The Annunciation stands as a testament to the 2000+ year old Christian faith and has been privileged to be an integral part of Little Rock’s legacy for over 100 years. It is a constant privilege and blessed responsibility for the men and women of the Annunciation parish to maintain two millennia of living Christian history, help Orthodox Christianity become a greater part of the American experience and assist all people to discover the rich spiritual life of the Holy Orthodox Church. We welcome you to explore the history of our parish and consider becoming a part of our story in embracing the new life in Jesus Christ at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Little Rock.
The founding of the Annunciation parish in Little Rock was typical of the establishment of the vast majority of Greek Orthodox parishes in the United States. At the turn of the century, thousands of young Greek men, many in their early teens or even younger, left Greece to seek a better life in the New World. They brought with them not only youth and ambition, but also the culture and their Orthodox Christian faith of their homeland. Thus wherever they settled in sufficient numbers, a “community” was formed, a call was made for a priest, and a parish was established.
The Orthodox Christian Church, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is a treasury of accumulated experience and wisdom in mankind’s attempt to relate to God and to other people. What we know of Christ and the Christian Faith, we have received from the Holy Church. Membership in the Church is more than merely fulfilling a financial obligation or attending a service on occasion. Membership in the Church is Christ-centered; it is active, it is loving, and it requires a complete and unconditional commitment to the Church.
Father Nicholas originally heralds from New Jersey and attended Hellenic College in Brookline, MA where he graduated as Valedictorian with a Bachelor of Arts in 1991. Father went on to receive a Masters of Divinity from Holy Cross School Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 1994 with the honor of Highest Distinction. He was subsequently accepted into the doctorate program at Andover Newton Theological School in Newton, MA where he received a Doctorate of Ministry with Highest Distinction in 2002 in the field of pastoral counseling, marriage and family therapy. His thesis focused on ministering unto inter-Christian marriages within the Orthodox Church.
It appears that the first Greek to settle in Little Rock in 1892. By 1905, enough immigrants had arrived to be able to create an organization called the “Homer Society.” Visiting priests came by way of Memphis, Tennessee, where a larger group of Greeks had established a parish. Through the efforts of the Homer Society, Father Kallinikos Kanellas was brought to Little Rock on a permanent basis in 1913, and services were held in an upstairs meeting hall near 9th and Main Streets for the next eight years. This hall included a small chapel for Liturgies and Sacraments such as weddings, baptisms, etc., as well as a place for social gatherings. Research indicates that Father Kanellas was one of the first Orthodox priests to come to the United States. Father Kanellas died in 1921 and is buried at Oakland Cemetery where many of the first Greek Orthodox Christians were also interred.
On June 8, 1920, the Annunciation community received a state charter, and a church building at 1500 Center Street was purchased from the Winfield Methodist Church congregation. Extensive renovations were done before the first Divine Liturgy was celebrated—the altar area and iconostasion (icon screen) were installed at the east, as is traditional in Orthodox churches. The first Orthodox Christian worship services were held during Easter Week of 1921.
The first set of icons for the church were, of course, the original ones installed in the early 1920s (iconographer unknown). When new icons were ordered from Holy Mount Athos in 1955, the original set was stored until about 1960 when they were donated to a new mission church in Missoula, Montana. Many individuals donated the second set of icons, which served the parish until the move to the new church on Napa Valley Drive. While some of the icons were used in the new church, a third set was painted by noted iconographer, Elias Katsaros. In 1989 about 22 of the second set of icons were donated to the small St. George parish in Memphis, Tennessee.
In the 1950s, a group of ladies of the parish decided to offer Grecian delicacies to the public as a fundraising activity, they did not dream that it would snowball into the tremendous undertaking that it has become in the form of our annual Festival. After that fantastic reception, the Pastry Sale project grew so that now more than 15,000 baklava and many other sweets and breads are baked for the sale each year. The Pastry Sale eventually developed into our annual International Greek Food Festival held each May.
In 1959 it was noted that in the State of Arkansas when proclamations were issued mentioning the major faiths, usually only Protestants, Catholics and Jews were referred to. Rep. Gale Windsor of Pulaski County was approached and agreed to introduce a House Resolution (No.18, later approved by the Legislature) stating that the Eastern Orthodox Church be recognized as the fourth major faith by the State, and requested communication and individuals in the state of Arkansas to include the Eastern Orthodox Church when referring to the major faiths. This was a common practice in the larger population centers where Orthodoxy had long received this recognition.
The Annunciation Parish celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 1963 with the consecration of the church on Center Street by His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos, prelate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America. A gala banquet took place at the Hotel Marion, attended by many dignitaries including then-Governor Orval Faubus.
By the mid-1970s, the parish had outgrown its facility at 15th and Center. In order to construct a church and educational building that would be adequate to meet the church’s needs, the old church downtown was sold and 4.5 acres of land at the corner of St. Charles Boulevard and Napa Valley Drive was purchased from Dr. H. A. (Ted) Bailey. Dr. James Pappas headed the Building Drive Committee and he, along with Gus Vratsinas, personally co-signed a mortgage for the building of the church at 1100 Napa Valley Drive.
In the early summer of 1985, the Parish celebrated its first Greek Food Festival at Napa Valley Drive that today is recognized as a wholesome, family-style annual event that all Little Rock looks forward to. Each year the Festival has grown until it is estimated that our average attendance is more than 50,000. Held on church grounds, the Festival has included all the usual Greek culinary delights as well as Indian, Middle Eastern and Russian foods, reflecting the ethnic makeup of our Parish. Tours of the church have also proved very successful each year, with an average of 2,000 visiting the sanctuary each year to hear the parish priest give informative talks on the Orthodox Faith. Ethnic music, dancing, arts and crafts are all an integral part of this Church’s endeavor to celebrate the multi-ethnic culture of our community and to support the vital work of local charities.
In 1988 the parish burned its mortgage after only five years. Then in 1992, the physical plant was enlarged, adding a classroom, a stage, storage space and playground to accommodate our growth. The expansion was paid for without the necessity of a mortgage.
On January 1, 1999, another chapter in the history of the Annunciation began with the assignment of the Reverend Dr. Nicholas J. Verdaris to the parish. Father Nicholas continued with vigor the work of embracing people from all walks of life and from all heritages in the service of Christ. The parish that was originally founded by a small group of Greek immigrants, today aptly reflects the American experience, and is comprised of over 200 families representing 18 different nationalities, all witnessing to the good news of Christ, striving to reflect His love, and living according to the principles and discipline of the Orthodox Church. As a result of our parish’s steady growth, the many ministries and programs of the parish have expanded considerably. For example, now we have well over 100 children actively participating in our Sunday School program and in our youth ministries, JOY (Junior Orthodox Youth; for children ages 8-11) and GOYA (Greek Orthodox Youth of America; for children ages 12-18). With the continued growth of our parish and through the grace of God, the parish continues to expand its ministries for the young and young at heart.
Towards the end of the year 2000, under Fr. Nicholas’ guidance, a Master Plan was at long last put into action and the parish embraced an exciting building project. By 2002, a tremendous building program was complete and the parish facility had nearly doubled in size. The project included an increase in the number of classrooms, a new and large parish hall (Annunciation Ballroom), reception area (Gabriel Hall), offices, bookstore, etc. The new construction enabled the Annunciation to transform the original parish hall into a well-equipped gymnasium for our youth, as well as a remodel of all of the existing classrooms. Furthermore, parking was increased and the church kitchen enlarged and updated. A bell tower added a Byzantine touch to the facility, in keeping with the original domed sanctuary. It was also during this time that the parish commissioned Mr. Elias Katsaros to produce three very large icons (The Holy Trinity, The Nativity of Christ and The Baptism of Christ) that were installed in the Spring of 2008.
With the building project complete, the expansion of the parish facility was officially blessed on May 31st through June 2nd 2002. The observances were headed by His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, the head of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, together with His Eminence Metropolitan Nicholas of Detroit, along with Father Nicholas Verdaris, Father Pierre Delfos and Deacon Teodor Petrutiu. The Annunciation in Little Rock ceremoniously launched into a new era.
On September 21 & 22nd 2013, Father Nicholas Verdaris and community came together to formally celebrate the Annunciation’s Centennial Anniversary. A year long series of parish events and the construction of a special courtyard and fountain to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the parish culminated in one very beautiful and historic weekend.
The weekend began with a Great Vespers Service and the formal blessing of the Centennial Memorial Courtyard (a landmark to commemorate and celebrate God’s blessings upon the Annunciation and the steadfast faith of all of the parishioners). Following the formal blessing and dedication, a formal banquet followed. The historic commemorations culminated with the Arch-hierarchical Divine Liturgy on Sunday, September 22nd. The Annunciation Church family was honored to have many friends and neighbors in attendance as well as the the following honored: His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America, Metropolitan Nicholas of Detroit, The Very Reverend Constantine Moralis, (Dean, Annunciation Cathedral, Baltimore, MD) Reverend Protopresbyter Steven & Presbytera Chrysi Vlahos, (St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, North Wildwood, NJ and Previous Parish Priest of the Annunciation, Little Rock, AR, 1964), Reverend Protopresbyter Pierre & Presbytera Harriet Delfos (Previous Parish Priest of the Annunciation, Little Rock, AR, 1981, Reverend Archdeacon Panteleimon Papadopoulos (Deacon to Archbishop Demetrios of America) as well as Reverend Dr. Nicholas & Presbytera Maris Verdaris (current priest of the Annunciation, Little Rock, AR 1999); in addition to the clergy guests included, Alex Radulescu (Assistant to Metropolitan Nicholas of Detroit), Mike & Lynne Emanuel (Fox News Chief Congressional Correspondent & the festivities Master of Ceremonies) along with Cantors from Hellenic College & Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology (Jarrod Russell - First Seminarian from the Annunciation, Little Rock, AR; John Boyer, Timothy Cook, Andreas Houpos, Gabriel Cremeens). At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios presented the Annunciation parish with a gold and silver “Commemorative Church Censor” and then together with His Eminence Metropolitan Nicholas of Detroit, they honored Fr. Nicholas and his ministry at the Annunciation by formally elevating him to the rank of “Protopresbyter of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese” (the highest rank for a married clergyman in the Greek Orthodox Church).
On August 23, 2015, another historic moment unfolded, as the parish gathered together to bear witness to the work of the Holy Spirit with the ordination of John Jarrod Russell to the Holy Order of the Diaconate. While an important occasion for the entire body of the Orthodox Church, this blessed event was especially significant to this particular parish as it marked the first time in the Annunciation’s storied history, that one of its members was ordained to the Holy Diaconate. Metropolitan Nicholas of Detroit, as the vessel of the Holy Spirit and in the name of the universal Orthodox Church, laid his hands on John Jarrod Russell and ordained him to the Holy Diaconate during the Divine Liturgy. Following the Liturgy and Ordination Service, the faithful gathered in the ballroom for a beautiful luncheon during which Deacon Jarrod was presented with a set priest vestments from the parish, another set of vestments from the youth of the Annunciation and another set of vestments from the Annunciation Ladies Philoptochos as well as a fourth set of vestments from his godparents, Joe & Dena Chacko and their family (all the vestments were tailor-made in Greece). Father Nicholas then presented his spiritual son a formal traveling case by which Deacon Jarrod would be able to bear and protect the Holy Gifts during his visits to the elderly and infirmed throughout his ministry. The parish experienced as well as embodied the timeless words of the Psalmist when he wrote: “O give thanks to the LORD, call on His name, make known His deeds among the peoples.” (Psalm 105:1). Deacon Jarrod was subsequently ordained to the Priesthood on September 20, 2015 at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Carmel, IN where he will began his ministry as the assistant priest.
Today through the Grace of God, the Annunciation in Little Rock continues to welcome men and women who are seeking the truth in Christ contained in the Orthodox Christian Faith, the sacramental and spiritual life of the Orthodox Church, fervent Christian love (agape), and the warmth that can only be found amongst those united in their dedication to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
By James & Helen Hronas
Edited by the Rev. Dr. Nicholas J. Verdaris
Initially, one becomes an Orthodox Christian through Baptism and Chrismation. This in turn bestows unto an individual the privilege to participate in the sacramental life of the Orthodox Church. However, Baptism and Chrismation can lose their dynamic validity if the vows made at the Baptismal Font are not maintained in our every day life and expressed in our faithful participation in parish life. Therefore, membership in the Annunciation is an active commitment of Orthodox Christians to God that requires every individual to participate in, serve and help maintain the body of Christ at the Annunciation. To be an Orthodox Christian in good standing at the Annunciation, one must be Baptized and/or Chrismated in the Orthodox Church. If married, the marriage must be blessed in an Orthodox Christian Church. Should a marriage blessed by the Orthodox Church end in divorce, one must receive an ecclesiastical divorce. Furthermore, membership to the Annunciation in Little Rock, requires regular and conscientious participation in the sacramental life of the parish as well as a steadfast commit to all forms of stewardship of the Annunciation.
Members of the Annunciation Church Family...
How Does One Become A Member of the Annunciation:
The doors of the Annunciation as a gateway to Jesus Christ are open to all. Men and women who sincerely desire to become a part of the Annunciation Church family and establish a dynamic relationship with the Lord our God according to the dogma, principles and traditions of the Orthodox Church may do so through a process of preparation and instruction initiated by contacting the parish priest. The “Orthodox Christian Catechism” program at the Annunciation begins with a series of appointments with the parish priest. After a period of prayer, preparation and instruction, one may ask the priest to enter into the body of the Orthodox Church at the Annunciation in Little Rock.
A Christian individual who has participated in the Catechism program with Fr. Nicholas and who can prove that they have baptized with water in the name of the Holy Trinity that then wish to enter into the Orthodox Church at the Annunciation is formally received through the service of Chrismation. An individual who is not a baptized Christian is received into the Orthodox Church through Baptism.
All individuals entering the Orthodox Church at the Annunciation whether through Chrismation or Baptism, require an Orthodox Christian sponsor. The sponsor must be an Orthodox Christian and, if married, be married in the Orthodox Church. If the sponsor has been divorced, they must have an Ecclesiastical Divorce. Please contact Fr. Nicholas for more information.
Pastoral Care of our Members:
At some point or another, Orthodox Christian men and women may come to difficult juncture in their life, face serious problems or must confront complex situations in which the care of the Church, through the priest, is needed. The pastoral care of the Annunciation is never more than a phone call away.
If a member of the parish needs to consult the priest or is in need of special prayers, one should contact the Church Office and if necessary, make an appointment to see Fr. Nicholas. There is never any shame in needing the love and guidance of a brother or sister in Christ, most especially our spiritual Father, the priest. Furthermore, all consultations with the priest are strictly confidential.
The Orthodox Christian Church, and by extension its priests are here to help us grow in Christ and meet the challenges of a fallen world with grace. If someone is in need of spiritual care, they must purposely seek out the love and guidance of Christ through His Church at the Annunciation in Little Rock.
Hospitalization of our Members:
When a member of our Church family is hospitalized, they or their family member must call the Church office and provide the name, the hospital and the room number. If the situation is critical and the office is closed, one may contact Fr. Nicholas via the Emergency Number (501-258-6726).
Because technology and word of mouth are never full proof, parishioners should make sure to personally speak with Fr. Nicholas in such a situation. Please keep in mind that hospitals do not provide the Church with any information regarding a patient. Therefore, hospital visitation hinges on family members personally providing Fr. Nicholas with the necessary information.
“Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray. Is any merry? Let him sing psalms. Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up...”
In the course of his studies and preparation for the priesthood, Fr. Nicholas completed a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education at New England Deaconess Hospital; and also served as a pastoral counselor at the Boston Christian Counseling Center.
Father Nicholas is a member of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors and the American Association of Christian Counselors.
Fr. Nicholas was ordained to the Holy Diaconate and Priesthood in the summer of 1996 and went onto serve as the associate pastor at Sts. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Washington, DC for nearly three years.
On January 1st 1999 Father Nicholas assumed his duties as the head priest of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. In the process of launching a number of ministries, in 2002 he helped the parish develop and complete a major expansion and renovation project that led to the creation of the Annunciation Cultural Center. With a keen focus on youth ministry and outreach, in March 2007 he received the ecclesiastical title of “Oikonomos” by Metropolitan Nicholas of Detroit for his dedicated service to the Annunciation in Little Rock and Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Detroit. On September 22, 2013 Archbishop Demetrios of America along with Metropolitan Nicholas of Detroit bestowed on Fr. Nicholas the title of “Protopresbyter of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese,” the highest rank for a married clergyman of the Greek Orthodox Church and Archdiocese. While serving in a variety of capacities within the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Fr. Nicholas’ first passion is parish ministry. Fr. Nicholas is the longest serving priest in the Annunciation’s 100 year legacy.
Father Nicholas is married to Maria and they have three children.