Cherry Hill, NJ – Greek Orthodox Byzantine churches are beautiful. There’s no questioning this. And we Greeks in America have a unique connection we’ve historically known all our lives. That may be true for some, but not all. In fact, when we examine the history, many immigrants, and first generation Greek Orthodox faithful in the Philadelphia community didn’t even have a church when they first arrived. And the church they attended was probably bought from another Christian faith. What they brought with them, was the memory of their homeland and churches. So they attended where they could. Renting churches from different congregations, and even bringing priests to their homes.
But that all changed as soon as we Greeks, got together and decided, we wanted to build our churches. Yes. That sounds funny. Are Greeks getting together? Uniting? How can we not laugh at the thought of this? But it’s true. In times of need, we Greeks put our differences aside and do the right thing. When it came to building churches, they put their differences aside and united up to build a church. But some of them were designed with a modern concept in mind.
Now, 50 years later, some of them like St. Thomas Greek Orthodox Church are getting a facelift. They want to be more in line with the Byzantine style we Greeks feel gives us our identity. Just this summer St. Thomas kicked off the update of their church facade. Although beautiful, the original exterior design of St. Thomas was not Byzantine. Sure, the inside was, but outside it was a very contemporary looking church. Now, half a century later, the congregation has built a school, hall, and a senior center. So what was next? Renovate the front of the church to be more in line with tradition.
Stone mason Kostas Sotirelis has overseen many projects around the world, several of them in the Delaware Valley. His stone mason work is in the traditional of the Byzantine style. But he doesn’t work on churches alone. On many occasions, he is hired to develop the facades of schools, office building, and park entrances to name a few. “ I try and find key elements to work around, and give each project a unique identity of its own,” says Sotirelis.
His last project in the area was the completion of St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Upper Darby. There, he completely transformed the exterior of the church, giving it a more traditional Byzantine appearance, while keeping a sense of it’s original, contemporary style.
Having seen this work, he was assigned by the St. Thomas board to update the church facade, to a Byzantine and give it a unique identity.This project is expected to be finished next fall, exactly 50 years after the church originally opened. St. Thomas will host a Thyranixia on that day, October 1st, 2017. The historic moment will take place under the auspices of his Eminence, Metropolitan Evangelos of New Jersey.