ANCHORAGE, AK – Greeks stretch across the United States from coast to coast, and then some. Holy Transfiguration, in Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage, is the Northernmost Greek Orthodox Church in America.
The Church was formerly established in 1953, according to its website, to accommodate the Greek population of Anchorage that first began to arrive in the early 1900s to work on the Alaska railroad. The Orthodox community, however, dates back at least as far as the 19th century. Until the opening of Transfiguration, however, Orthodox Greeks worshipped at the St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church in nearby Eklutna.
On October 4, the Holy Transfiguration Church had a new beginning, of sorts: it celebrated the opening of its new facility, the formal Thyranoixia – Door-Opening presided over by Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco.
The church’s website, transfiguration.ak.goarch.org relays the Church’s saga over the past few decades, including the dwindling of the community when the economy waned due to falling oil prices: “The oil boom of the late 1970s and early 1980s brought a new influx of Greeks who decided it was time to reorganize. The driving force behind this movement was Dr. Alexander Baskous and Tanya Clark. Through word of mouth and the telephone book approximately 300 Eastern Orthodox families were identified and invited to a reorganization meeting, which led to the church once again becoming a full time parish in 1983 with the assignment of Reverend Gregory Constantinos.
“Growth continued until the late 1980s, when a sharp decline in the oil market caused thousands of Alaskans to lose their jobs and leave the state. The parish lost half of its active membership. Despite this setback, determination and perseverance prevailed, and in 1987 the parish moved from its old location to what is still considered a ‘gift from God.’ The parish swapped its small property for an 8,000 square foot ‘mansion’ on five acres. The three-story wooden structure houses the offices, kitchen, Sunday school and meeting rooms, and an apartment. The sanctuary occupied the 36-by-18-foot former living room.
“By 1995 it was the strong desire of the community to build a traditional, Byzantine style church on the current site. A building committee was formed, under the leadership of Paul Lotakis, and with the help of Ikona Architects of San Francisco and Krochina Architects of Anchorage, a master plan was developed. After much consideration it was later determined that this plan was too large for such a small community.
“Ten years later, the building committee redefined the plans to suit the needs of the present community, and moved boldly forward with the goal of constructing a new church. On October 23, 2005 the Parish General Assembly overwhelmingly approved the project, including the general building plans and allocation of the funds necessary to begin final design of the new church. The capital campaign continued and on August 30, 2009 the Greek Orthodox community of Holy Transfiguration welcomed its hierarch, Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco, for groundbreaking ceremonies at which time the community received the Metropolitan’s blessing for the parish to officially begin construction of its new church. On May 6, 2010 the construction contract was signed with Alcan General.
“On Wednesday, June 4, 2014 we held our first service, the Paraklesis to the Mother of God, in the new church building. Our first Divine Liturgy was held the following Sunday on the feast of Pentecost.”
The Thyranoixia, however, marked the Church’s official opening.