Parish History

A BRIEF HISTORY OF ST. JOHN THE DIVINE GREEK ORTHODOX CHURCH JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA
by Mary Roman

The history of this parish dates back to the first Greek immigrants who arrived in the Jacksonville area at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. They began arriving in significant numbers from approximately 1905 onward until the immigration laws became restrictive in the late 1920’s.

The earliest records of Greek Orthodox services in Jacksonville can be traced to 1907, when a Fr. Arsenios is mentioned as the first clergyman to officiate here.

From time to time, services were held whenever a clergyman was available, but a permanent parish organization did not come to pass until 1918. At that time, the community was organized and incorporated and its first priest was Fr. Michael Sarris. In 1916, a home had been purchased and converted into the first Greek Orthodox Church of Jacksonville. The “godfather”, so to speak, of our church was the Very Rev. Parthenios Kolonis from Patmos, Greece, and had bestowed the name of St. John the Divine on our parish (Originally named The Church of the Revelation of St. John the Divine). On April 17, 1919, the community purchased a larger church facility in the downtown area from the Christian Science Congregation. This building, for the next 39 years would see innumerable weddings, baptisms, funerals, and visits, by many high ranking clergymen. As far as can be determined, the consecration of this church was in the early to mid-1920’s by the late Archbishop Alexander.

St. John the Divine is the third oldest parish in the state of Florida, being superseded only by Tarpon Springs and Pensacola. At one time the parish lines of St. John the Divine extended from Tallahassee, on the west, to Valdosta, Georgia, Thomasville, Georgia and Waycross, Georgia, on the north, to Titusville, Florida, in the South. Therefore, such parishes as Tallahassee, Gainesville, Daytona Beach, St. Augustine and others are extensions of our community. Worthy to mention, is to say, that the ground work for St. Photios National Greek Orthodox Shrine in St. Augustine also came from our parish.

The prosperity of the 1940’s was overshadowed by the anguish and turmoil of World War II, as many of our young men served in the war from 1941 to 1945. The service flag of the period fortunately bears but one gold star, representing one parishioner killed in the war.

In 1944, came the realization that the old facilities were inadequate for the needs, and the first building fund committee was started by Mr. Nick J. Pappas, President of the Greek Community. The original purpose of the building fund organization was to build a church hall, and only gradually did the vision evolve for a whole new church complex. In 1947, the first American-born priest arrived in the community, Fr. Anastasios Bandy. Later, Fr. E. B. Papazisis arrived to begin one of the longest tenure of any priest in the parish.

The present church property was purchased in 1959. The parish shared the common goal of building an edifice reflecting the beauty of Orthodox worship.

Ground-breaking day was May 1, 1966, with Agiasmo Services conducted by His Grace, Bishop Amilianos, assisted by Fr. Frank Kirlangitis, pastor of the congregation and Fr. E.B. Papazisis, retired priest. It is to be noted that Bishop Aimilianos had served our parish as priest in 1929 and this made the occasion more fitting. Gus Roman was the Chanter. Gus Roman, Mrs. Angela Marmaras and John Louros spaded the first breaking of ground for the new building.

Construction began on July 14, 1967, with parishioner Ted Pappas as the architect and John N. Pappas as Chairman of the Building Committee. The building won a national award for its design. The first Liturgy was held March 3, 1968, with Fr.Frank Kirlangitis officiating. A marriage of the new and old was noted in the building with the transfer of the old iconostasion to the new church. Mr. James Kalogerakos, the only living charter member of the church and the oldest parishioner at 100 years of age, cut the ribbon on “Thyranixion Day”. The congregation felt an unparalleled blessing as it entered through the church portals for the first time; the singularity of our individual selves merged into a communion of one congregation to glorify God. The building was officially consecrated as a church on September 20, 1970, by Archbishop Iakovos.

Fr. John Hondras served this community with love and integrity from 1972-1978. Fr. Hondras was followed by Fr. Paul Costopoulos, who was was instrumental in converting religious classes into intense Bible Study Sessions for a more extensive and inspirational understanding of the tenets of Orthodoxy.

Following Father Paul Costopoulos, the Very Rev. Nicholas T. Graff came to our parish in February 1991. During the seventeen year tenure at the St. John the Divine parish, Fr. Niko initiated plans and the parish purchased additional properties surrounding the current edifice, as well as, the acquisition and purchase of twenty acres of property for the anticipated future planning of a community village complex, promoting the importance of church traditions with a banquet hall building, a new church, a chapel, as well as school building structures and retirement residences, all, dedicated to God and reflecting the Byzantine beauty of Orthodox beliefs and worship. Architect Steve Papadatos has been granted the master plans for the future design, development and enrichment of our St. John the Divine community parish. Nick Furris, Director/ Senior Producer of GOTELECOM, member of this parish and Chairman of the Building Committee. 

On May 23, 1993, Deacon Milton Magos, a long time parishioner of this community, was elevated to the sacred order of presbyter. He had served as a Deacon with the St. John the Divine parish since September 29, 1985. Rev. Dr. Milton joins Very Reverend James Couchell, Very Reverend Gerasimos Annas, Rev. Aris Metrakos, Rev. Ted Pisarchuk, and Rev.George Wilson to serve in the vineyard of the Lord from the St. John the Divine parish. On February 16, 1997.

Our community is very proud to currently have as its spiritual father, a young and dynamic priest the Rev. Dr. Nicholas G. Louh, a parishioner, former altar boy, and former Pastoral Assistant who was ordained into the Holy Diaconate on December 15, 2007 and elevation to the Holy Priesthood on December 16, 2007 at St. John the Divine.

The mantle and future challenges have been passed on to Rev. Dr. Nicholas G. Louh, who welcomes everyone to be united in the love of Christ and aspires to successfully live out our Orthodox faith with reverence and faith, building bridges of understanding and love, with the word of Christ, and sharing Orthodoxy both inside and outside of the four walls of this parish.