By LINDA M. LINONIS
History and her- itage figure prominently in the faith tradition at St. John the Forerunner Greek Orthodox Church, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary.
Recently, the Rev. Thomas Constantine, pastor, and Greg Giannios, anniversary chairman, and his wife, Ann Giannios, president of church council and anniversary co-chairperson, talked about the centennial and church activities. Greg Giannios has been a member “all his life,” and his wife converted from Catholicism in 1974.
“I think we’re all proud of the heritage of our people,” Greg Giannios said. “We’re spiritual and get into the church service. I know people support the church ... they love it.”
He continued that many in the church operate businesses or are professionals. “Many of us have been blessed,” he said, adding it took “hard work.” “I believe things should be done the right way or no way,” he said, noting he relies on that philosophy when it comes to the church and his candy business.
Ann Giannios said, “The congregation has always been welcoming. It’s my family. I’m a convert, but don’t feel that way.”
“When I was growing up, I saw a good example of how people supported and loved the church,” Greg Giannios said.
Father Constantine said the church has a membership of some 200 families. Changing times and demographics have reshaped the Valley and churches, he said. “Many members are of Greek descent but others are from various backgrounds. Some have been Greek Orthodox all their lives and others are converts,” the pastor said. “It’s a good blend of people.
The priest began serving at St. John May 1, 2003. He was ordained a deacon Nov. 2, 1985, and a priest July 6, 1986.
The church at 4955 Glenwood Ave. was built in 1966; the first church in 1920 was on Woodland Avenue, Youngstown. The crystal chandelier from the former church was transferred to the new one and illuminates the narthex (entrance area). The Three Hierarchs Ladies Society bought the $1,500 piece in 1922 and it came from Vienna, Austria.
Father Constantine said the move was made because the church needed more space; at one time, there were some 500 families attending.
Also in the narthex is a wooden tomb, used during Holy Week for the burial of Christ. “It is a kouvouklion,” Father Constantine said, noting a figure of the Lord is buried in a shroud and the tomb decorated with flowers on Good Friday.
A small baptismal font for babies and children also is there. “I remember being baptized,” Greg Giannios said of the ceremony when he was 8 years old.
The nave features wooden pew seating for 400 with neo-Byzantine icons in colored and tempered glass created by artist Roy Callagan, on north and south sides. A booklet for the 75th anniversary describes the “Windows to Heaven” as a “contemporary interpretation of Byzantine iconography.” The windows depict scenes including the establishment of the church on Earth, defenders of the Church and the Resurrection. Depictions of the Twelve Apostles are showcased at the back of the sanctuary.
Access to the altar is reserved for priests and servers. The icon screen features images of Christ, Archangels Gabriel and Michael, Virgin Mary and child and two depictions of St. John the Baptist, church patron. “Small icons change with feasts,” Father Constantine said.
A courtyard for meditation was developed by a former pastor, who now is Bishop Isaiah of Denver and who will attend the anniversary.
Christmas services are special and Pascha services take place throughout Holy Week, often two and three times daily. Before midnight Holy Saturday, the nave is darkened and Father Constantine enters with a single candle from which candles held by the congregation are lighted. “It’s a beautiful sight,” the pastor said. Members process outside around the church then enjoy breakfast.
Feast Days including St. John the Baptist on Jan. 7 also hold special significance with vespers and a reception.
Some food-related events showcase members’ Greek heritage. A Seafood Fest, billed as “more than a fish fry,” takes place Fridays during the seven weeks before Easter. The Glendi, a three-day event with food and music began in 1974, is held the weekend after Aug. 15. Ethnic music and dancers entertain to share the Greek culture. Funds benefit the operation of the church.
A $100 dinner is an annual October event. Proceeds benefit restoration of the church, an ongoing effort.
Philoptochos, a philanthropic women’s group, was known as Tris Ierarchi (Three Hierarchs) until 1956. The group established a Greek school, tended to church needs and sponsored fundraisers. The organization continues and sponsors bake sales with Greek pastries.
In the community, the church sponsors a free meal from noon to 2 p.m. the second Saturday of the month. Eugenia Pontikos coordinates the outreach effort in its third year. St. Basil Workers, a group involving Orthodox church members, helps the needy at Easter and Christmas. Gus Giannios coordinates cooking of turkeys that go to the Salvation Army’s Thanksgiving dinner.
Greek Orthodox Youth of America meets for recreation and service projects including serving at Rescue Mission of Mahoning Valley.