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Greek Orthodox church opens new building in boro

The pelting rain Sunday only added to the reasons that parishioners of Whitestone’s Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church were thankful for the roof over their heads as they opened the doors for the first time on a new house of worship.

Many of the 500 families that currently comprise the congregation were there Sunday for the inaugural service, along with state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) and state Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), who represents the district where the church’s founder came from.

“No feeling can describe what everybody was feeling that day,” said the Rev. Dionysios Anagnostopoulos, the church’s pastor. “I was not standing on this ground. I was floating from joy and everything.”

The massive new structure with its tall domes, columned entrances and red roof is designed to hold 700 families at a time, its designers said. It certainly cannot be mistaken for any other church in the neighborhood.

The congregation was founded in 1975 by Elias Betzios, who moved from Astoria and found it too far to travel to worship. With a group of friends, they purchased an old Methodist church at 150th Street and 10th Avenue, performing renovations like breaking open a wall and commissioning a new set of icons.

“It’s a dream of 34 years of this community,” Anagnostopoulos said of the new church, noting parishioners donated the money for its construction, including one contribution of $1 million. “The old chapel was nothing to do with the Orthodox architecture. It was a different building, but we used it for our own needs because the money was not here.”

Anagnostopoulos hopes the new building will allow the congregation to grow from 500 families to more than 1,000, drawing Greek Orthodox Whitestoners currently attending churches elsewhere in Queens.

“We love the new building,” said parishioner Joanne Roufos, noting she hoped to see younger people among the new parishioners. “I think it’ll keep up the warm, community feeling we have here in Whitestone among the Greek Orthodox community.”

Gianaris praised the congregation for the ambitious project.

“I think it’s going to quickly become a visual landmark in the area,” he said. “It’s a gorgeous building and I think it’s going to enhance the neighborhood.”

After the service, several hundred parishioners convened in the church’s gymnasium across the street for a celebratory luncheon. On the concrete-block wall near the entrance hung a dog-eared architect’s rendering of the new church, a reminder of the three-year planning process.

Anagnostopoulos said the hardest part was reaching a consensus on how they wanted the building to look.

“If you build a small house, you have problems like where are you going to put the bathroom, where is the kitchen,” he said. “Imagine a big building like this one that needed more attention.”

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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