Our Parish History

Once Greeks began settling in Santa Cruz County, it became a matter of time before they would be able to have their own church. This took many decades, however, because their numbers were not nearly enough to found and support a church.

All of the Greeks of Santa Cruz County found themselves very far from Greek Orthodox churches in these early years. The nearest were Holy Trinity and the Annunciation in San Francisco, where they attended services from time to time, and especially during great feast days and on the occasion of weddings and baptisms. When the church of the Saint Nicholas opened in San Jose in 1945, many became members and regular churchgoers of that community, and some, like Spiro Mellis, served in the parish council for several years. The few Greeks of Watsonville began churching themselves at Saint John the Baptist church in Salinas once that community opened in 1956.

Until the late 1970s no attempt was made to organize either socially or ecclesiastically. An informal group of Santa Cruz ladies involved themselves in some charitable work in the ‘40s and ‘5Os, but that’s as far as it went. In the late ’40s and ’50s and early ‘60s, intermittent services were held at the Calvary Episcopal Church on Center Street, in Santa Cruz, by priests from San Jose’s Saint Nicholas, and at least on three occasions the Paul and Ellen Sandas home was used for Easter Agape services.

The 1970s also saw the influx of a few more Greek Orthodox into Santa Cruz, including Paul Makris, James (Elias) Peterson, the Gryspos family and others. It was the courageous and indefatigable James Peterson, who was to play the leading role in organizing the Greek Orthodox Christians as a community in Santa Cruz County. Jim was from Detroit, Michigan, but had lived in San Jose for years where he was involved as choir director at Saint Nicholas. In 1972, he and his family moved to Santa Cruz.

The original petition to Bishop Anthony, of blessed memory, included these Founders.

— Excerpted from The Silver Anniversary of Prophet Elias: Parish History, by Nicholas G. Itsines, Ph.D.

History of Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church

1913 – First Greeks began settling in Santa Cruz, California.

1978 – “Yasou” letter was sent out about organizing a church. Orthodox Christians, numbering 125, were identified. The first meeting held. Monies were collected under the name “Greek Orthodox Missionary Church Fund of Santa Cruz County.” The first service held at the Seventh Day Adventist Chapel on November 26th.

1979 – Steering Committee organized and a budget of $12,750 was adopted. The community was chartered as a non-profit organization. On July 1th, the parish adopted By-Laws. On December 15th, Fr. John Karastamatis was appointed as the first full-time priest and served the community until his death in 1985. Church services were held at the Monterey Bay Academy.

1980 – On February 4th, Bishop Anthony visits. That same day a Greek Orthodox Ladies Philoptochos was established in Santa Cruz. Soon afterward, the parish adopted Prophet Elias as its patron saint. In May, the community began holding services at the Chapel of the Poor Clare’s Monastery in Aptos. On October 18th, a Sunday School was established. On October 25th, a Greek School was established. On October 23th, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America granted a charter and the community was officially recognized as a parish.

1981 – On November 15th, a General Assembly voted to purchase the Wessendorf and Holmes Mortuary at 223 Church Street in Santa Cruz. The Douglas Family, on behalf of the community, purchased the property on December 22nd. Renovations began transforming the building into an Orthodox house of worship.

1982 – On Sunday, February 21st, the first liturgy was celebrated at the 223 Church Street edifice. In April, Greek dancing classes were offered.

1983 – On July 17th, icons were installed on the iconostasion. On July 21st, the ownership of the 223 Church Street building was transferred from the Douglas Family to the parish.

1986 – In September, the installation of stained glass windows began in the church.

1989 – Church survived the 7.1 earthquake on October 17th with no structural damage.

1994 – Very Rev. Fr. Meletios Webber appointed as priest and served until 2005.

1996 – A narthex was constructed. Iconography by Tatiana Grant was commissioned for the protheseis, the platyera and the doors of paradise.

2004 – Major renovation began on the church building and ended May 2005.

2014 – Present Rev. Fr. Dr. Milutin Janjic appointed as priest and currently serves. He is married to Presbytera Josefina and they have a a son and a daughter.