By Robert Herschbach
A fundraiser for the Assumption
rebuilding gave a community
that has endured much a chance
to come together in
music and dancing.
Lowell, Massachusetts, is a place with special significance for Greek Americans. Here, as in Nashua, Peabody, and other New England towns, immigrants who came to the mill towns battled difficult work conditions, malnourishment, and tuberculosis. They fended off attacks by other laborers who resented the new arrivals. And they perservered. The first Greek Orthodox church in America to be built in a Byzantine style was constructed here in 1906. By 1910, Greek Americans made up a fifth of Lowell's population. Today the community is still strong enough to support no less than four Greek Orthodox churches.

For three decades, the Assumption church was at the center of a small, but tightly-knit group of worshippers. About 130 families regularly attended the church, which was located in an inner-city section of Lowell. In "The Acre," as the area is known, many structures are packed closely together -- a fact which may have contributed to the church's destruction. In April, 1999, a fire broke out on the back porch of a neighboring three-story residence, then spread to the church. By the time firefighters arrived, at 3:42 a.m., the interior was already an inferno. Parishioners drove to the scene but could do little but watch. While firefighters managed to salvage icons and religious ornaments, the church itself was a total loss.

The loss was especially devastating because the Assumption Church community was in many ways unique. Assumption was one of the last to keep to the traditional Julian calendar during a time when most churches switched to the Gregorian system. "There is a level of controversy," Peter Maravelias told HellenicComServe. "It's one of the factors in why we're a small community." Maravelias, who is involved in the rebuilding project, described the construction of the new church as a "long process." The community, he explained, has been supportive but also stressed. "A lot of us have stuck together," he said. "We've perservered. But until we start physically building, there's still going to be a lot of apprehension."

In the Lowell suburbs, where the new church will be constructed, worshippers meet every Sunday at what board member Virginia Kimball calls "the little red house" -- a small structure on the future construction site. "We really squeeze in there," Kimball said. "It's shoulder to shoulder." In good weather, they put up a large outdoor tent.

Last fall, clergy and parishioners gathered for a formal ground-breaking ceremony at the site of the future church. They took turns with the shovel, clearing the way for the foundation of a new two-story Byzantine structure. And this weekend, at a fundraising dinner and concert, the community put on a strong show of the determination and spirit that has kept them going over the past two years. As the 20-piece orchestra launched into a medley of favorites, they rose from their tables and filled the room with Greek dancing.

Virginia Kimball describes the event as "our attempt to come together." Nearly three hundred people -- a capacity crowd -- attended the function, which was held at the Mill House Restaurant in Dracut. "We're all thrilled," she told HellenicComServe. "This morning, the priest was almost moved to tears." With the last major permit close to approval, building is expected to start within a few weeks.

Nick Genakos
thanks the
community for
its support.
On learning that
they'd won the
raffle grand prize,
George Kyricos-Stamas
lifted his wife,
Diana, high in the air
and carried
her across the room.

VEVA ("Footsteps of
Greek-American Youth"),
a Massachusetts-based dance group,
thrilled guests at the
Assumption Church fundraiser.
VEVA costumes are researched for
authenticity of style, and many are
handmade by seamstresses
and family members
in the Greek-American community.
Vocalist Katerina Geomelos
led the Hellenic and

Near Eastern Musical
Ensemble Society

in several favorites.

[edd--Emmanuel Flaris of the Assumption community sent an update on 26 July 2005 to Hellenic Communication Service on the location of the new church and the  URL of the community's web pages:

Assumption of the Virgin Mary
Greek Orthodox Church
1160 Mammoth Rd.
Dracut, MA 01826