Deptford, NJ – The St. Demetrios community of Upper Darby celebrated its 75th year as an Orthodox church this past Saturday evening. St. Demetrios is one of the oldest Greek Orthodox churches in the region and was started as a satellite church from Evangelismos of the Theotokos once in Philadelphia. Today, St. Demetrios sits in the geographic center of the Philadelphia Greek community. It is described by many as the jewel of the Greek community for its history, an effort to preserve the traditions associated with Hellenism and Orthodoxy.
Simela Akranis, chair of the event and master of ceremonies introduced the speakers of the evening. Past and current presidents, Philip Nicolaidis and George Agatsiotis addressed the crowd of three hundred. Some of the original members were still present for the occasion and looked on with a sense of pride. President Philip Nicolaidis talked about the struggles throughout the years and dedication his parishioners had. He concluded by saying, “all roads lead to Upper Darby.” The comment struck a chord with the community who cheered on Nicolaidis. Perhaps no other statement summed it up better that evening.
Upper Darby was once a second Greektown, following the expansion of Greeks moving west from Philadelphia in the late 60’s through the 90’s. Upper Darby became a second Greektown. Centered around 69th street, the church, several Greek clubs, and stores developed alongside the church and neighborhood where many Greeks settled from Greece.
Mayor Thomas N. Micozzie of Upper Darby also attended the affair. He spoke about the community’s long history and contributions to Upper Darby. He also mentioned, that when he ran for mayor, the Greek community became the first to embrace him and help him attain the township position of mayor. During his speech, he announced that he had just completed a DNA test. The test revealed that he was 30% percent Greek. Cheers filled the room as Micozzie beamed at the St. Demetrios parishioners and then gestured. “I don’t have to say I want to be like the Greeks, I am,” remarked Micozzie.
In his address to the parishioners, his Eminence, Metropolitan Evangelos of New Jersey expressed his fondness for the community. He described St. Demetrios as an Orthodox church where the effort to preserve Greek language more than any other of his metropolis in the Mid Atlantic states stands out. He added that the members of St. Demetrios are truly dedicated to Orthodoxy and its values.
A historical film about the community created by Cosmos Philly highlighted the evening. The documentary featured photographs spanning three generations of history and construction of the church. Many who looked on were brought to tears by photos and interviews that featured the parishioners from past and present that built the church and continue to sustain it. The film was narrated by past President Demos Vasiliou and was based on the historical records gathered by parishioner Mary Seis. The film is an archival record that will be accompanied by the book about St. Demetrios later next year.
The evening closed with Metropolitan Evangelos of New Jersey cutting a cake marking the 75th anniversary and was followed by dancing performed by St Demetrios’ own Pegasus dance group.