About Our Parish
Nestled between Lake Chautauqua and the foot- hills of the Allegheny (Appalachian) Mountains in far western New York state is this small city of about 32,000 people, mostly of Swedish and Italian background, whose biggest claim to fame is being the hometown of the premiere comedienne of the 20th century, Lucille Ball. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the town, located about a dozen miles north of Pennsylvania and some 50 miles from Ohio, was famous as the “furniture capital of the world.” This is what drew the first Greek Orthodox immigrants here. Most were from the region of Korce, Albania, just north of the Greek border. They fled persecution from the Ottoman Turks, according to Fr. Zervos, the parish priest since 2003. Still others soon came from various parts of Greece, including Siatiasta, Thrace and the Peloponnesus. While many worked in furniture manufacturing or in the textile mills also located in Jamestown, others opened restaurants and confectionaries. The region was a popular summer resort due to the presence of Lake Chautauqua and drew many tourists. Over the years, most furniture makers moved away and only a few remain, including one Greek-owned company, El Greco, a baby crib manufacturer with customers in various parts of the U.S. Most parishioners are retirees, descendants of the founding members, Fr. Zervos noted. Members also include a few young- er families and some inter-church marriage couples. The Sunday school has 15 children and two teachers. There is no Greek school or Albanian school. “We never had an Albanian or Greek school,” said the priest. “The parishioners wanted to be Americanized.” Services are mostly in English, though some liturgical Greek is used. Early years and development before the parish was created, priests from Buffalo and from Ohio would come to the community to per- form services and sacraments, beginning around 1916. A chapter of the Epirotic Society, headquartered in Akron, Ohio, played “a vital role in initiating the church,” according to a personal reflection written years ago by a charter member, Seraphim Depas. In August 1921, Fr. Chrysanthos Hagipappas of Youngstown, Ohio, visited the community and celebrated the Dormition of the Theotokos service at a local lodge hall. Plans were discussed to establish a church and 17 persons contributed $1,500. An ecclesiastical charter eventually was granted and ground was broken in 1922. Fr. Hagipappas traveled to Jamestown for a few years to hold regular services. On a visit to Albania in 1924, Mr. Depas, at the suggestion of the parish council, contacted Fr. George Joanethis about relocating to Jamestown, which the priest agreed to do. Fr. Joanethis celebrated the first lit- urgy on New Year’s Day, 1926. He served the parish the longest, for 31 years. He was a friend of Archbishop Athenagoras, who would often visit Jamestown. Also in 1926, the Ladies Erene Society, forerunner of the Philoptochos chapter, was founded. Over the years, the Erene Society has held rummage sales, bake sales, the St. Nicholas Day Luncheon and other fund-raising events with proceeds going to local and international charities. Fr. Jonethis’ son, Terry, started the choir in 1937. Fr. Costas J. Kouklis, who served the community after Fr. Joanethis, led the efforts to build a new church, the present building, in 1965 after a second fire heavily damaged the original structure. Archbishop Iakovos consecrated the new building in May 1968 according to Mr. Depas’ article. Another priest who served the parish for a lengthy period, Fr. Nicholas Rafael, pastored the community for 25 years. Under his ministry he abolished bingo games. Instead, he established the “Yassou” Greek Festival, which has been held annually for the past 28 years. Fr. Rafael also was a leader in the greater Jamestown community. He served on the board of the Jamestown Housing Authority and was an advocate for the poor, the elderly and handicapped people in the community. He also helped to establish St. Susan’s Soup Kitchen with other clergy in the community through a $10,000 gift from the estate of a car accident victim he helped care for and who later died. The kitchen serves hot meals five days a week to the needy. Fr. Rafael died in 2005 and a housing authority senior citizens building was named in his honor for his work with the elderly. Current era St. Nicholas parish includes a four- county area in far western New York and northwestern Pennsylvania. Some parishioners travel as much as two hours to attend services. Parish income is derived mostly from stewardship, along with the annual festival mentioned previously, every Father’s Day weekend. Prior to arriving at the parish nearly eight years ago, Fr. Zervos, a Detroit native, served parishes in the South for 13 years and in the Chicago area for 12 years. According to information from Presbytera Anastasia, Fr. Zervos was highly involved with the St. John Chrysostom Oratorical Festival, serving as the Chicago Diocese coordinator for the first seven years of the program’s existence. Fr. Zervos also is author of The Funeral Services of the Greek Orthodox Church and The Ieratikon – The Sacred Preparatory Services for the Celebration of the Divine Liturgy. These books are used by many priests and are also avail- able at the seminary. At St. Nicholas, the priest holds Bible study classes every Tuesday morning. He has also arranged for the Divine Liturgy to be aired on local cable TV channel 19. “It’s free so we’re going to do it,” he said. The parish participates in some outreach activities. Every two years, the community honors its veterans. The choir, directed by Presbytera Anastasia, participates in the Jamestown ecumenical choir conference and has been voted the best choir in the area, Fr. Zervos noted. “The parish is very well respected locally. Jamestown people accept you for who are,” he said. In describing his parish and minis- try, the priest said that “The church is like one family. There’s a lot of faith. You need a lot of faith to survive up here. It’s not a political parish and it’s closely knit. We don’t have new people coming into the parish and everybody has to wear many hats.” He also said parishioners “take their Greek Orthodox faith very seriously here. We’re trying to serve according to principals of Christ, it’s a Christian parish.
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