Church) as a schoolhouse. They also reported that 212 children were enrolled; Miss Mary Frawley was teaching the English subjects, and Mr. Demosthenes Balakis the Greek subjects. The children previously had been attending classes at the Merrimack Hall.

The day before the Reverend Constantine Harmantas conducted morning services at the church on Worthen St. Bishop Vasilios presided over evening services attended by 800 people, as reported in the newspaper. John Tsigas gave a talk on why the recent attempts of conciliation with the Laiki had failed.

Nicholas Karas
Copyright © by Nicholas Karas