History of Our Parish
Prior to the year 1999, over a thirty to forty year period, several attempts were made to establish an Orthodox church in the mid-Ohio valley area. Namely the Parkersburg, WV, Marietta and Athens, OH area. However, it wasn’t until late in 1999 that a meeting was held by several people of the Orthodox faith, along with Fr. Leonidas from St. Spyridon in Clarksburg, WV. to again make an attempt to establish a church.
Then on November 29, 2001 a meeting was held in the general purpose room of the St. Spyridon hall (Clarksburg, WV) for the purpose of discussing the possibility of Fr. Leonidas Drakopoulos providing church services to the people of Orthodox faith in the mid-Ohio valley area. The areas of discussion of that meeting were:
- How many people in the area are of the Orthodox faith?
- How to go about organizing a core group or committee to begin proceedings.
- How to go about finding a place fit for services.
- When services could be held.
- How to go about seeking out people of the Orthodox faith in the area who might be interested in attending services.
Fr. Leonidas suggested that at first it might be wise to hold prayer services in one of the homes. Then after a sufficient number of people were in attendance we could make arrangements to either rent a place or approach a local church for the use of their facilities when not used by their congregation.
It was then mentioned that in Belpre, Ohio, which is just across the Ohio river from Parkersburg, WV, there is a Catholic church that is for sale and that it might be available for services if permission could be granted by all parties concerned.
Fr. Leonidas stated that services would probably have to be held during the week or on Saturdays.
Mr. Angelo Koukoulis suggested and the group agreed that a committee should be formed of those who in the past have shown an interest. Officers should be elected and a plan drafted of how to approach the problem of services in the Parkersburg area with specific dates and goals indicated.
Fr. Leonidas stated that our next meeting probably could not take place until after the first of January (2002) when he would be available to come to Parkersburg to bless the homes. This he said is due to his busy schedule over the Christmas holidays.
On February 13, 2002 a group consisting of Fr. Leonidas, George Katsan, Demo Dukas, Kiki and Francis Angelos, Sally and Jim Dukas, Niki Angelos, Eric Russell, Sophia Angelos, Brian Colombo, Photoola Papaefstathiou and Denise Highland met for a dinner meeting in Parkersburg, WV at Colombo’s Restaurant for the purpose of discussing the possibilities of providing church services for Orthodox Christians in the area.
It was felt by the group that in order to find out how many people of the Orthodox faith were in the area we would have to use some if not all of the following methods to locate interested people:
- Search through the area phone books for names of people who might be of Greek ancestry.
- Form a calling committee.
- Word of mouth
- A newspaper ad in the local newspapers in the religion section
Niki Angelos and Jim Dukas were appointed as contact persons for the Parkersburg area. It was also felt that in the very near future a committee should be appointed to locate a place for church services. A possibility would be the use of a local church.
Suggestions were made that we should not move too fast on the entire project so as to thoroughly think through each step of our progress.
Several meetings were held during the year and in the late summer arrangements were made with the Trinity Episcopal Church of Parkersburg to hold services on Saturday mornings at 10:30 A. M. The Trinity Episcopal Church was most generous in allowing us to use their facility at no charge.
Early in 2003 (February 1st) Eric and Niki (Angelos) Russell signed a land contract with the Catholic Diocese of Steubenville, Ohio for the purchase of the former St. Ambrose Catholic church, rectory and three lots at 120 Maple Street in Belpre, Ohio. The purchase price of the property was $ 150,000.00 and was to be paid by December of 2005. At that time it was reported that our unnamed church had approximately 38 families mostly of the Greek Orthodox faith.
The plan for the use of the property was that the former rectory would become a church hall and the top floor would be used for Eric Russell’s business. Mr. Russell was the primary owner of Reed-Russell Associates, a real estate appraisal company. The church building would be converted to an Orthodox church.
On February 1, 2003 the first Liturgy was held in the former St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Belpre, Ohio.
Not long after starting services in the new facility Mr. Tony Veanes of Williamsville, New York, who was visiting his daughter Joellen Scott, husband Chris and his grandsons, donated his time and skill to build the Ikonostasion.
During the first year St. James had six Chrismations and one Baptism. the first alterboy was Anthony Scott, the grandson of Mr.Tony Veanes.
On Wednesday April 7, 2004 His Eminence Metropolitan Maximos of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Pittsburgh visited St. James and celebrated Presantified Liturgy. Metropolitan Maximos was assisted in the Liturgy by the Assistant to the Metropolis Reverend Archdeacon Ryan (Raphael) Gzikowski, Very Reverend Father Leonidas and Reverend Father Andrew Clark. The visit of the Metropolitan to St James came during the celebration of Holy Week, which was the first time that Orthodox Holy Week Services were held in the Mid-Ohio Valley area. Moreover, this was the first time that a sitting Hierarch of the Orthodox Church has visited the Mid-Ohio Valley area. To join with St. James in welcoming the Metropolitan were several representatives from area churches and government, namely Reverend Father David Huffman of St. Ambrose Roman Catholic Church and Mayor Bill McAfee of the City of Belpre.
On August 1, 2003 a letter was received from His Eminence Maximos in which he announced that our Mission Church would be dedicated to the honor of the Holy Glorious Apostle James, the Brother Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The feast day of the church to be October 23rd.
As time went on Mr. Russell found it most difficult to continue his appraisal business and the church was forced to take over the payments (March 2005) on the land contract. This was necessary in order to continue the use of the church property.
The church continued to pay on the land contract that Mr. Russell had signed with the Catholic Diocese and continued to negotiate with the Catholic Diocese on the purchase of the property.
In order to protect all members of the congregation it was decided to form a corporation with the State of Ohio. This was completed in October of 2006 under the name of The Mid-Ohio Valley Orthodox Heritage Society, Inc.
The next step was to seek out a financial institution that would help the corporation purchase the church property. An appraiser (Randy D. Reed & Associates of Parkersburg, WV) was hired to appraise the property. The property appraisal was completed on November 8, 2006 with a market value “as is” at $ 293,000.00. Eventually a financial institution in Parkersburg, WV (BB&T) agreed to finance the purchase of the church property at a price of $ 124,125.64. The deed to the property was fnally signed over on March 19, 2007.
Since February of 2003 there have been several weddings, baptisms, chrismations and memorials in the church facility. During the early baptisms the church had to borrow a baptismal font from St. Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church in Clarksburg. Then in 2007 Dr. & Mrs. Anthony Chila donated a beautiful font for all future baptisms.
In June of 2004 the Belpre Woman’s Club awarded St. James the “Yard of the Month” award. This is a recognition given each month during the summer to any residence or business that improves its yard appearance.
On Saturday May 24, 2008 Fr. Leonidas preformed The Ceremony of the Sacrament of Marriage for Joseph S. Jones and Janet M. O’Connor. The following week Fr. Leonidas phoned and said that he was ill and that he was going to be transferred to the Veterans Hospital in Pittsburgh. At that time he stated that the doctors at the Clarksburg, WV Veterans hospital had diagnosed him with a brain tumor.
St. James was then faced with the problem of obtaining a visiting priest for each and every Saturday.during Fr. Leonidas’ illness. The priests that served St. James during this period were: Fr. Mark Elliott, Fr. Arthur Baron, Fr. David Shaw, Fr. Elias Scoulas and Fr. Eugen Rosu.
Wednesday September 9, 2009 was a sad day for the parishioners of St. James when they were informed that Fr. Leonidas had passed away at the Louis A. Johnson Veterans Medical Center in Clarksburg, WV. He was 67.
During the latter part of 2009 a church school was organized for the preschoolers of the congregation. Photoola Medley has been the teacher with Denise Highland assisting.
A church gift store was also established in 2009 by Sally Dukas and Katie Konokas. Many items such as icons, bibles and Orthodox literature are available.
On January 1, 2010 Fr, Polykarp Stavrinos was assigned to St. Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church in Clarksburg, WV with the added responsibility of serving St. James in Belpre, Ohio. However, on March 27, 2010 word was received that the Metropolitian was transferring Fr. Polykarp to a church in New York state.
From March 27, 2010 to October of 2010 St. James was served by several priests from around the area. Those priests were Fr. Arthur Baron, Fr. Mark Elliott and Fr. David Shaw. In October of 2010 St. Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church of Clarksburg, WV engaged Fr. Stelios Menis to fill in for their services while they were in the process of finding a permanent priest and advised us that he would be available to also serve St. James on a weekly basis.
In March of 2010 the city of Parkersburg held it’s first Easter parade. St. James was among several churches in the area with an entry using a religious theme.
During the years many parishioners have contributed icons, Liturgy books (Dr. & Mrs. William Kaldis), hours of time in garage sales, upkeep of the property and various fund raising projects as well as outright donations toward the church mortgage and operations.
As of January 2011 the congregation is made up of approximately 30 families with an average weekly Liturgy attendance around 25.
Written by Jim Dukas January 2011