Rebuilding Panagitsa Greek church an 'emotional process' for parishioners

The Koimisis Tis Theotokou Greek Orthodox Church was gutted in 2015 by a fire.

The church will soon reopen after having burned to the ground 2 years ago

Achilles Nikopoulos' parents were married in the Koimisis Tis Theotokou Greek Orthodox Church in 1969. (Submitted by Achilles Nikopoulos)

Achilles Nikopoulos has spent the last two years working towards the day when the doors of Koimisis Tis Theotokou Greek Orthodox Church in Parc-Extension can finally reopen.

The church, known affectionately in the community as "Panagitsa," went up in flames and was completely gutted in 2015.

Achilles Nikopoulos is the Secretary of Real Estate and Procurement for the Hellenic Community of Greater Montreal (CBC)

But finally the church will reopen temporarily for its name day celebrations on Aug. 14 and 15.

"People were attached to this church," said Nikopoulos, who sits on the executive committee of the board of directors for the Hellenic Community of Greater Montreal.

"I can't wait to visit it as a parishioner instead of overseeing works."

After the two-day shindig, it's slated to close again for finishing touches, with hopes to be formally inaugurated by the end of August or early September.

Achilles Nikopoulos was baptized in the Church in 1971. (Submitted by Achilles Nikopoulos)

The church on Avenue de l'Épée was a beloved community gathering place before the fire that broke out a little over two years ago.

It took about 75 firefighters several hours to put out the violent flames. The fire damage was so bad that almost all of the building had to be demolished.

The Church on Avenue de l'Épée is scheduled to reopen in a few months. (CBC)

The original bell tower domes atop the church were saved, and have been re-mounted. A few other items inside were also salvaged.

Nikopoulos told CBC he can't wait to see the expression on people's faces when they walk inside. 

"As we're coming to the end of the process they're just clamouring, they want to come in, they want to see what's going on, they want to see the new look."

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      While the congregation has spread out to other churches since the fire, locals are sure that people will return once the doors are open once more.

      "Panagitsa attracts people from all over Montreal. I mean the surrounding areas, not Montreal but Laval, Lasalle, even other churches there, too," said local barber George Glicakis.

      "They still will come here. They want to baptize their kids here, they want to get married ... this is how Panagitsa is."

      The original domes on top of the Church were preserved and rebuilt after the fire. (CBC)

      The church has a special meaning for Nikopoulos, too. 

      His parents were married there in 1969 and he was baptized there in 1971.

      "Right now for me, I see it as a building. Once it operates as a church [again], it'll be an emotional process," he said. 

      Nikopoulos says there is still much to be done before the space is restored to its former glory, and while the reconstruction costs were covered by the insurance policy, he knows parishioners will also give generously.

      "It's a very generous community, people want to participate," he said. "The people who come more often and enjoy it, they like to give with their hearts."

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          With files from Jaela Bernstien