LEWISTON — The Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church has always been a part of Jimmy Simones’ family.
His grandfather was a founding member who raised his children in the church. Simones was baptized there, served as altar boy and as a member of the parish council. When Holy Trinity built a new building on Hogan Road in 1977, Simones and his wife were the first to be married there. Like his father and grandfather, Simones has raised his own children in the church.
Holy Trinity is where he’s always felt comfortable, accepted, loved. It’s part of his heritage.
“It’s your home,” he said.
For generation after generation, home.
This weekend, the church both honored that history and looked to the future. On Saturday, Holy Trinity celebrated 100 years as a parish. On Sunday, it consecrated its 33-year-old church building, marking a commitment to Greek orthodoxy in Lewiston for generations to come.
“It’s going to be an event, an affair, that is very humbling to be part of,” Simones said a few days before the consecration. “Basically, the church is being baptized.”
According to official church history, the first Greek immigrants began arriving in Lewiston-Auburn around 1900. In 1910, those immigrants founded the Holy Trinity parish, establishing their church in a little building on Lincoln Street in Lewiston.
Bessie Hildreth, 86, was baptized in that building. She and her six siblings grew up in the church, going to services on Sunday, playing with the children of other Greek families, learning from older church members how to cook traditional Greek pastries.
“Most of the Greek families were good size, and they all went to the church,” she said. “It was a very closely knit community.”
As Hildreth grew, her church community also grew. It became harder and harder for Holy Trinity to function in the tiny Lincoln Street building. Large gatherings had to be held in the borrowed second floor of the building next door. The church was remodeled in 1929 and 1948, but the changes weren’t enough. In 1965, with about 135 families, a part-time Greek school and several clubs to house, Holy Trinity established a building fund. It would spend the next 12 years raising $120,000 through festivals, dances and bake sales.
“It’s amazing what you can do if you’re determined,” said Hildreth, who helped by using the cooking skills she’d learned as a child at the knee of older church members. “We used to kid and say church was my first home and where I live now is my second home. I was up there a lot.”
The new, bigger church building opened in 1977 on Hogan Road, on land donated by the Mendros family.
Son Stavros Mendros said he expected this weekend’s consecration would feel like “the last piece falling into place.”
Greek Orthodox churches are consecrated just one in their lifetime, usually after the mortgage has been paid off or some other milestone has been met to insure that building is a permanent part of the parish. Holy Trinity members said they’d been trying for years to get their building consecrated.
The parish’s 100th anniversary turned out to be the perfect time.
“It’s a very monumental event for the parish,” said the Rev. Ted Toppses. “It’s an incredible blessing.”
On Saturday the church planned a 4 p.m. service with Metropolis Methodios, the archbishop for Greek Orthodox churches in the Boston region. That night Holy Trinity expected 200 people for a celebratory dinner and dance, with remarks from U.S. Sen Olympia Snowe, who grew up in the Lewiston church.
“We have managed not only to survive but to thrive through our faith, our heritage, and our culture. Holy Trinity has been the mosaic — the tapestry that brings us all together,” Snowe said in a statement a couple of days before the event.
On Sunday the church planned the consecration. During the morning ceremony, the bones of three saints would be permanently sealed inside the altar table. Consecration is so rare that the archbishop will attend only two this year, one of them in Lewiston.
“It’s a historic event, not only for the local parish in Lewiston but for the entire diocese, if you will, in New England,” he said. “We’re very proud of the people in Lewiston.”
Years ago, some worried the parish might not see its 100th anniversary or the consecration. In the decades after it built the new church, the Holy Trinity parish began losing members. Older members died, younger ones moved, families drifted away. At its lowest point the parish had just 85 families.
But in the last several years, Holy Trinity has seen a resurgence in membership — not from people of Greek heritage but from people whose families hailed from Albania, Armenia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Russia and other countries. Many were drawn by both the religion and the close-knit community. The church now has about 130 families.
Holy Trinity’s older members have welcomed the new families. The newcomers, they say, represent the next 100 years.
“I’m so proud to be a part of (Holy Trinity) because I’ve done it and now the next generation, it’s ready for them to take over,” said Snowe’s cousin Georgia Chomas, who was also raised in the church, a couple of days before this weekend’s celebration. “I feel just as proud as can be.”