St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church

Waco’s once thriving Greek community began when a London company sent a Greek cotton merchant to the city in order to purchase cotton for English mills, and soon after he chose to settle in Waco. In the early 1900s Waco’s first Greek family opened a restaurant which became so successful that many Greek families chose to follow in their footsteps and make the Heart of Texas their new home.

In 1926, the burgeoning community founded the Hellenic Orthodox Community of Waco and adopted a local Episcopal church as their meeting grounds, which soon became the hub of Hellenic traditions and the Orthodox faith. Eventually they began discussing their need and desire for a permanent place of worship and celebration. Michael Colias—a Greek immigrant from Sparta who came to Waco in the early twentieth century—convinced the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) to hold their next conference in Waco. AHEPA formed in response to early twentieth century bigotry and racism with the goal of helping Greeks assimilate into American society while focusing on promoting Hellenism, philanthropy, education, civic responsibly and family in the community. The fraternal organization donated all the profits from the Waco convention to the construction of a new church for the Hellenic Orthodox Community which, combined with money from other fundraisers, was enough to begin construction of a building at 617 North Seventeenth Street. After construction finished in 1949, the new building served as both a church and a community hall for events, until the addition of a fellowship hall next door to the church in 1960.

It was not until 1963 that St. Nicholas garnered a full-time priest, Friar Constantinides, who came to Waco from South America. He only served St. Nicholas for two years before being reassigned to another church, and his departure signaled the start of a tumultuous twenty-five years for the church’s leadership. 

Friar Makarios Hajiparaskevas took over as the next full-time priest but left soon after for a monastery in Jerusalem. Due to the decreasing Greek population in Waco, the community decided not to pursue another full-time priest and instead relied upon a part-time visiting clergy between 1969 and 1988. In 1988, Friar Jeremiah initiated a program that brought in a priest that St. Nicholas shared with a Greek Orthodox church in Wichita Falls, with the two congregations splitting the cost, with some help from the archdiocese. Like his predecessors, Friar Jeremiah received a new assignment. Friar Evangelos Pepps replaced him, but he too was also reassigned in 1991. However, before departing, Friar Pepps—with the approving vote of the church community—helped stimulate growth in the church by conducting the Liturgy in both English and Greek as opposed to only Greek, which encouraged many non-Greek families to join.

Finally, in 1991, St. Nicholas again welcomed a full-time priest, Father Tsitsilianos, more affectionately known as Father Ted. He has been with the church ever since and is considered a respected spiritual leader for Waco’s Greek Orthodox community.

Although some concern exists about St. Nicholas’s well-being due to the ever-increasing number of young individuals, particularly from the Greek community, leaving Waco for bigger cities, the church remains an important part of the Waco community. On August 22, 2016, the congregation celebrated its annual Greek Gala which provides funds for the church’s operating budget and allows Wacoans to experience Greece without the expensive plane ticket. And for those who find themselves drawn to the Greek Orthodox faith, St. Nicholas welcomes newcomers with open arms, but it would be wise to read the “For Visitors” tab on their website for some helpful information before attending a service.   

Images

Spiritual Home

Spiritual Home

Modern Greek Orthodox churches descend from churches founded in the Balkans and the Middle East during the first century. Many of the traditions practiced in these ancient churches are still practiced today. In an interview, Father Tsitsilianos explained that "It's not a simple faith. It's things that have developed through how many thousands of years from Christ to today." The church building is central to the Greek Orthodox faith, for they believe that Christianity and the church are inseparable because the church is where a person's faith is nurtured and maintained. | Creator: Hannah Engstrom View File Details Page

Community Center

Community Center

St. Nicholas became a vital part of the Hellenic Orthodox Community's spiritual life with the church's grand opening in 1949. It continues to serve as both a historical landmark for Waco's Greek community, which began with a Greek cotton merchant in the early 1900s, and as an important cultural and spiritual gathering place for people both within and outside of the Hellenic community.  | Creator: Hannah Engstrom View File Details Page

A New Name

A New Name

To raise additional funds for the construction of the church's new building, the church held a fundraising drive to choose its name. Then it selected various names and participants donated money for the name they preferred. Each fifty dollar donation represented one vote and St. Nicholas won the competition. Today the church still bears the name of the fourth-century Christian saint and Greek bishop of Myra who is also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker because of the many miracles attributed to him.  | Creator: Hannah Engstrom View File Details Page

Welcoming Community

Welcoming Community

St. Nicholas welcomes anyone interested in the Greek Orthodox faith to take part in their services on Saturdays and Sundays. However, be sure to peruse their website beforehand for some helpful advice and information, particularly concerning their request for those who are not a baptized, chrismated and prepared Orthodox Christian to abstain from receiving Holy Communion. | Creator: Hannah Engstrom View File Details Page

Audio

Smorgasbord

Martha Gradel speaks of when St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church served a smorgasbord. | Source: Gradel, Martha, interviewed by Stephen M. Sloan, October 1, 2014, in Robinson, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX.View the full interview View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Hannah Engstrom, “St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church,” Waco History, accessed July 22, 2017, http://wacohistory.org/items/show/163.

Subjects

Share this Story