Holy Day for St. George

DOWNEY - The St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Downey, eight years after it officially opened its doors ("Thyranoixia") in 2002 and 28 years after it was formally founded in 1982, will be consecrated tomorrow, with matins at 7:30 a.m. and a two-hour ritual-filled hierarchical divine liturgy starting at 10 a.m.The day will conclude with a mini-festival on the church grounds in the afternoon on to the evening. The occasion will mark the culmination of a dream long dreamt by parishioners to have a permanent Sanctuary that will serve this and future generations of the Greek Orthodox communicants of Downey and surrounding communities. Officiating at the rare and unique ceremony will be His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos, Ruling Hierarch of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis (archdiocese) of San Francisco, assisted by His Grace Bishop Anthimos of Olympos. The San Francisco Metropolis exercises jurisdiction over the Greek Orthodox churches dotting the whole Western United States, including Hawaii. In celebration of the historic event, the church held its first annual golf tournament on Wednesday at the Rio Hondo Golf Club, and conducted St. George vespers yesterday from 7-8:30 p.m. Setting the stage for tomorrow's ritualistic and richly symbolic consecration service is this afternoon's short service of Great Vespers at 4:30 p.m., in commemoration and honor of the memory of the martyrs whose relics are to become part of the altar table of the church. Today is also the feast day of St. George, and, to observe it, a two-hour hierarchical divine liturgy service starting at 10 a.m. has been scheduled. Expected to take part in tomorrow's consecration are mayor Anne Bayer and city council members, former mayors Meredith Perkins and Bob Winningham, as well as representatives of Cong. Lucille Roybal-Allard and Assemblyman Hector de la Torre, and other guests. All services are open to the public. It is estimated that at least 10,000 Greek Orthodox inhabit the state of California, with close to 150 but very active Greek families residing in Downey. It's not unusual for St. George's annual festival, which is celebrated this year June 5-6, to attract thousands of visitors. This afternoon's service of Great Vespers holds to the Greek Orthodox tradition that because the church was built on the faith and blood of its early martyrs (the early church found itself worshipping in the catacombs and among the tombs of the martyrs), their relics are to be placed within the altar table when a church is consecrated. Greek Orthodox began trickling into Downey in the early 50s. As there was no Greek Orthbodox church in Downey, the parishioners had no choice but to travel to Los Angeles, Orange County and other surrounding areas to worship. According to the Consecration Committee's Harold Tseklenis, the Greek families c.1982 realized that they would prefer to organize a local parish and build their own church rather than travel some distance away. They figured a local church would serve their worship needs as well as make it easier for their children to attend Sunday school and participate in other church-sponsored activities and programs. After organization, services were first held at St. Mark's Episcopal Church. The first parish priest assigned to minister to them was the late Very Reverend George Stevenson. The Reverend Angelo Artemis was parish priest from 1997-2001. The Archimandrite Very Reverend John Constantine was appointed the church's third parish priest and continues to serve as parish priest today. An aggressive pay-as-you-go effort he shepherded after his arrival has since brought the church's interior furnishing and the iconography to a "substantially complete to advanced" stage. Work on the iconography continues to be executed by Spyro Tsalangiras and Katerina Vlachou, a husband and wife team of iconographers based in Athens, who bring their art and expertise to Downey every summer. The St. George sanctuary was designed by the late Sam Grillias of the well-known architectural firm of GPRA Architects of Irvine, California, who also designed the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Paul in Irvine, as well as other churches and a number of buildings for USC and other institutional and government buildings. Designed in the 6th century Byzantine style, the 10,000 sq.-ft. St. George edifice with its distinctive patinated copper dome ("the dome is a symbol of the union of heaven and earth") ranks as a significant architectural landmark in Downey. "These things really take a long time to build," said Tseklenis. "Look at the Cologne cathedral, which took hundreds of years to finish. Same thing with the Sacra Familia cathedral in Barcelona, and so on. Anyway, I think every generation should have the opportunity to invest a little personal equity into the [building of the] church." For information, contact either of the celebrations' co-chairs: Georgia Covell, 818-790-3433 (gacovell@sbcglobal.ne), Sasha Vithoulkas, 562-869-3533, or visit www.stgeorgedowney.org/consecration, or contact Harold Tseklenis, 562-928-8967.

********** Published: April 23, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 1