On its 100th anniversary, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral Moves the Bones of Its First Priest to Charlotte
Father Polycarpos Krithinakis has been laid to rest. Again.
His connection to Charlotte goes back nearly a century to when he was the first full-time priest assigned to Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral. The story we are about to tell is how his journey brought him back to Charlotte — Evergreen Cemetery specifically — one July morning all these years later.
Father P, as we will respectfully refer to him for simplicity’s sake, was born in 1882 on the Greek island of Crete. In 1915, at age 33, less than a month after being ordained, he sailed to America aboard the SS Patri. It was known as an immigrant ship for obvious reasons.
He devoted his short life to serving as a priest in the Greek Orthodox Church. Records from a century ago are hard to come by. Here’s what we found. During his 23 years in our country, Father P led 10 parishes in seven states. His stops included Syracuse, N.Y.; Akron, Ohio; Canton, Ohio; Charlotte, Akron again, Detroit and finally Minot, N.D.
Charlotte and Minot are the two stops pivotal to this story.
Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Charlotte was founded in 1923. Father P was the first full-time priest assigned to the parish, serving from 1926 to ’28. The hope was that his arrival might spark construction of the congregation’s first building. Parishioners first met in the Chamber of Commerce office uptown. But for reasons lost to time, he wasn’t in Charlotte long enough to make it happen. In 1928, he was assigned for a second time to the Akron parish, then to another in Detroit.
In 1937, he was transferred to the Greek Orthodox parish in Minot. The city, home to fewer than 20,000 people at the time, was attracting Greek immigrants to help build and maintain the Great Northern Railway that ran from Minneapolis to Seattle. The parish needed a leader. Alas, Father P had to resign due to poor health. Fifteen months after arriving in Minot, he died on Aug. 10, 1938. He was 56.
Father P was buried at Rosehill Memorial Park in Minot. Perhaps owing to English being parishioners’ second language, the headstone identifies him as a GREEK PREIST.
Vivian Maragos Zimmerman has spent her entire life in Minot, worshiping at the Greek Orthodox parish. Her father emigrated to America from his Greek village in the 1920s. Laying railroad track, he worked his way west. For reasons lost to time, he got as far as Minot and stopped. She was too young to have known Father P. But she has vivid childhood memories of her mother taking her to Rosehill to visit the graves of relatives. There they would take a few moments to pause at Father P’s gravesite.
“My mom always had a sense of sadness when she stood by his monument,” Vivian recalled. “She said he was a kind and good man, sensitive to the people, but he seemed depressed.”
She has long wondered if his depression came from being assigned to what was then a small city in the north central part of a cold and desolate state. Might this have contributed to his early death? “In this day and age,” Vivian said, “it would be characterized as he wasn’t eating and just kind of faded away.”
Dead and buried, you would assume the story ends there.
Not so fast.
Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2023. It has grown to become a flourishing faith community with 1,100 families, its East Boulevard campus a Charlotte landmark. For those who still can’t place it, Holy Trinity is home to the Yiasou Greek Festival that welcomes thousands for food and all things Greek. This year’s festival is Sept. 8-11.
To create excitement for the centennial, Holy Trinity is organizing monthly events to mark the occasion. Enter Father P.
“What better way to celebrate an anniversary then by bringing our first priest home to us, where he can be taken care of and not forgotten,” said Father Jonathan Resmini, Holy Trinity’s spiritual leader.
The idea was inspired. Now to execute it.
Holy Trinity got permission from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America to disinter Father P and rebury him in Charlotte. Disinterment is the process by which a body is legally exhumed from its “final” resting place. Here there is a large Greek Orthodox community to watch over Father P. There in Minot, there isn’t much left of the parish. While the city today is home to nearly 50,000 people, the original Greek Orthodox parish closed down. A new parish has 30 members. It’s not many, but at least enough to operate a food truck selling gyros at the North Dakota State Fair held each July in Minot.
Virginia was at the cemetery on July 11 for the disinterment, though she chose to leave before she could see what was left of Father P.
Working for four hours in the summer heat, not knowing what they would find, cemetery workers dug down to the wooden casket, eight feet rather than the typical six. The dirt was moist. First they used a backhoe, then shovels so as not to damage whatever remains remained. Eighty-four years after Father P was buried, they arrived at their destination. They found his skeleton intact, including skull, jaw and legs. There was more: They retrieved the rubber sole of one shoe and pieces of his cloth vestment, green with gold border.
“I was filled with amazement and awe,” said funeral director Andrew Bahanovich of Charlotte, who led the effort with Minot funeral director Ben Slind. “Being Orthodox and the son of a priest, it was very personal to me, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.” Andrew works with Kenneth W. Poe Funeral & Cremation Service, which handles many Greek funerals in Charlotte.
The remains were brought up on a wooden board that apparently formed part of the bottom of the casket. It was placed in a metal container lined with plastic and flown to Charlotte on Delta Air Lines.
Father P arrived on July 22. Four days later, 40 Holy Trinity parishioners offered an official welcome home at a brief service in the sanctuary. Father Remini told the gathering that while time passes, we remain connected by the relationships we forged long ago. That includes the priest who was there at the start of Holy Trinity’s journey.
The motorcade to Evergreen Cemetery off Central Avenue took 30 minutes. Father P was laid to rest in a simple casket made of poplar.
Vivian, who visited Father P’s grave as a little girl, wishes she could have come to Charlotte for his second burial. At the moment Father P was being laid to rest for presumably the final time, she was baking spinach and cheese triangles to sell out of the parish food truck at the State Fair.
“Having been at his gravesite so many times,” Vivian said, “I would have liked to have been there for the last chapter.”
Ken Garfield is a freelance writer/editor who specializes in obituaries. Reach him at [email protected].