Thursday, October 12, 2006

Greek Orthodox to build new church downtown

[I took that back in August.]

That's downtown back home down in Columbia SC. Holy Trinity is beautiful little church ... they're obvioulsy doing well if they're expanding! The groundbreaking is this Sunday (I will actually be back in SC but will be at Mass ... :)) [Hat tip Matt]
The Rev. Aris P. Metrakos has spent a lot of time lately in the parking lot behind Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, where yellow paint marks the outline of a $5 million Byzantine-style sanctuary that will soon rise on Main Street.

Even though only vehicles dot the Main Street landscape now, he can envision the 9,000-square-foot facility, with its circular dome and eastward-facing altar.

“I’ve been thinking about it for so long, I think it’s in my mind,” Metrakos said.

The church, the Midlands’ only Greek Orthodox congregation, decided to stay downtown, buying enough land to build a sanctuary about three times the size of its existing one.


The prominent dome will glow with the blue of an aged-copper or faux-copper finish. The building will rise six stories high at the dome’s peak, topped by a simple cross, and is expected to change the look of that stretch of Main Street.

Groundbreaking is set for noon Sunday, with Columbia Mayor Bob Coble and His Eminence Metropolitan Alexios of Atlanta, leader of the Southeast region of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, in attendance.

The congregation, with its 350 families, is well-known for hosting an annual Greek Festival, which draws thousands for food, dancing and tours. Proceeds have gone toward charities and the building campaign.

Metrakos, who has led Holy Trinity for 12 years, said the congregation has been raising money for a new sanctuary for nearly a decade.

Originally, the plan was to locate the church just down the block on Sumter Street. But when the parking lot property behind the church on Main Street came up for sale, the congregation bought it with $1 million and secured the entire block.

That means the circular, cruciform church will now front Main Street and serve as an “Orthodox Christian witness” to those entering the city from the north, according to the church’s fundraising materials.

The brick and masonry church, designed by New York architect Steven P. Papadatos, will have 60 arched alabaster glass windows at the base of the dome. Columbia architect Don Golightly, of Design Collaborative, is working with Papadatos on the building details.

Once new interior icons are completed by Greek iconographer George Mitsis, the total cost will reach $7.1 million. About $3 million already has been raised, Metrakos said.

The Greek Orthodox Church is part of the Eastern Orthodox Church, one of the three branches of world Christianity, with roots in the Byzantine Empire. The church adheres to the Byzantine rite, rich in the use of icons.

Longtime member Mary Rickman plans to attend Sunday’s ceremony, to wield a shovel and turn the ceremonial dirt, thanking God for bringing the congregation this far.

She remembers attending Greek School in the congregation’s first church, a little white frame building at Sumter and Franklin streets. In 1949, the 35-to 50-family-strong congregation built the church that now anchors the corner of Sumter and Calhoun streets. That facility — which seats 250, tightly — will continue as a chapel.

Rickman believes the new church, which will accommodate 450 people seated and another 200 standing, is a recognition of the ideas of the church’s founders.

“Our forefathers had a vision, and the vision they had then was for us to pray for our children,” said Rickman, who’s 71. “We feel this is what we need to do to fulfill the promise.”

Coble said the congregation’s decision to stay put is an important one for the center city’s future.

“I’m excited that the Greek church will remain in downtown Columbia,” Coble said, but he said he couldn’t claim credit for influencing that decision.

Other downtown congregations, including Trinity Episcopal Cathedral and Second Nazareth Baptist Church, have completed expansion projects during the past year, choosing to remain in the heart of the city.

For his part, Metrakos said he gave the congregation “a little pep talk” last Sunday in anticipation of the momentous undertaking.

Some, he said, have wondered why the congregation didn’t move to the suburbs or simply start a second parish.

“I told them on Sunday, God willing, I hope to live long enough to (also) start a new church” at another location, he said.

“There is a real commitment to staying downtown.”

IF YOU GO

The Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church is about to break ground on its $5 million sanctuary:

When: Noon Sunday

Where: Parking lot at Main and Richland streets, downtown Columbia

What: Mayor Bob Coble and His Eminence Metropolitan Alexios, leader of the Southeast region of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, will join the Rev. Aris Metrakos and church members as they process from the existing church to where the church’s new altar will be.

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