It is not unusual to run across ancient things in Northeast Louisiana – Native American arrowheads and burial mounds, old French and Spanish names and settlements, and petrified wood here and there.
But, strange as it will sound, the most ancient of them all arrived here only in the 20th century, carried here by a band of Greek immigrants: the Orthodox Church, the oldest of the Christian confessions, tracing Her lineage back to the Holy Apostles themselves. But even more than this, being the Divine-human Body of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, She shares in His timelessness.
Greeks Arrive in Monroe
Other Orthodox ethnic groups were present in the area prior to the arrival of the Greek (among them Arabs, Serbs, and Macedonians)1, but the Hellenes would arrive in such numbers that they quickly became the predominant representative of the Orthodox Faith in Northeast Louisiana.
The early 20th century was a time of intensified conflict between the Ottoman Empire and Greece, as well as financial hardship for the Greeks, which led many to seek out more favorable living conditions elsewhere, including here in this corner of the South.2
The first public record of Greeks in this region is a 1911 advertisement for the Greek American Confectionary Company that was located at the time at 236 Desiard St. in Monroe. It was owned by Mr. George Vambis, who is listed in the city directory as living in Monroe in 1912; and in 1920, according to the U. S. census, in Ruston.3
More would arrive shortly. A partial check of immigration records shows several new Greek arrivals to U. S. shores between 1908 and 1911 being naturalized in Ouachita Parish between 1923 and 1928.4
As the Greek community grew and became better organized, plans were made and put into motion to regularize their religious life:
Throughout the 1940s Orthodox Christians in this area went to Shreveport for their church services, baptisms, and weddings. Then, in 1951, a group of about twenty Monroe families purchased a house on 1104 North Fourth Street with the hope of converting it into a church when a priest could be found. In the fall of 1952 Father Spyridon Markopoulos arrived to serve the budding community and to celebrate the first Orthodox liturgy in Monroe. By 1953 the Fourth Street house had been paid off, and there was talk of fulfilling the dream of many an immigrant group: the building of a church.
Things moved quickly. Our current Forsythe Street property was acquired in 1954 and construction began immediately on the church. Father Spyridon, Mr. Kokkinos, and Mr. Primos must have kept the contractor’s feet to the fire, for by August the church was finished and the first liturgy was celebrated there. The first baptism, that of Kosta Kolokouris, was held in November of that year.
The enthusiasm of the parishioners was contagious; individuals donated pews, chandeliers, icons. Many non-Orthodox friends pitched in and the little church was soon furnished in proper Orthodox fashion. In 1956 the community was confident enough to play host to a three-state district convention of AHEPA, which was attended by over 350 people. And soon the city of Monroe became acquainted with old-world traditions: the Good Friday procession outside the church, the Grecian dinners, Easter bread, and baklava.5
The Greeks would not remain in an isolated ghetto. They acclimated to this part of the world, such that ‘in November of 1979 another milestone was reached with the arrival of the first American-born priest to serve the church, Father David Buss.’6
And a few more changes would be in store for the parish as the 20th century ended and the 21st began:
Though old-style immigration has largely ceased, the church ministers today to a different sort of immigrant: expatriates from Shreveport and Boston, Orthodox from many national backgrounds–Greek, FYROM, Russian, Ukranian, Serbian, Arabic, as well as Americans of European, African, and Asian ancestry. The church also serves as a spiritual beacon to Orthodox students from Greece, Cyprus, and the Middle East. It offers them a place to worship, to congregate, to feel a little less far from home.
With more than half a century behind it, Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church now looks to the future. Its 2000-year-old Orthodox services are partly in English now, its congregation a comfortable ethnic mix, its outlook decidedly American. Yet this Orthodox spiritual home in northern Louisiana remains true to its original character: a small outpost of the Church of the Christian East ministering to an ever-changing flock of faithful.7
Greece and Dixie
The predominantly Greek manifestation of the Orthodox Faith in Northeast Louisiana is perhaps a Providential gift, for Southerners have always had a soft spot in their hearts for Greek culture. Many Southern buildings, from plantations to courthouses, included ancient Greek elements. Similarly, the works of Homer and other ancient Greek writers adorned many a Southern bookshelf, from colonial days onward8, and many antebellum Southern universities required students to read and translate works in the Greek language, ranging from Xenophon to Saint John’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles9. And major Southern literary figures, including Edgar Allen Poe and Andrew Lytle, drew inspiration from the Greek past10.
. . .
The rest is at https://southernorthodox.org/orthodoxy-in-bayou-land/.
Holy Ælfred the Great, King of England, South Patron, pray for us sinners at the Souð, unworthy though we are!
Anathema to the Union!