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War Hero:
Triantafilos Patsantaras

Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church
Grand Junction, Colorado

Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (AD 73)
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (AD 1922)
Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Denver (AD 1979)

METROPOLIS OF DENVER

Colorado Church Progressed from Shepherds to Stewards

PARISH profile

Name: St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church
Location: Grand Junction, Colo.
Metropolis of Denver
Size: ahout 100 members
Founded: 1918
Clergy: Fr. Luke Uhl (part-time, due to a shortage of priests; degrees from the University of Texas-Austin; the U.S. Navy’s post-graduate school and St. Leo College - Theology)
Web: www.saintnicholasgj.org
Noteworthy: Parish is supported 100 percent by stewardship

ST. NICHOLAS GREEK ORTHODOX CHURCH

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - Situated approximately midway between Denver and Salt Lake City near the remote Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains, St. Nicholas Church may be far from the centers of Orthodoxy, but its strong presence is evident in the closeness of the parishioners to their faith.

“The church is alive, it’s not closed and shuttered,” said Fr. Uhl. “Its heart is beating.”

On an average of twice a month over the past 15 years, Fr. Uhl drives the 250 miles from Denver, where he serves as the Metropolis chancellor, along Interstate 70 across the Continental Divide, reaching an altitude of 11,000 feet to conduct a full weekend of services at the parish.

It normally takes him four hours, though in winter “that drive can take a long time” if he encounters blizzards and road closings.

“The parishioners want a full schedule, following the same pattern as a church in Greece,” said the priest.

This means he will conduct Friday evening vespers, Saturday morning matins, a Saturday liturgy, Sunday liturgy and evening vespers and Monday morning matins before leaving for Denver later Monday morning;

During this time, Fr. Uhl also holds office hours and makes visitations.

The church appears to be growing. Thus far in 2010, he has performed 17 baptisms and chrismations and four weddings.

Many of its members consist of younger families. The priest estimates about three-fourths of the parish members are converts, originally half Roman Catholic and half Protestant, with the older families being of mostly Greek background.

Beginnings

As hinted in the headline, the earliest settlers from Greece in the early 1900s worked in sheep ranching, an occupation they had pursued before immigrating to the U.S.

According to a parish history, they established households that became “centers of social activity for the Greek community.”

Following the first Greek immigrants, other Orthodox Christians settled in western Colorado from Romania, Russia, Serbia, the Ukraine and Armenia and the community aquired a pan-Orthodox character.

The parish received its name as a result of the sheepherders coming down from the mountains with their flocks around the feast of St. Nicholas in early December to take part in the season’s religious observances.

Though they established their community in 1918, there was no permanent priest and visiting clergy from Denver and Salt Lake City, (about 247 and 285 miles away respectively), through the 1930s traveled to Grand Junction to perform weddings, baptisms and funerals at a local hall.

On occasion, the Greeks traveled to Salt Lake or to Assumption Church in Price, Utah, whose priest in the mid-1950s encouraged the faithful from Grand Junction to build a church.

In 1958 the parish was incorporated and parishioners built a structure that served as a church and social hall through the 1980s.

During that decade, plans to build a church took shape and the present house of worship was completed around Christmas of 1991.

The original building still functions as the parish hall.

After the first generation retired and passed away, the younger generations pursued a variety of occupations.

Grand Junction, with a population of nearly 60,000, serves as a major regional medical center and a large number of adult members work in the health care industry as physicians and nurses, and as veterinarians, Fr. Uhl explained.

Small as it may be, the parish has a Sunday School with about 40 children enrolled. There is adult education in the fall and spring as the priest holds a series of catechetical classes for inquirers.

There is no Greek school, but some families do pursue Greek home schooling and many of the converts want to learn Greek, he noted. “They appreciate that the Greek we’re doing is New Testament, classical liturgical Greek.”

100 percent stewardship

As noted above, the parish is supported by stewardship. Per capita giving consists of about $3,000 per family and 30 families provide a total of $100,000.

The community started a Greek festival in 2002, but none of the money is used for the church’s operating budget, only for iconography and building improvements.

From the outset of the festival, the parish designated that 10 percent of the festival proceeds go back to the Grand Junction community. Funds are donated to a Roman Catholic charity and to other philanthropic causes that help provide food and clothing to the needy.

“Everyone in the city knows it (the parish’s commitment to the community) when they come to participate in our festival,” said Fr. Uhl.

Commenting on the remarkable steadfastness of the members of the parish, the priest characterized the community as “a wonderful mix, a wonderful bunch of people who love God and worship God. They love their parish.”

Two of the most colorful senior members of the parish that the history and Fr. Uhl make note of are 95-year-old Catherine Shiolas, who was widowed 18 months after her marriage and has remained faithful to her husband’s memory for 75 years.

“Catherine has been a mainstay of the parish and has taught all of us to keep the traditions of the faith,” the history notes.

The other is Triantafilos Patsantaras, age 94, a World War II veteran who participated in the Albanian campaign against the Italians in 1940, and later fought as an “andarte” (guerilla fighter).

He was part of the unit that blew up the Gorgopotamos Bridge, effectively cutting Hitler’s major supply line through the Balkans to North Africa.

After later being captured and beaten by the communists, he came to the United States and settled in Grand Junction where he worked as a sheepherder and also made barbed wire fences.

“H e can still dance and jumps and slaps the bottom of his shoes,” said Fr. Uhl. He also attends church faithfully and serves as a chanter.

— Compiled byJim Golding
Source: Orthodox Observer, September 2010, page 21
Download edition: https://www.goarch.org/-/september-2010-orthodox-observer

Email: fr.luke@denver.goarch.org
© 2003-2017, Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church
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