The first Greek Orthodox Church of Somerville, located at 5 Bow Street, was a rented hall over the old Woolworth building in Union Square. Although the interior of the hall/church was very simply appointed, it served well the early Greek settlers in Somerville – most of whom had arrived from the village of Alatsata in Asia Minor. The official name of the Church community was “Hellenic Association of Somerville, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin.” The Church was supported solely through the donations of its membership – dues were set at 50 cents per month. The year was 1916.
The destruction and burnings of the cities and villages of Asia Minor in 1922 caused the Greek people of Somerville to realize that returning to their birthplace would not happen as originally planned. This fact, along with the increasing number of immigrants, helped them determine to erect a true Greek Orthodox edifice as their place of worship. With the approval of a General Assembly of the membership, several adjoining lots were purchased and 217 Somerville Avenue became the Church’s permanent home. Dedication Day in 1923 was the fulfillment of a dream for the early settlers. These newly arrived immigrants – in this country no more than a few years – had managed to eke out a living and to have enough money left over to build their own church.
In 1939, when World War II had begun and more people were attracted to Church, it became apparent that they were outgrowing the parish and a decision had to be made to either expand the structure or purchase a new building. In 1940, however, plans for the new church were suspended when the Mussolini invaded Greece in November; the energies of the parishioners now flowed into the Greek War Relief Activities. Eventually, Red Cross work became the main activity of the Community between 1942 and 1945 and fund raising was done by the Philoptohos Society (women’s auxiliary) and the rest of the Community.
The war years’ activities and the growth of the Community were making it very evident to those entrusted with the administration of the Church that additional quarters were necessary to accommodate the parishioners. In 1944 a Buffet Dinner Dance launched a new fund drive for a new location. This affair was held, by coincidence, at the Elks Hall at 29 Central Street. While funds were being raised, it became known to the Community that this location was coming up for sale. Although these buildings did not resemble a Greek Orthodox Church architecturally, the basic facilities and the buildings themselves could serve the Community’s needs very easily. There were areas for classrooms, committee rooms and offices; an apartment was also available for the priest and his family. With the General Assembly’s approval, the Committee purchased in 1947 the property known as the Columbus Tyler estate. Tyler had built this beautiful Central Street home for his new bride, Mary Sawyer, of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” fame, who came from Worcester. The property was originally landscaped with rare trees and shrubs, many of which were imported from other lands. In 1922 the estate became the home of the Somerville Elks until it was purchased by the Greek Church Community for $32,000. The Building Committee was soon devoting every free minute to the extensive remodeling and refurbishing of the building. On April 15, 1948, an “Agiasmo” (blessing) of the new Church took place along with the first Divine Liturgy, to which all parishioners attended. How glad and proud were the hearts of Somerville’s Hellenes! A new vitality seemed to descend upon the Community and love and enthusiasm abounded.
By 1958, however, it became apparent that major renovations would have to be undertaken. The building with the classrooms, offices and clergy apartment was over 100 years old, water leaks were evident, ceilings were in need of repair and the top floors had been closed off. A professional evaluation was completed and the recommendation was to raze the old structure and erect a new building. The Community was at the crossroads of a great undertaking. The cost of constructing and completely furnishing a new edifice would cost nearly $350,000.
Razing of the old structure took place on June 27, 1965, and construction began. On October 2, 1966 – Dedication Day – proud parishioners of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary Church stood and gazed at the new Educational and Social Center, their “Community Center.” (At the recent Archdiocesan Clergy-Laity Congress, it was recommended that “Dormition” replace “Assumption” since Dormition is a more accurate translation of “Koimoisis,” which means “the falling asleep.”)
In the 1980s capital improvements were deemed necessary and the upcoming work schedule was planned. Just as construction of a new narthex, choir loft, kitchen and classroom was completed, a fire damaged the narthex; after its repair, the narthex was dedicated on August 14, 1987. The next phase – a new iconostasion and altar area, major icons, central air conditioning and parking lot improvements – was completed in time for one of the most important religious events the Church had experienced – its consecration, which took place on October 20, 1991. Hundreds of parishioners and friends were filled with the joyous satisfaction of knowing that their beloved Church was now consecrated.
Many changes have occurred in the composition of the Church Community. Most of the pioneers and many of their immediate successors have left for the heavenly homeland. Their children have grown, moved to the suburbs and have joined local Greek Orthodox Churches, often offering to them their talents and the “expertise” they gained in this Community. At the same time, new immigrants from Greece and other locales plus many converts to Orthodoxy have joined the Church family.
The Community is following its historical course. On Sunday mornings, week days and evenings and on holy days, one will see the Church, St. Catherine’s Chapel or the Community Center humming with activity. The pioneers of our Somerville Community would shed tears of joy and pride in seeing their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren continuing their course and carrying the beacon of Hellenism and Orthodoxy that was passed to them so many years ago.
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