September 5, 2010

A Greek Orthodox Parish Overcomes Division in the 1920's

This is an excerpt from the July 2010 issue of the Orthodox Observer in the Parish Profile for St. Vasilios Church in Peabody, Massachusetts which was founded in 1905. I found it particularly interesting on what divided the community into two separate communities and what brought them together. Issues that should not divide a parish in fact did, and what brought them together was a patient dialogue that resulted in mutual understanding and seeing past the peripherals for the greater good.

Politics in the 1920's damaged the community. The U.S. government instituted a quota system severely limiting the number of southern Europeans who could come to America, which stopped the community's growth, and the Royalist-Venizelist conflict in Greece split the parish into two camps, as it did many Greek American communities.

Two other factors that caused serious divisions were the decision in 1920 of Ecumenical Patriarch Meletios and the Holy Synod to abolish the Gregorian calendar, and the introduction of pews. For some, this violated the traditional practice of continuously standing and was seen as an effort to "protestantize" the Church.

The larger group sided with the monarchists and opposed the New Calendar and pews.

By March 26, the parish split apart. The new group took the name Holy Transfiguration and held services at a local Episcopal church.

The Great Depression brought hardship to all Greek families and the communities faced the prospect of collapse and dissolution. But three men saved the situation and reunited the factions:

Fr. George Economides, a Halki graduate and pastor of the breakaway Holy Transfiguration, the parish President Theodore Fotopoulos, and St. Vasilios' President Nicholas Batsinelas met secretly over several months and eventually persuaded the warring factions to attend a series of meetings in September and October 1930. The St. Vasilios pastor refused to attend.

Reunification came on October 28, 1930 but many years of healing followed.

World War II brought community members together and also resulted in 16 members of St. Vasilios falling in battle, which represented 22.5 percent of all casualties from Peabody.