High visibility for a priestly spirit



When Father Anastasios Gounaris is installed as the Dean of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in New York City later this week, he’ll assume a highly visible ministry in a highly visible church.

What Gounaris leaves behind at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Carmel is a highly appreciative congregation that has spiritually and visibly prospered during his 21 years of stewardship. What he will find in New York in some ways is the same, but also entirely new.

“The job in a lot of ways won’t be that much different,” Gounaris says, noting that he will celebrate the Eucharist in the new church for the first time June 3. “I’ll be pastoring a church of about 500 families, which is about what we have now. What will be different is that the new church is the home of the Archbishop of [the entire United States]. It’s is difficult to leave, but exciting to look ahead.”

“Father Taso,” who turns 55 on May 29, his wife Maria, and their two young daughters Eleni and Katrina arrived in Indianapolis in 1991 when the church was located at 4011 N. Pennsylvania St., Indianapolis. On Christmas Eve of 2008, the congregation moved into its newly built Carmel facility at 3500 W. 106th St.

Dr. Dennis Dickos, a St.Vincent Health System cardiologist who is a lifelong member of Holy Trinity Church, was chairman of both the committee that helped bring Father Anastasios to Indianapolis, and of the building and fundraising committee that raised up the new Carmel church.

“We love our priest in Carmel,” Dickos said, “but we are also very happy for him to broaden his ministry on the larger stage of the New York Cathedral. When the Archbishop (Demetrious) requested that he come to New York, it’s not something one can easily turn down.”

Gounaris leaves a legacy not only of a caring ministry but of increasing the visibility of the Orthodox Church. “We want Orthodoxy to be difficult to ignore,” he commented cheerfully in a recent interview, also noting that St. George’s Orthodox Church (Antiochian / Russian) is building a new church in Fishers on East 116th Street. Like Holy Trinity, it will reflect the Byzantine architecture so traditionally identified with the various Eastern Orthodox Churches.

Dickos noted that Gounaris (Dickos just calls him “Father”) broadened the interest in Orthodoxy as a theologically appealing Christian worship option to a wider set of people, rather than being purely and traditionally an ethnic congregation. “We have a lot of converts at Holy Trinity,” Dickos said, “it used to be almost exclusively made up of Greek families. That’s no longer the case, and we think that is a good sign for the vibrancy of the Orthodox Church.”

The move to the New York cathedral, with a much more ethnic Greek congregation and conventional liturgy, will definitely be a step toward the traditional and in many ways for Father Anastasios, a step toward home.

Gounaris was born and raised in Massachusetts in a home where Greek was spoken. His wife Maria was born and raised in Athens, Greece. In Carmel, the liturgy (written worship service) is mostly in English, while in the heavily ethnic and traditional New York parish, the liturgy is mostly in Greek.

There will be a few other changes as well.

In the first place, Archbishop Demetrious upon first meeting Gounaris at the ceremonial door opening of the new Carmel church in 2008, urged him to go by his given first name as Father “Anastasios” rather than the familiar and avuncular “Taso.” The name Anastasios, you see, is taken from the Greek word “Anastasis,” which means “Resurrection.” “Your name is a gift. Don’t hide it,” the archbishop counseled. So in New York, it’ll be “Father Anastasios.”

Then there will be the commute. It will be shorter and easier than the one he has in Carmel, where his house now is literally just around the corner from church. At the Cathedral, he and Maria will live in an adjacent, furnished apartment. The NYC commute will be an elevator, a short hallway and a couple of doors. “It is much smaller than our Carmel home,” he said, chuckling at the location of Central Park East and continued, “but is probably worth several times as much.”

And then there will be the Yankees fans. Even in the intensely spiritual realm of the Cathedral of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Anastasios – a Massachusetts native and lifelong Boston Red Sox fan – will be a tested by the intimate proximity of Yankees fans. “I think that proves God’s mirth,” Anastasios smiled.

Dickos is taking the change at Holy Trinity Church in Carmel as in-stride as he can. He again is on the committee that will help bring in the new priest. “We had about two months with substitute priests before Father Anastasios arrived, and I expect that’s about what we’re looking at this time,” Dickos said. He explained that Metropolitan Nicholas of Detroit (the Orthodox structure calls this person a “Metropolitan” rather than a “Bishop) will evaluate and assign a new priest with the input of the congregation. He expects the new priest to be in place by the end of summer.

When Holy Trinity opened the Carmel campus in 2008, the church went from 19,000 square feet in the old building to 41,000 square feet in the new. Dickos notes that while the building is beautiful, its initial funding was ravaged by the recession, which slowed some elements of church completion, including appropriate Orthodox decoration and iconography. Those are elements that are rapidly coming back online, with new carvings, paintings and designs continually being unveiled.

“Father Anastasios gave us a spiritual foundation and an enthusiasm to expand,” Dickos said. “That will always be a visible part of our congregation, and I have no doubt that will always be a visible part of his ministry, wherever he is.”