OCEAN TOWNSHIP — Written by Nancy Shields
“The dream has become a reality, the dream of a generation,” said Savas Tsivicos, standing outside the new St. George Greek Orthodox Church he and many others helped to build on West Park Avenue.
Last Sunday, the St. George parshioners had their final service in the Asbury Park church at Sewall and Grand avenues that has been their home since 1949. Greek immigrants founded the church in 1929 in the seashore city that they, along with newcomers from many countries, called their home a century ago.
On Sunday, April 1, St. George will officially open at its new more expansive Byzantine church campus near Route 18 when spiritual leader Metropolitan Evangelos of New Jersey and parish priest Father Andrew Eugenis hold the Thyranixia (door opening) service outside the church at 9:30 a.m.
Once the church is officially opened, Metropolitan Evangelos will use sprigs of basil to sprinkle the entire church with holy water. The church and chapel, cultural and educational centers, gymnasium and administrative wing, will be blessed followed by the blessing of the divine liturgy and then a reception in the cultural center’s new ballroom.
“We were in Asbury for over 80 years,” said Tsivicos, a contractor who headed up the building committee and served as church president the past six years. “We will always keep Asbury in our hearts. Our needs couldn’t be met in our old complex.”
Tsivicos said the beginning of the $8 million project dates to 1984, when parishioners decided they needed more parking and room to grow. They bought their new land in 1996 but did not break ground until October 2009, he said. The co-chairmen of the building committee are George Moutis and Tom Tsilivitis.
It probably helped that the Rev. Andrew Eugenis, who took over as pastor in 2001, had an engineering background before becoming a priest and had headed up an $8 million capital campaign at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Houston.
“This was a unique opportunity for me to build a church from the ground up,” Eugenis said Monday.
The parish had been through some starts and stops in trying to build, Eugenis said. One of the first things he had to do was to gain the love and trust of the parishioners and then establish a building committee.
The community has over 1,000 families from the greater Ocean Township area. Many families that once lived in Asbury Park moved out over the years to Ocean.
“Part of the retraining has our people going from an urban environment to a campus setting,” Eugenis said.
Tsivicos, who owns Synaxis restaurant in Asbury Park, is a contractor and said he believes the new church “can serve as a beacon for orthodoxy and Hellenism.”
The parish was able to bring important structures from the old church – most importantly, the iconostasis, a wall of icons and religous paintings of Christ, the Virgin Mary and patron saints that separates the nave from the sanctuary.
Eugenis said the new church is typical Byzantine architecture while in Asbury Park, there was more of a Basilian shape. The architecture allows “for movement away from the world behind, up and up to Christ,” he said.
Marissa Costidis, a member of St. George all her life and a resident of Middletown, coordinates communications for the Greek Orthodox Archidiocese of America in Manhattan. She called last Sunday’s final service “bittersweet,” adding it was “sad, but we were ready for this.”
Now the church very much wants to be a good neighbor in Ocean Township, she aid.
The new gymnasium is named after Sarantos Skokos, one of the founding fathers of the old community in Asbury Park, and whose son, Theodore Skokos, who grew up in Asbury and became a dentist is now in his 90s.
The cultural center is named after Stavros and Zoe Paragioudakis, and the education center is named after the late Louis G. Karagias
“Our church is the center of our culture and community,” Tsivicos said. “Without that, we lose touch with our past.”