In its early years, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church (later Cathedral) went through priests like a newborn goes through diapers. In the dozen years from its founding in 1892 until 1904, the parish welcomed, and said goodbye to, no fewer than eight pastors. These included some (relatively) big names:
- Fr. Paisios Ferentinos, the first Greek priest in New York
- Fr. Kallinikos Dilveis, who went on to found the Greek church in Lowell, Mass. before returning to Greece and becoming a bishop
- Fr. Panagiotis Phiambolis, who moved to New York after founding the first church in Chicago
But none of those men stuck around for very long, and when Fr. Methodios Kourkoulis took charge of Holy Trinity in 1904, I doubt he was expected to fare any better. But he did — against all odds, Fr. Kourkoulis lasted a whopping 37 years, serving as pastor of Holy Trinity until his death in 1941.
That period, 1904 to 1941, witnessed remarkable, dramatic changes in America in general, and Orthodoxy in particular. When Fr. Kourkoulis arrived, the Greeks were in a state of disarray, with no real hierarchical oversight of any kind. By the time he died, nearly every Greek church in America was part of the Greek Archdiocese, led by Archbishop Athenagoras and a cadre of titular bishops.
I know very little about Fr. Kourkoulis himself. I mean, he was around for everything, but it’s hard to get a clear picture of what sort of person he was. I do know that he was born on the island of Mytilene in the Ottoman Empire in October 1861. He studied in Jerusalem, Athens, and Germany, and was ordained a priest at Lesbos in 1892. He spent the next dozen years as a teacher and missionary in his native Asia Minor, but also, apparently, did the same thing in Egypt, Sudan, Smyrna, and the Holy Land. And we’re not talking about a monastic priest, here — Fr. Kourkoulis was married and had at least two children.
In 1904, he was sent to New York to take charge of Holy Trinity. One writer said of Fr. Kourkoulis, “He laid the solid foundation of the community during the earlier years of his office.” Shortly before his death, the widowed Fr. Kourkoulis was elevated to archimandrite. And, as I said, he died in 1941.
He must have been well loved, considering the remarkable monument erected in his honor. The inscription reads, “For the valuable services rendered as a clergyman for 38 years – this monument is gratefully dedicated.” And it’s just an awesome monument, right? Does any Orthodox clergyman in America have a more striking tombstone?
Anyway, I’d love to learn more about Fr. Kourkoulis. If anyone reading this has more information, please email me at mfnamee [at] gmail [dot] com.