It’s all Greek at St. Demetrios in Saco


On a recent warm June morning, a circle of women from St.
Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Saco are busy assembling boxes in which they
will place almost a dozen different kinds of sweets for sale during the annual
Greek festival July 12-14.

“We’ve made almost 40,000 pieces of pastry,” said secretary
Stephanie Koutroulis on June 25, with a hint of pride in her voice. Just think
of the hundreds of bags of Greek cookies. Everything is homemade.”

It’s all hands on deck as members prepare for the annual
festival, which has been held for at least 30 years. But 2024 will also see two
milestones: it’s been 115 years since the original St. Demetrios Church
in Biddeford was founded and 25 years since parishioners moved to the Saco
church.

When asked if plans are in place to celebrate the two
anniversaries, Koutroulis said, “It’s kind of all year, with the festival and
bazaar and coffee hour. “Our 25 years are celebrated in some way on an ongoing
basis all year long.” 

The original church was built in 1909 on Adams Street in
Biddeford, according to Stavros Nashi, vice president of the church council in
Saco. 

In the late ‘90s, members moved to Saco, and the original
church, which still stands today, became home to a mostly Serbian
congregation. 

“It’s still the same name – St. Demetrios,” said Nashi, “so
there’s one in Saco and one in Biddeford.”

Nashi’s parents landed in Saco-Biddeford in 1956, when he
was 5 years old, and, “My relationship with the church is since that time,”
Nashi said. 

“A lot of Greeks came here” in the mid-1900s, Nashi said.
They were mostly single young men — including his grandfather, who emigrated in
1907. 

Not many young women, Nashi said, because the men “needed to
make money to marry off sisters. They couldn’t get married til their sisters
did. A lot ended up staying and bringing brides. Imagine young women crossing
the Atlantic … (to live) in a strange place.”

Greeks have a rich history in the area, as a wall showcasing
old photos attests, including men preparing to start the sea voyage from their
village. There’s also a picture of His Eminence, Archbishop Lakovos, posing
with Martin Luther King Jr., with whom he marched in Selma, Alabama, in the
1960s. 

Ephemera at the church includes a school attendance roster
from 1921 and two old council books – one in Greek and one in
English.   

Many settlers became businessmen, Nashi said, most notably
store owners. 

“They did well, but had hard times,” he said.

A photo of a march in Biddeford by the Klu Klux Klan bears
witness to the prejudice Greeks suffered along with Franco Americans, Catholics
and other groups.

 “Greeks weren’t considered white,” Nashi said. In
response, the local chapter of the Order of the American Hellenic Educational
and Progressive Association was formed “to show everyone Greeks wanted to be
proud Americans.”

 

Stavros Nashi points to a photo on the wall at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Saco. PHOTO BY ANN FISHER

For parents, “It was all about the kids,” Nashi said.
“Greeks are very big on education and have a lot of respect for teachers.”

The Saco church has grown and changed in recent years, with
more children in attendance. 

In 2006 the sanctuary was refreshed, with canvas paintings
of Jesus, saints, icons, and more that were made in Greece shipped over to
beautify the interior. 

“People who came in were awestruck,” Nashi said, adding that
gold leaf on the paintings was added at the Saco site.

In addition, older people who stayed away during the
pandemic have returned. There are now 200 families that belong, Nashi said;
around half are Greek because a lot of converts joined. 

“They are very much into traditional; not much has changed,”
Nashi said. “We’re doing better than we’ve ever done. There’s more people and
more finances.”

 

Greek Festival

The 2024 Greek Festival will take place at St. Demetrios
Greek Orthodox Church, 186 Bradley St. Saco July 12-14. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9
p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

The festival will feature “Greek hospitality, music,
traditional food and pastry with recipes that have extended along generations.”
Free parking and admission; an extensive menu of items will be available for
purchase. For more information, go to stdemetriosofmaine.com/festival.

Ann Fisher is a freelance journalist based in Saco. She
can be reached at 432-7483.



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