History of Sts. Constantine and Helen of Rockford
The following is a historical account of our Church by the late Dr. Tony Alexander of blessed memory. This particular account was written on the occasion of our church's 90th anniversary in 2008. The piece has been included in its entirety to present the thorough account desired by those interested in learning our past and as the account is topical in nature; expounding enough to explore the present through the past without belaboring any particular point in the life of our Church. The elevator construction mentioned in the article has since been completed and our Greek dancers performed at the 2008 Greek Festival which was a success that will be held each year. These then-current events have been included, at the risk of seeming dated, as they are documented history in the making and show forth the living nature of our Church and Faith. Thank you for your interest in our Church.
On May 2, 1918, a meeting was held at which twelve individuals were elected to serve as trustees of a new organization. These twelve men listed on the Certificate of Organization established our parish, Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church. One can only imagine the courage and the faith of these dedicated pioneers. To establish and sustain a parish requires a tremendous commitment of time, talent, and treasure. After emigrating from Greece and arriving in Rockford, Illinois, and adapting to a new culture; they realized something was missing in their new lives in this new land. They came together to establish a parish which would further the spiritual growth of themselves and their families as Orthodox Christians. The Orthodox Church had been an important part of their lives in Greece and could now become an integral part of their lives in this their adoptive land.
As one reads the names of these founders, one notices that many of these family names are still found on our current list of stewards of Saints Constantine and Helen Church. The chairman of the original trustees, Charles Kostantacos, was the father of our long serving member and often President of our Parish Council, Peter Kostantacos. Many of the individuals who served as the original trustees including Psaltis, Karafotis, Anagnostopoulos, and Koufogiorgas have descendants who are active in our parish today. Many of the individuals involved in establishing our parish have family members who are still involved in sustaining our parish.
At first services were held above the Alneer's Seed Company. On April 28, 1919, the building at 108 North 5th which is the current location of our church was purchased for five thousand dollars. In the late 1960's and early 1970's a plan to relocate to an area near Spring Creek and Alpine in Rockford came very close to realization. The members at that time determined to remain at the North 5th location and a reconstruction program was completed. Since then much discussion has taken place regarding the location of our church building with various committees studying potential future sites for our church. As of this date no plans to relocate have been developed. Minor improvements have been completed over the years at the church. This past year the kitchen in the church hall was renovated and modernized. More significant was the beautification of our sanctuary with additional iconography. What had been three bare walls are now covered with an array of icons that enhance the spiritual growth of the faithful. Currently, an elevator is under construction to provide access to the church to those with mobility concerns.
Saints Constantine and Helen is located in Rockford. However, the faithful Orthodox from Freeport, Janesville, Beloit, Belvedere, Mount Morris, and other nearby communities are stewards of our parish. Our church community consists of a large geographic portion of northern Illinois.
Many of the ministries of the parish have remained the same throughout our history. We have been fortunate to be blessed with many dedicated Spiritual Fathers, our Priests, over the years. They have been committed to Orthodox Christianity and to serving the needs of the members of the parish. They have provided the support that is helpful for us as we continue on the path of our Orthodox Christian Faith.
Philoptochos , the "friends of the poor", has long been and continues to be vital to achieving the goals of our parish. For many years the Philoptochos sponsored Athenian Night which was a very popular event in the social calendar of our parishioners and for all of Rockford. The Philoptochos members continue to serve local food pantries and to help the less fortunate. The members are also called upon to prepare meals for many parish events. Each week after Liturgy a coffee hour, sponsored by Philoptochos, provides an opportunity for fellowship.
A choir was first begun in our parish in 1938. Hymnography has been an important part of Orthodox Christianity for centuries. The choir today is a significant contributor to many of the services of the church. The chanter has served to enrich our services throughout the ninety year history of our parish.
The past is very important to Orthodox Christians. Holy Tradition serves as one of the foundations of our faith. We are connected to and shaped by those points of stability that link us with our forefathers. However, the past does not determine all of our practices of our present or our future. One can find many changes that have occurred in our parish based on the changing needs of our community and abilities of our parishioners.
The services of the church were initially conducted in Greek. Our parishioners were Greek speaking. As time went by the languages of our membership began to change. This was the result of intermarriage and the addition of other ethnic Orthodox, such as Lebanese, Serbian, Russian, and Syrian, into our congregation. As this change in our population occurred some English was added to our services. Today, a combination of Greek and English is used in most of our services.
An annual picnic was initiated in the early years in our parish. This was an opportunity for the members to enjoy Greek food, music, dancing, and fellowship. The picnic was not held for several years. The picnic has been revived during the past twenty years and has evolved to a kick off for our Catechismal School each fall. One of the activities which grew from the early picnics was the Greek Fest.
A Greek Fest was introduced to the community during the 1980's. The goals of the Fest were to introduce Greek customs, traditions, and food, and some basics of our Orthodox faith to the Rockford community. In addition, the Fest was one method of helping the parish meet its financial obligations. The youth of the parish were organized into the Athenian Dance Troop which performed at the festival. Youth dance troops had been a part of the early days of the parish and were now revived by the organizers of the Fest. A dance troop has recently been started which will perform at the Fest (which was reintroduced in 2005) in the summer of 2008. During the 1990's the Greek Fest was discontinued. The members of the parish became active in the annual "On the Waterfront" festival. Initially this festival was focused on the differing ethnic groups represented in the Rockford area. Our booth was often the recipient of the Best of Waterfront award for our gyros sandwich. A portion of the profits from our labors at the Waterfront were set aside to create a scholarship fund for our youth as they pursue their goals in higher education. As the focus of the festival began to shift our participation ceased.
A re-emphasis on the youth of our parish has developed over the past decades. The Catechismal School has long been an important mission of our parish and it continues to playa vital role in the lives of our parishioners. The GOYA and JOY organizations have been reinstated and active. Our young people also participate in the Junior Olympics and Fanari Camp where they have an opportunity to interact with other Orthodox youth from our Diocese. Throughout the years a variety of Greek language classes have been conducted. These classes at various times have been provided for the children and on occasion for adults.
Adults have also been provided with classes taught by our most recent Spiritual Fathers. As adult Orthodox Christians we feel the need to learn more and to experience more about our "One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church". These classes though challenging are very popular and appreciated by the members of our congregation.
Throughout the ninety plus years of our history our parish has been blessed to have many dedicated, highly committed individuals who have willingly given of their time, their talents, and their treasures to sustain our parish and to continue on the path to Orthodoxy. Throughout our history we have been blessed by God with so many hard working dedicated priests and parishioners. To have included the names of all of these individuals in this brief document would have been impossible. However, the next time you attend services notice the chanters, the choir members, the ushers, the teachers of the Catechism, and the altar boys. You might also attend a meeting of the Greek Fest committee or ask who painted that wall or cleared the snow from the parking lot. These individuals are carrying the banner of Orthodoxy through their service to our beloved Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church. The future of our parish seems bright and with the ever present Grace of God and vigilant, dedicated servants, our parish shall continue to grow through the ages.