From its humble beginnings in the early 20th century, the Greek Orthodox community of Los Angeles continues its transformation, improving not just its own lot but that of an entire city. Greek Orthodox Church services—first held in a small downtown L.A. warehouse— have undergone many struggles and changes that today culminate in the sacred grandeur of St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral.
Incorporated in June of 1908, the Los Angeles Greek community’s charter enumerated among its goals “to build and maintain a church as a place of worship for Greek Orthodoxy to thrive.” Under the direction of movie maven, Charles Skouras, this charter goal came to fruition. When the Skouras brothers (Charles, George and Spyros) came from Greece to eventually find their way in the movie business, Charles vowed that if God granted him success in Hollywood, he would build a Greek Orthodox cathedral in Los Angeles. Charles’ prayers were answered, and in 1952 he initiated and funded the building of Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in what used to be Los Angeles’ Greek neighborhood— now known as the “Byzantine-Latino Quarter.”
Skouras later provided offices, classrooms, a nursery, and community center on the cathedral grounds. In the late 90’s, the community center was renovated, the parking lot expanded, and the grounds beautified. Decades of church-building and renewal have set off a revival of the surrounding area. The cathedral is no longer a stand-alone entity for Greeks only. Rather, thanks to the support of those committed to the vision, St. Sophia’s has expanded to embrace the neighborhood in its entirety. The Very Reverend Father John Bakas, Dean of St. Sophia Cathedral and Greek Orthodox Community of Los Angeles since 1995, speaks Spanish in addition to Greek and English, and is pivotal in reaching out to the cathedral’s Spanish-speaking neighbors.
Helping to organize the latest round of renovations at St. Sophia’s, Father Bakas led the groundbreaking and blessing ceremony on 14 November. “The Spirit of Troy,” the infamous band from the University of Southern California (the president of which is Greek-Cypriot, Chrysostomos L. “Max” Nikias and member of the St. Sophia community), performed. The number of non-Greeks who believe in, and contribute to, the mission of St. Sophia’s is notable. Among those is Michael Huffington (former husband to Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington who he married at St. Sophia’s). An ongoing supporter of the expansion project, Huffington also participated in Sunday’s ceremony.
The buildings once furnished by Skouras in the 50’s were constructed with asbestos, as was common practice, and is also is one of the reasons the buildings must now be replaced. Construction is set to begin later in the month. For progress updates, visit http://www.stsophia.org.