CLEARWATER – Father James Paris has promised his elderly parishioners that they won’t have to have their funerals in a gymnasium.
Since a fire destroyed the Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity in 2015, services have been held in a gymnasium, the “churchnasium”, with worshipers sitting in chairs and looking at the makeshift altar and the iconographic screen.
To feel more comfortable, Paris had the interior walls painted the same blue as in the old church. In the dark, from a distance, he said, it almost looks like it was before the fire.
After years of fundraising and makeshift services, construction of the new church is expected to be completed in October, with the first Divine Liturgy scheduled for Christmas – 50 years to the day, the same service has taken place for the first time. at Holy Trinity.
“Most importantly, we all look forward to being in a church again and worshiping and giving glory to God,” said Paris, who has been in the church for seven years.
Being in the gym has had its perks, he said. The larger space allowed the parish to accommodate more people and to expand since the fire.
The new church at 409 Old Coachman Road will have room for all, as well as additional features like a nursing room, wedding hall, choir room and a larger altar that can accommodate more priests. While the impetus may have been to quickly get the church back on its feet, Paris said Holy Trinity wanted to be more thoughtful.
“We wanted to make sure that whatever we did fits into the next 50 years,” he said.
Construction on the $ 7.2 million building began last fall, said George Mantzaris, chairman of the parish council. He said parishioners who normally travel out of town for Christmas stay to see the first Divine Liturgy in the new building.
Today the church is surrounded by fences and debris, with construction elevators inside moving from wall to wall. The old altar, saved from the fire, is wrapped in a white sheet, waiting next to it, where it will be permanently installed next to the new altar. The back of the altar was put in place and the dome of the building was erected, topped with a 7-foot Byzantine cross.
“I watched it go up and started to cry, because of all the effort we’ve put into it, since 2015,” Mantzaris said. “It’s amazing that we’ve come this far and are actually going to finish this.”
The new building will be much more Byzantine, Paris said, with arches and crosses and matching interior decoration. He said the detail is impressive considering the project has only been in the works for 15 months.
“It’s a very complicated Byzantine structure,” Paris said. “It’s not like we’re building a Chase Bank or a Wendy’s.”
He said the whole church community feels invested in the new building. Nearly 380 people and families donated for the reconstruction, Mantzaris said. And they’ll all have their names on a donor wall, regardless of the size of their donation.
Read inspiring stories about ordinary lives
Subscribe to our free How They Lived newsletter
You’ll get a keepsake of the residents of Tampa Bay we have lost, including heartwarming and fun details about their lives, every Tuesday.
You are all registered!
Want more of our free weekly newsletters delivered to your inbox? Let’s get started.
Explore all your options
“The church is about the people, at the end of the day, and there is no limit to what we can accomplish together,” said Paris.
Contact Romy Ellenbogen at or email@example.com. To follow @Romyellenbogen.