A dream that began humbly several years ago in the minds of a few and grew to become the driving purpose of an entire community is today, a proud, thrilling reality.
The dream began as a vision, of a progressive Greek Orthodox Church in the Parma Area, serving the spiritual, ethnic, and cultural needs of all her people, who, in the exodus to the suburbs had found themselves fearful of losing touch with the true traditions of their Orthodox faith and Greek heritage.
The first meetings took place in the fall of 1963 at the Pizza King Restaurant and various means of transferring the vision into fact were discussed. in subsequent meetings, a decision was made to conduct a survey of all Greek families in Parma and the adjining suburbs to enlist their support and register their comments and feelings toward a new church in their area.
So favorable was the response that a historic first assembly meeting was called on January 12, 1964. The assembly on that day decided to create a permanent committee that would work for the establishmnet of a Greek Orthodox Church for the residents of the Southwest Area communities. this assembly was held at the holiday Inn in one of the large meeting rooms, the walls of which depicted the struggle and hardships encountered by the thirten colonies during the Revolutionary War in their fight for independence.
Thirty-four families were present at this assembly and a new colony, now known as the Parma Area Hellenic Orthodox Parish was formed. the colony struggled but continued to grow. By March 1964 over $4,000 had been pledged and by November of the same year, the pledges along with donations from the Ladies Auxiliary had swelled to $24,000.
During this period the committee continued its search for a site, and on May 7, 1965 presented their findings to the General Assembly. The search for land had been successful.
But it was not until September of 1965 that the dream and vision came into a definite perspective. On September 2, 1965 the Parma Area Hellenic Orthodox Church, Inc. was incorporated under the General Corporation Act of the State of Ohio. On Septebmer 3, 1965 a contract was signed for the purchase of seven acres on Wallings Road in North Royalton. The original parcel had been thirty acres but the asking price of $40,000 precluded this purchase and it was at this point that the first of many 'divine providence' type happenings occurred. The seller offered seven acres for $12,000 and without any interest charges if the full amount was paid within a year's time. The final payment was made exactly one year later on September 1, 1966.
At this time the momentum had increased to the point where the prospects of obtaining a priest for the community were being studied.
A committee journeyed to New York City on April 13, 1966 for an audience with Archbishop Iakovos to personally request a priest who would be the spiritual leader of a new community. Although sympathetic with their cause, the Archbiship replied that according to the rules of the Archdiocese a new community must show financial responsiblity of $50,000 before a priest could be assigned. This rulling set the stage for a dramatic and amazing day, one that will always be remembered, and for a series of events that followed swiftly and surely, almost as if an unseen hand had been waiting in the wings supplying the proper cue at the right time and place. On May 1, 1966 a fund raising meeting was held at the Fontaine Room of the Parmatown Bowling Lanes. The assets of the Community at this time totaled $25,000 and another $25,000 would be needed to fulfill the ruling of the Archdiocese. Not only was the $25,000 raised in one meeting, but also all pledges were paid in full within one week. at this meeting 195 persons signed as founding fathers of the community and this was presented to the Archbishop along with the evidence of our financial responsibility.
Two months later, Joyous News! A letter was received from the Archdiocese on July 7, 1966. Our obligation had been fulfilled and duly recognized, and the Reverend Theologos Anastasakis had been recommeded and appointed to our community by Archbishop Iakovos. Our first service was scheduled for August 14, 1966.
Now a month of feverish preparations began. A residence for Father Theo and his family had to be located, and a rental property was found on Broadview Road.
Another stroke of luck was encountered when it was learned that the Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, whose new building was nearing completion, was planning to move out of Parma Memorial Hall. Arrangements were made to reserve the hall for our services, and the Holy Trinity group, in true Christian fellowship, offered the use of their temporary iconostasis.
Many details were still to be worked out. Altar cloths and backdrops were made; candles, icons, storage lockers, and articles for the altar were purchased; other supplies were bought; and a certain amount of painting and cleaning up had to be done.
Members of the set-up teams, the Ladies Auxiliary, the Parish Council, and a host of volunteers all worked together and on Saturday evening the church was ready.
And so on Sunday, August 14, 1966 the first service of the Parma Area Hellenic Orthodox Church was held. A new community with a new priest and temporary quarters for a church had joined the ranks of the Orthodox Churches of Greater Cleveland.
The growth of the parish continued in a steady fashion. Dedicated workers gave unselfishly of their time and efforts. A different set-up crew came each Sunday morning at 6:00 AM converting the hall into a church by 8:00 AM. The Ladies Auxiliary continued to raise monies for the church by holding dinners, fashion shows and many other successful events. The choir soon became known as one of the best in the city, and the chanters, along with Father Theo, combined to make our services most interesting and beautiful. Sunday Schools and Greek Schools were set up and a coffee social took place each Sunday after services.
Soon the new parish had to have a name, and an unprecedented event, a Church Naming Dinner, was held on March 12, 1967. Parishioners had previously voted for the church name of their choice, and the five names receiving the most votes were put on a ballot and a run off election was held until only one name remained. The Holy Trinity Church Hall was packed to capacity, several votes were taken, the excitement mounting with each one, and when the announcement was made that St. Paul had been chosen as the name of our church, it brought forth a standing ovation from the happy parishioners.
Now in the near future loomed the last and biggest step, the construction of our own church building. The services of an architect were needed, and Mr. Leonard Friedman of Youngstown, Ohio was engaged to design the Church of St. Paul.
A professional fund raising compnay, Ketchum Inc., was hired and in a six-week period, starting in October 1967, a total of $194,000 was pledged over a three-year period.
Groundbreaking occurred on July 14, 1968 and later that year, on September 8th, the General Assembly voted to accept a bid of $456,000 from the R. Hansen Co. to build the St. Paul Greek Orthodox Church.
Construction was started in October 1968, and in April of 1970 the day and moment had arrived. The dream was no more a dream. The vision was no longer a vision. Palm Sunday, April 19, 1970 was a super-charged highly emotional day. The doors of St. Paul Greek Orthodox Church opened for the first time, and the 700 persons who passed through will not forget the emotions of that day for quite some time, if at all. The Divine Liturgy began with the choir moving slowly down the center aisle chanting "Agios, Agios" to receive the blessing of Father Theo and pass on to the choir area. Tears of joy were running down the cheeks of men and women, young and old, voices choked, and a lump in the throat came easily and hearts were pounding a little faster.
During the construction phase, as the walls of this beautiful church rose upward, it seemed that each brick in some way symbolized someone's effort, someone's sacrifice, someone's dedication, someone's spirit, and as brick was placed upon brick it appeared that in some holy mysterious way, the dream was coming to life.
And so it has!