A Greek Orthodox beacon; ‘Father Lou’ leaving Houston for new post

Author: Richard Vara
Date Published: 06/21/1997

Houston’s normally fun-loving, boisterous Greek community will soon be silent and sad.

””Father Lou” is leaving.

The Rev. Louis J. Christopulos, 43, dean of Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral since 1987, will leave Houston in July to pastor St.Catherine’s Greek Orthodox Church in Denver, a parish of 250 families. The Denver diocese has 47 parishes in 14 states from Montana to Texas.

He’ll leave behind a thriving 1,000-family parish that is working on a multimillion-dollar development plan. He’ll also leave a void in the leadership of the city’s interfaith and Greek Orthodox communities.

For Christopulos, leaving Annunciation is bittersweet. The bitter part will be leaving behind one of the major parishes in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America.

The sweet part will be finding more time for his wife, Marsha, and children, Nicole, 16; Christopher, 13; and Jonathan, 7

“I view Annunciation as the mother church of Orthodoxy in Houston,” said Christopulos, a native of Cheyenne, Wyo. “This parish has a good reputation in the archdiocese.”

The 80-year-old church, at 3511 Yoakum Blvd., is regarded as progressive and as a trend-setter, he said.

Annunciation took the lead in establishing the Orthodox parish of St. John the Theologian in Webster. Four years ago, Christopulos – who was providing part-time spiritual leadership to a score of Clear Lake Orthodox families – contacted the Rev. Gabriel Barrow, a Houston Independent School District administrator and asked him to take spiritual leadership of the fledgling congregation. Barrow serves as the church’s pastor and works with the school district.

In Orthodox tradition, establishing new churches is usually reserved for diocesan officials. But Annunciation nurtured and encouraged St. John’s, Barrow said, with “Father Lou” acting as the parish’s surrogate godfather.

St. John’s now has 75 families and its own church building. It has recorded 50 converts to Orthodoxy, Barrow said. “Father Lou was head of the cathedral, but he was willing to go out of his way to help a small church whenever we needed anything,” Barrow said.

Christopulos said St. John and St. Basil the Great Greek Orthodox Church in west Houston are the results of growth in the Greek community. Unlike Greek communities in New York, Chicago and Boston, the Houston Greek community is not concentrated in a few neighborhoods or pockets.

Annunciation Cathedral parishioners come from as far away as Sealy. But a majority of parishioners live in Houston’s west and southwest areas. That was one reason members considered moving Annunciation to the suburbs four years ago. But they voted to stay in Montrose, where the church has been since 1951.

Houston is not likely to see a repeat of the massive waves of Greek immigrants of the turn of the century and after World War II, Christopulos said. But the Orthodox community will be bolstered by immigrants from Eastern Europe and by continuing conversions to Orthodoxy, he believes.

Eastern Orthodoxy traces it roots to apostolic times. In 1054, the Eastern branches of Christianity split from the Western churches. The Western churches recognized the authority of the pope, while the Eastern churches became autonomous.

Most Eastern Orthodox churches are organized along national lines, such as the Greek Orthodox and the Russian Orthodox.

As Houston’s largest Orthodox church, Annunciation will likely be the first stop for many immigrants and for anyone curious about Orthodoxy, Christopulos said. ””It will be a beacon for the Orthodox faith in Houston,” he said.

Mike Shebay, president of the church’s board of trustees, said Christopulos helped the parish confront many difficult problems by maintaining objectivity and showing compassion.

“His biggest contribution was the sense of compassion he instilled throughout the community,” Shebay said.

“He is one of the most compassionate priests I have ever met in my life,” Barrow said.

Christopulos’ reputation extends beyond the cathedral. In Houston’s interfaith community, he has been regarded as a leader in ecumenical affairs.

He has been involved in many events and activities of the Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston, said executive director David Leslie.

“He lives out his faith in the community,” Leslie said. “He does not separate faith and culture.”

Christopulos said his parents, two sisters and brother – one of only 150 Greek families in Cheyenne – were deeply involved in that city’s Saints Constantine and Helen Church.

While his younger brother, the Rev. Daniel Christopulos, had expressed an interest in the priesthood since childhood, “I never thought about it until I graduated from college,” Louis Christopulos said.

He graduated from the University of Wyoming in 1976 with a degree in parks and recreation. One of the reasons he began to consider the priesthood was that Campus Crusade for Christ, an evangelical Protestant group, questioned him about his faith.

“They challenged me personally to look into my own faith,” Christopulos said.

He entered Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Boston in 1977 “not so much to become a priest as to learn more about my faith and see where that would lead me,” he said.

It led to ordination in 1980. He served in a Brooklyn parish for two years, then went to a small Amarillo church for three years.

In 1985, the Rev. Nick Triantafilou, then dean of Annunciation, invited Christopulos to become his assistant.

Christopulos found himself leading Annunciation after Triantafilou left the parish in 1987. It was a daunting challenge for a 33-year-old priest.

Christopulos is confident that Annunciation will continue to grow and remain one of the nation’s foremost Greek Orthodox churches. Architects and church officials are working on extensive plans for a new church complex.

It is a development Father Lou will continue to monitor from Denver.