History of the Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia
Although individual Orthodox Christians had come to the "New World" from early on, the first colony of Greek Orthodox Christians to settle on the North American continent arrived in 1768, as part of a commercial enterprise at New Smyrna in northeast Florida. The venture did not succeed and the survivors made their way to Saint Augustine in 1777. They would gather in the Avero House for prayer services and fellowship. The site is now a national shrine as a living memorial to those first Greek Orthodox settlers and to all the Greek Orthodox immigrants whose love of freedom and desire for a better life for themselves and their children brought them across the Atlantic. Many of these early arrivals settled along Atlantic and Gulf coasts, with the first Greek Orthodox Church being established in New Orleans in 1864.
The Eastern Orthodox faith had spread to Russia in 988 and from there many centuries later, monks from the Valaam Monastery continued the missionary spirit of Orthodoxy by crossing the Bering Strait and setting up a formal mission in Alaska in 1794. When the territory of Alaska was incorporated into the United States in 1867, the diocese see was moved from Sitka to San Francisco, thereby establishing an official ecclesiastical structure in America.
An influx of immigrants from Greece started arriving in Virginia in the late 1800's. They started out in menial jobs but having an inherent entrepreneurial spirit, soon began to open small fruit stands, ice cream carts, shoe shine parlors (where hat-cleaning was also offered), and finally their lasting heritage, the Greek -run luncheonette. This last enterprise evolved into a variety of culinary offerings from hot dog stands to steak houses. The early immigrants brought their Greek Orthodox faith with them. When sacramental needs arose, priests would come from the larger cities in the north to serve the needs of the faithful.
The history of the establishment of the first Greek Orthodox parishes in Virginia is similar. Once there were a sufficient number of the faithful in a city, they would gather periodically to celebrate an ecclesiastical feast or a sacrament with a visiting priest. As the numbers grew, a facility would be rented, most likely in the downtown area where most of their businesses and homes were located, and a priest would come on a regular schedule until the community could afford to have a full-time clergyman. The first parish in Virginia was established in Norfolk in 1911, followed by churches in Hopewell and Richmond in 1917. As the years passed, nine additional parishes were founded in the major cities of the Commonwealth, for a total of twelve churches. As the next generations of American born Greek Orthodox Christians became educated and more prosperous, new church structures were built in suburbia. There are also two mission communities located in Williamsburg and Loudon County.
The composition of the parishes has changed over the years. What started out as communities with mainly Greek members are now parishes which serve Orthodox Christians of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The ethnic includes members from traditional Orthodox countries, such as those with Slavic or Middle Eastern background. A growing number of Americans with no prior Orthodox heritage are now embracing the Orthodox Christian faith. Faithfulness to the tradition and the history of the early Church is one attraction for this group.
The parishes and missions in Virginia are under the ecclesiastical authority of His Eminence Metropolitan Evangelos of New Jersey. There are a total of eight Metropolises which with the Archdiocesan District comprise the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, whose headquarters are located in New York City. The national church leader is Archbishop Demetrios, who presides over the Holy Synod of Bishops, which in turn is under the spiritual authority ofthe Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople (modern day Istanbul in Turkey). The Patriarchate is a founding member and active participant in the World Council of Churches, and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America is a member of the National Council of Churches. For more information, you can go to the website goarch.org.