In the fall of 1891 there were about 500 Greek men and perhaps 20 Greek women in New York. The establishment of the Athena Brotherhood intertwined Hellenism and Greek Orthodoxy; from these few sprung forth the first Greek association in this hemisphere and the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox parish. A small part of an Evangelical church on West 53rd Street near Ninth Avenue was rented at $50.00 per month. Holy Trinity — the second Greek Orthodox parish in the Americas and the first in New York City — had found its first home.
In fits and starts the fledgling religious community began to grow. Chartered by a special act of the New York State Legislature in 1896, it occupied several locations. In 1904 a permanent church building, an Episcopal church of Gothic architecture at 153 East 72nd Street, was purchased. The first service was held on April 3, 1904. Later that same year, the dynamic Father Methodeos Kourkoules assumed the pastorate and remained its benevolent and resolute spiritual leader until 1940.
The parish’s commitment to education was evident from the beginning. Several parishes, together with Holy Trinity, began a cooperative effort in 1911 to found the Greek American Institute in the Bronx. In 1949 the parish itself established The Cathedral School.
On the night of January 18, 1927, the Holy Trinity Church on East 72nd Street burned to the ground. Services were moved to St. Eleftherios Church on East 24th Street. In October 1929, with the collapse of the stock market, foreclosed land and buildings were available at ridiculously low prices. Land was purchased at the present location, and a new church was built.
Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of then Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt, laid the cornerstone of the beautiful Byzantine edifice on September 14, 1931. Incredibly enough, within five months the building was completed and Holy Trinity moved to its present location on March 4, 1932. Its total cost amounted to $577,000. Archbishop Athenagoras, later Ecumenical Patriarch (1947-72), consecrated the Cathedral on October 22, 1933 and characterized it as “The Cathedral of all of Hellenism in America.” Through the years, many exemplary clergy and lay leaders brought dedication and vision to Holy Trinity.
With the enthronement of Archbishop Iakovos on April 1, 1959, who was to serve for 37 years until his retirement in 1996, a new and significant era began at the Cathedral. He designated it as the Archdiocesan Cathedral in 1962 and eventually assumed direct supervision of its overall administration.
In 1970, extensive renovation and decoration of the Cathedral began. The interior is filled with impressive Byzantine mosaics by Sirio Tonelli, imported Italian stained glass in true Byzantine colors and forms, and Botticino marble for walls, columns, and the altar area. The iconography on the dome, pendantives, and other areas, is the work of Georgios Gliatas, a student of the renowned 20th century iconographer, Fotis Kontoglou.
His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios was enthroned at Holy Trinity Cathedral on September 18, 1999 as Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America.
The prophetic words of Archbishop Iakovos are as true today as when first uttered in 1960: “The Cathedral is not meant to be solely a religious center or simply a place of worship or a home of Christian benevolence. It must be made to symbolize America’s Greek Orthodox Church and Community and in general to reflect the entire Hellenic ‘Omogenia.’ It shall be our primary commitment to elevate and expand it in all religious aspects so that we shall ever be proud of this jewel of Orthodoxy.”