St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, Saco, ME – History of the St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox community in Biddeford and Saco, Maine

St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church was originally established in 1909 in Biddeford, Maine.  In 1937, and for the next sixty-two years, home for the Orthodox faithful was Adams Street, in Biddeford, ME.

On January 2, 2000, like our ancestors did in 1937, we carried our icons and artifacts from our old home to our new home in Saco. Services were held in the unfinished hall until the Church was ready. Through the Blessings of God and the intercessions of our beloved Panaghia, we entered our new St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church on Palm Sunday, April 23rd, 2000.

St. Demetrios, our patron saint, the Great Martyr and Myrrh bearer was  a Christian in the early fourth century.  He was appointed a military commander by Emperor Maximian, who asked Demetrios to persecute and kill all the Christians. Instead he preached Christianity.  Demetrios was imprisoned, and knowing his fate, he had his servant Lupus give his wealth to the poor.  Soldiers came into his cell and killed him with spears. Christians buried him, and his relics began producing a healing fragrant myrrh.  His  feast  day is celebrated on October 26th.

A brief history of Saint Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, in Biddeford and Saco, Maine

In the 1890’s and 1900’s, Greek immigrants came to Maine from Greece, Asia Minor and Albania to work in the area’s mills and stone quarries.  The Greek immigrants depended on each other for survival and social sustenance.  The Greek Community of Biddeford-Saco was established and Liturgy was celebrated in rented halls from 1909 to 1918.

1909 – The Greek Community of Biddeford-Saco was established.  The Liturgy was celebrated in rental halls.

1914 – On September 17, 1914, a Certificate of Organization was issued establishing the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Demetrios.

1915 – The Cemetery lot was purchased on November 26, 1915, from the John H Durgin Family for $300 (Registry of Deeds-Book #640, page 295) and named The Greek Orthodox Cemetery. In 1929 the name was changed to Saint James Cemetery. In 1935 the name was again changed and remains to St. Demetrios Cemetery.

Note: In 1915, the Greek Community of Biddeford-Saco was one of only four communities in the United States to own its own cemetery.

1918 – In 1918, the parishioners of St. Demetrios purchased their first church structure – an older three-story building that was converted into a 1st floor Greek school and 2nd floor Church.  The property was purchased on May 28, 1918 from Mary J. Neal for $9,500.00, (Registry of Deeds, Book #658, page 428).  Shortly after, a parochial school for the teaching of Greek and English was organized. Children who attended public school also attended Greek school in the afternoon.  At the same time, Sunday School started for religious education.  The land and the buildings thereon, was sold to Emile and Louise Mass on January 20, 1941.

The 2nd decade in the history of the Church was a period of continued growth characterized by numerous weddings, baptisms, parades, and name day celebrations.

1928 – The first Ladies Society was formed and named “The New Generation”, for providing financial and moral support to the Church, the Greek School, the Sunday School, and also fulfilling philanthropic needs.  During the Depression, and for a number of years, the Society was not active.

1934 – The first Church Choir was organized.

A major decision was made in 1936 to borrow $5,000 to purchase the Adams Street Baptist Church building.  This would become our new Greek Orthodox home for over six decades. 

1937 – On March 22, the old Baptist Church on the corner of Adams and Jefferson Streets, was purchased for $5,000 (Registry of Deeds, Book #893,page 455) and renovated.  The Mortgage was paid off by May 8, 1941.

St. Demetrios Wooden Church on Adams Street, in Biddeord, ME
St. Demetrios wooden church on Adams Street, in Biddeford, ME (1955).
Photo credit: Collections of McArthur Public Library. Used by permission.

1937 – November, the Ladies Society was re-organized under the new name of Saint Fotini.

1961 – In 1961, the old wooden church on Adams Street was replaced by a beautiful brick church with a Byzantine dome.  The entire cost of the Adams Street renovation was paid off by parishioners within ten years. 

1971 – On June 9, 1971, a parcel of land with the buildings thereon, on 3 Libby Drive was purchased from Bernard and Ruth Pinette (Registry of Deeds, Book #2132, page 686).

1974 – On October 27, 1974, the Church edifice was consecrated by His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos.

St. Demetrios Brick Church Adams Street
St. Demetrios brick church on Adams Street, in Biddeford, ME (Still stands today).

1980 – On October 9, 1980, a parcel of land on 60 Washington Street was purchased from Ann B. Valade (Registry of Deeds, Book #2709, page 228).

1984 – On December 7, 1984, a parcel of land on 31-33 Adams Street, was purchased (Registry of Deeds, Book #3426, page 242).

1985 – The Cemetery Chapel was built in memory of James Droggitis.

1988 – The Stewardship System was adopted to replace the practice of paying fixed dues.

1993 – On July 27, 1993, a parcel of land on 27 Adams Street was purchased from Coastal Savings Bank for $40,000.00 (Registry of Deeds, Book #6643, page 176).

1994 – The monthly Offering procedure (of the Stewardship program) was implemented. Also, in 1994, the City of Biddeford entered into negotiations with the Community of St. Demetrios to acquire a key piece of the Church’s land in order to build a new courthouse.  This would have dramatically limited any future expansion by the Church.

1995 – Members of the Community voted on July 16,1995 to sell all church property on Adams Street to the City of Biddeford and build a new church on a 11-acre parcel of land on Bradley Street in Saco, ME.

The City of Biddeford needed only a part of the property and the Adams Street Church building was left intact.  The Church property was purchased by the Serbian Orthodox Community and to this day remains an Orthodox Church. 

Since 1995, St. Demetrios has sponsored 22 Greek Festivals.  The first festivals were held at the Adams Street Church grounds, Biddeford Ice Arena and Thornton Academy.  In 2001, they moved permanently to Bradley Street and have become the Church’s cornerstone cultural event attracting thousands of visitors each year.

Architect Christ J. Kamages was selected to design and oversee the construction of the Bradley Street St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church reflecting the vision, desires and future needs of its parishioners.

1999 – The land on Bradley Street, Saco, Maine was purchased and on May 1st, 1999, groundbreaking took place for our new Church home. His Eminence Bishop (later titled Metropolitan) Methodios presided over the Groundbreaking.

2000 – January 2, 2000, like our Emery Street ancestors did in 1937, we carried Icons and artifacts from our old home in Biddeford to our new home in Saco.  Services were held in the unfinished hall.  Finally through the Blessings of God and the intercessions of our beloved Panaghia (Mother of God), we entered our new St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church on Palm Sunday, April 23rd, 2000. His Eminence Metropolitan Methodios offered the Service of Thyranoixia (Opening of the Doors), and since then, services have been held in the Church.

2003 – December 2003 saw the official dedication of Drivas Hall which was largely donated by the family of Spiros and Speredoula Drivas in their memory.  From January 2000 until the Opening of the Doors ceremony in April 2000, Liturgy services were held in Drivas Hall.  Drivas Hall was initially built as an open space with a cement floor.  In 2002 the entire length of one side of the hall was converted into a back-storage room, a kitchen with a pantry and a walk-in freezer and a church school/conference room. The upstairs became a storage area.

2004 – Ceramic tiles were installed to finish the floors of both the church and hall.  In 2015, the hall ceiling was painted and the walls repainted.

2005 – In 2005, a spiritually inspiring iconography project was launched.  This major project was followed by the installation of a beautiful hand-carved Iconostasis.  Both were massive undertakings that were fully funded by donations.

2009 – On October 25, 2009, the Feast Day of Saint Demetrios provided the backdrop for the 100th anniversary celebration of our Church.  A very successful Centennial Luncheon was held at the Dunegrass Country Club in Old Orchard Beach, ME.  Guests of Honor included Metropolitan Methodios and US Senator Olympia J. Snowe.

2016 – To build the new St. Demetrios Church, proceeds from the sale of the Adams Street Church ($360,000) were augmented with a mortgage of $350,000 that was paid off in seven years’ time. To keep growing and moving forward, an equity mortgage of $240,000 was obtained in 2016 and, along with festival income and donations, is being used to fund several projects:

  • Purchased five additional acres of land providing the Church with room for future growth.
  • Converted the upstairs storage area of Drivas Hall into an expanded youth activity center
  • Re-stained the Church exterior, installed a new and improved metal roof and repaired the lower dome roof shingles.
  • Finished paving the Church entrance road and adjacent parking lots.
  • Installed a new front lawn and an in-ground irrigation system.
  • Constructed a badly needed two-story storage facility that is located adjacent to Drivas Hall.
  • Received a donation of 200 new banquet chairs for Drivas Hall.
The success of our Festivals has enabled the Community to reduce its mortgage and undertake several major building projects as well as purchasing new kitchen equipment integral to the continued growth of our Festivals and Bazaars.      
It is estimated that from mortgages, donations and fund raising, we now have a facility valued at more than $3.5 million dollars.  Our community has worked very hard and is rightly proud of their beautiful new church.

2020 – The year 2020 began like any other, but a few weeks prior to pascha, an emerging pandemic would impact the daily lives of not just everyone in our community, but the entire world. Over the next year and a half we would endure the mandated use of facemasks and “social distancing,” empty shelves at grocery stores, economic uncertainty, bans and limits on public gatherings – of which worship was categorized – and a constant barrage of negativity in the media. Despite limitations on attendance, a cancelled festival and bazaar, and other challenges, our community persevered, and even thrived during this time, as the desire to worship, safely, far outweighed everything else. As we move into 2021, the restrictions are gradually loosening and we are planning an online Greek Fest Express, which features online food ordering and an option to choose a pickup time. Obviously, we would all prefer to get together and host a full scale festival, but its a step in the right direction.

Throughout our history, the Community of St. Demetrios has withstood such adversities as the Great Depression, two world wars, and most recently the COVID-19 pandemic.  Despite these hardships, our Community continues to flourish as evidenced by the above notable accomplishments.

The work of the Church, even in the digital age, still comes down to people.  In the past 10 years, we have lost 61 of our members but have also celebrated 78 baptisms and 36 weddings.  More than ever, we need to work together so that St. Demetrios remains a vibrant part of our Orthodox Community and continues to carry our journey forward. 

For us, the Church is not ancient, it is not modern…it is eternal.