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ANNUNCIATION GREEK ORTHODOX CATHEDRAL

Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral.
Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral serves as the center of Greek cultural activities and Orthodox ministry and education in Houston. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

ANNUNCIATION GREEK ORTHODOX CATHEDRAL. The parish of Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Houston began as Evangelismos of the Theotokes Greek Orthodox (“Annunciation to the Mother of God”) Church, credited as the first Greek Orthodox church in Texas. From the late 1800s through the turn of the twentieth century, Russian, Serbian, Bulgarian, Lebanese, and Greek immigrants brought their Orthodox Christianity with them to Texas. At first these émigrés traveled to Galveston Island to celebrate the Orthodox Divine Liturgy at Saints Constantine and Helen, which by the early 1900s had come under the auspices of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The first Greek immigrants known to reside in Houston arrived in 1889, and during these early years they arranged for out-of-town Orthodox priests to perform the Divine Liturgy and celebrate weddings, baptisms, and other Orthodox holidays. In 1914 they formed the Panhellenic Benevolent Brotherhood with the intent to build a Greek Orthodox church in Houston. In 1917 a permit was obtained from the city of Houston to erect a church which would be located at 509 Walker Street and named Evangelismos of the Theotokos. The new church, dedicated on February 10, 1918, was reputed to have been an unimpressive wood-frame building, but its interior was replete with Byzantine icons and the other trappings of Greek Orthodox Christianity.      

Greek immigrants and their children were committed to being good Americans. Many of the men who served on the parish council of the church eventually entered military service and were veterans of World War I and World War II. Parishioners also wished to continue their heritage—religious and cultural. The church initiated a Greek Language and Culture School in 1917 to provide education on the Greek language and culture. The school still operated 100 years later. Evangelismos of the Theotokos adhered to the tradition of the Greek language in services, yet it ushered in a revolutionary change when it formed its first church choir by 1938, something theretofore unheard of.   

As the parish grew in membership, it became evident that a larger church facility was badly needed. On March 1, 1946, the parish purchased a half block of land on Yoakum Boulevard. The parishioners continued worshipping at the Walker Street church until the new Yoakum Boulevard facility opened officially on April 18, 1952. It was named the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church. The old church building was purchased by the city of Houston for $50,000.00 in 1951. A plaque in Tranquility Park, the site of the old church, commemorates Evangelismos of the Theotokos Greek Orthodox Church as the first Greek Orthodox church in Texas.  

In 1967 Houston became the See of the Eighth Diocesan District of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America. The Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church became Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral. The first bishop of the new See was His Grace Bishop Iacovos of Catania. He assumed his duties just in time to participate in the parish’s fiftieth anniversary celebration in 1967. As the parish grew over the decades, it became increasingly involved in the Houston community. Fr. George Kalpaxis, who served from 1954 to 1966, began televising the Divine Liturgy in the 1960s. He brought the parish into the Houston Council of Churches. The Philocardiac Ministry began work with heart patients at Houston’s Medical Center and often served as translators for Greek patients. The parishioners were active participants in the Houston Metropolitan Ministries programs, such as the Hunger Pantry and Meals on Wheels. The parish instituted the Children’s Art Project at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Annunciation Cathedral was also a participating member in the civic life of Houston. In 1968 the parish launched the annual Greek Festival, which has grown into one of the largest Greek festivals in the United States. By the 2010s the four-day event attracted approximately 40,000 visitors.

The parish continued unprecedented growth in the 1970s. Annunciation Orthodox School opened in 1970 with ten preschool students, but it quickly expanded though the eighth grade.  The cathedral gained churchwide recognition when on January 17, 1971, His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church of North and South America, presided over the consecration of bishop-elect Reverend Archimandrite Christodoulos Kallos, the first American-born Greek Orthodox priest to be elevated to the Episcopate of the Greek Orthodox Church.

Over the years, the cathedral grounds have expanded to some two city blocks. Parishioners considered relocating to the Houston suburbs in the early 1990s but chose to remain on Yoakum Boulevard. In the 2010s the complex included the Polemanakos Educational Building, the S.P. Martel Hall, and the Steve G. Caloudas Athletic Center as well as St. George Chapel, a bookstore, administrative offices, and an outdoor courtyard and playground. In 2016 members planned a $12.5 million expansion of the cathedral which would include a larger golden dome and an expanded sanctuary designed to double seating capacity. Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral, which celebrated its centennial in 2017, is one of the largest Orthodox churches in the United States and serves as the center of Greek cultural activities and Orthodox ministry and education in Houston. 

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral Home Page (http://www.agoc.org/), accessed April 26, 2017. Irene Cassis and Constantina Michalos, Images of America: Greeks in Houston (Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2013). Houston Chronicle, June 21, 1997; October 12, 2016.

Pierre A. Kleff, Jr.

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Pierre A. Kleff, Jr., "Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral," accessed October 17, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ioa01.

Uploaded on April 28, 2017. Modified on May 2, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.