Although there are Greek communities across America, Tarpon Springs has the highest concentration of people of Greek descent, with almost 1,000 families listed on the membership rolls of Saint Nicholas. The Greek language is alive and well in Tarpon Springs. Services at Saint Nicholas are held in Greek as well as English, and both languages mingle in easy conversation throughout the Tarpon Springs area.
The congregation’s first church, a frame building, was constructed in 1907 by Greek immigrants who came to Tarpon Springs in 1905. It was named for Saint Nicholas, Patron Saint of Greece and the protector of seafaring people.
The Greek population grew rapidly as the sponge industry flourished and expanded. Soon the men brought their families to Tarpon Springs, along with their religious faith, social customs, Hellenic traditions and Greek cuisine. Some families opened bakeries, restaurants, grocery stores and other businesses. A parochial school was built in 1925, and the Saint Nicholas Greek School still passes Greek Orthodox spiritual beliefs, culture and language on to the next generation today. When the need for a larger building arose, the sponge divers funded the new cathedral by donating a portion of each sponge harvest to St. Nicholas.
The current cathedral was completed in 1943 and combines elements of Byzantine architecture with modern styling that reflects 20th Century America. The tall domed tower of Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral is crowned by an illuminated cross and serves as a beacon to the faithful and an important landmark in Tarpon Springs. The bright sunlight of Florida’s Gulf Coast lights up the yellow brick and makes the stained-glass windows glow. Crimson votive lamps hang above framed Byzantine-style icons, some with finely worked gold and silver overlays, and one strung with “tamas” or small, embossed metal images that represent pledges or petitions for divine help. Sparkling glass chandeliers imported from Czechoslovakia hang from the high, rounded ceiling, with the largest one placed in the rotunda.
The church received white marble which was quarried at Mount Penteli, near Athens, as a gift from the Greek government. The marble was originally was shipped to New York from Greece for the 1939 World’s Fair. Literally tons of superb quality recycled stone were used for the altar and other appointments, such as the bishop’s throne. Within the great domed rotunda are painted figures of Christ and the Saints, and more sacred images surround the large round windows above the doorways. The magnificent altar screen, or iconostasis, follows the tradition of the Byzantine church, with tiers of holy figures presented in splendid gold frames. Parishioners donated over sixty stained-glass windows, that are filled with vibrant portraits of Saints and scenes from the life of Christ.
An icon of Saint Nicholas by George Saclarides is famous for the drops of moisture that formed inside the glass, believed by the faithful to be tears shed by the saint. The shiny droplets, first seen by a parishioner cleaning the church, began in 1970. They continued for several years and were declared a ‘phenomenon beyond human comprehension’ by His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos.
In January 1979, the church was elevated to the status of a cathedral in a colorful religious service presided over by His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos. The dream once held in the hearts of the spongers and sailors of the early 20th Century lives on in the walls and surrounding community of Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Tarpon Springs.