ABOUT OUR HISTORY
...on this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
The History of
St. John the Baptist
Greek Orthodox Church
in Las Vegas, NV
The story begins in the desert town of Las Vegas, when Fremont Street was the only paved road in town. The year was 1931. Las Vegas was relatively new, only being incorporated in 1911. It consisted of less than 20 square miles with a booming population of 800 residents! Many of those residents came to work on Hoover Dam, one of whom later become known as the “Godfather” of St. John the Baptist Church, John Pappas.
John first traveled through Las Vegas as a railroad water boy in 1909. He returned in 1929 with the intent of working on the Hoover Dam, but opened a restaurant instead. In 1931, the White Spot Cafe was opened on Fremont Street. At that time, Las Vegas offered quickie divorces, only requiring a 6 week residency. Dude Ranches popped up, along what is now the famous Las Vegas Strip, for those seeking quick divorces.
In 1931, George Sackas and his new bride Lea became the first Greek married couple in town. George had settled in Las Vegas in 1915, working on the railroad. He met and married Lea on vacation in Los Angeles in 1931. Their first child was born in 1933 and their home soon became a gathering place for the Greek men in town and visiting Greek women from other cities. By 1935, there were 3 Greek families in Las Vegas.
The city of Las Vegas grew quickly during the construction of the Hoover Dam, which was completed in 1935. 1941 brought the first appearance of the Strip Hotels, attracting tourists and employment seekers alike. Quickly, the gambling industry became the largest employer in Las Vegas. The Greek population increased with each new employment opportunity. The defense industry came to the valley during World War II, setting up defense plants, a gunnery and a pilot school. Nellis Air Force Base and Area 51 were established during this time period.
Lacking an Orthodox Church and an Orthodox priest, Las Vegas Greek families held informal services in their homes. For Baptisms, they had to travel to Los Angeles or Salt Lake City by railroad.
In 1954, visiting Bishop Athenagoras Kokinakis and Father Anthony Kosturos performed the first Orthodox baptism in Las Vegas. It was held at the Episcopal Church where many Orthodox faithful attended the historical baptism. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the Bishop held a meeting with the women in attendance. He stressed the importance of establishing a Greek Orthodox Church in Las Vegas, convincing them that the most effective way was to begin a Ladies Philoptochos Chapter. The Bishop donated $10.00 to start the chapter.
At first, Church services were held in a room inside the Elwell Hotel, then moved to a dance school hall in 1958. John Pappas was selected chairman to establish a permanent home for the Church. In 1959, the Eastern Orthodox Community was incorporated in the State of Nevada. It consisted of all Orthodox, Greek and non-Greek alike. Orthodox services were then celebrated in the Christ Episcopal Church.
In Greek tradition, an auction was held in September 1959 to name the Church. John Pappas won the auction and named the Church St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church. The first permanent location was an old Jewish Synagogue on Maryland Parkway and Carson Avenue in downtown Las Vegas. The synagogue was renovated and a social hall was built (Panos Hall) at the downtown location and named for one of the forerunners of the Church, Tom Panos.
The annual Greek Food Festival was originally held at the Stardust Hotel in 1973, then moved to the Sahara Hotel in 1976 for a 22 year run! The festival has been held at its current location, on Church grounds, since 1994 and successfully grows with each new year!
The current 10 acre parcel of land was purchased in 1983. With the blessing of Bishop Anthony, Father Ilia Katre became the new parish priest in 1988. A building committee was formed in 1989. Bishop Anthony encouraged the parish to build a complex with true Byzantine attributes. St. Ephimia of the Hippodrome in Constantinople was the inspiration for the architectural design of St. John the Baptist Church.
Phase One, named “A New Beginning”, was a one week long event (September 1990) that began with a 9.3 mile long relay race from the Church downtown to the new location. There were many festivities, including blessing the building site and construction began in October 1990.
With much fanfare, the doors were opened September 27, 1992. Nitsa and George Filios won the bid for the honor of turning the key. Bishop Anthony, Father Katre, and the Filios family led the Greek Orthodox community inside the new Church to celebrate the first Divine Liturgy in the new location.
The next 12 years were active for the three remaining Building Committee members: Angelo Stamis, Nick Pandelis and George Filios. They dedicated themselves to the completion of the grounds and planning the next phase of construction for the administrative, educational and social center. Working with limited funds and the spiritual guidance of Father Katre; they not only donated their time but often helped with the funding as well.
September 1, 2002 brought Father John Hondros, Presvytera Maria and their two children to St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church.
The official Grand Opening Ceremony of the St. John the Baptist Community Center began with the ribbon cutting on May 10, 2003 and a “Jewel in the Crown Grand Opening Gala”. The banquet hall was filled to capacity and ticket sales purchased the chairs that the guests were sitting on. The 50 centerpieces were bay-laurel trees that were planted on the perimeter of the rear parking lot.
The weekend of June 4th and 5th, 2005, the Parish of St. John the Baptist celebrated the consecration of its beloved Church. Consecrating a Church is dedicating it to God forever. The consecration involves the adornment of the Church building with new ecclesiastical furnishings and the anointing with Holy Chrism of the altar and building interior. After the consecration, the building can be used for no other purpose except sacraments, worship, prayer, etc. Concelebrating the services with Fr. John and the parish were the new Metropolitan, his Eminence Bishop Gerasimos, Bishop Anthimos of Olympos and Bishop Ilia of Philomelion.
The Ladies Philoptochos Society Panagia Chapter has been entrusted with the chairmanship of the 60th Anniversary Celebration of St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church, November 9-10, 2019. To honor the Church, the Ladies presented the Parish with a path to being debt free with their “$300,000 One Year Plan” to pay off the existing mortgage on the community center.
For more information and complete with photos, the Church bookstore has a volume for sale with the complete story and photos! The History and Consecration of St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church is available for $35. Commemorative coins are also available for $5.