PALM HARBOR, Fla. (WFLA) – “This is rebirth! This is life, for our family of this world!”
Out of the ashes, arises a new beginning for the Saints Raphael, Nicholas And Irene Greek Orthodox Church. The holy structure in Palm Harbor was destroyed by a fire back in 2014.
Anna Constantine, a faithful parishioner of the church still recalls the moment she learned about the fire.
“Tears. My son had just got baptized a few weeks before,” said Constantine.
Constantine says the structure that burned to the ground years ago was actually a converted home, but sanctified none the less.
“I felt cleansed, I felt clarity. I felt warmth. Just by walking through those doors. It was not a glorious building like what I’m standing in. It was a house but it was blessed,” said Constantine.
Once again, the church community has been blessed – this time beyond measure. A multi-million dollar traditional Byzantine-style church is still under construction on the former church grounds.
“It is a miracle but the word we want to get out is that it belongs to Tampa Bay, it belongs to everyone,” said church owner Erine Koulianos.
Koulianos says once construction is complete, the church will also be one of the strongest storm shelters in the Tampa Bay area.
“It is a place of refuge for people to come. It is a beautiful architectural piece. It’s typically something you don’t see in the United States. It’s the first of its kind,” said Koulianos.
Everything you see on the inside and outside of the church, from the windows to the marble to the woodwork – and even the construction workers, are all from Greece. But the church’s presence and spirit, above all, are the most authentic.
“This is Palm Harbor’s Disney World. When you come through those doors, you will be greeted and you won’t have to pay for admission,” said Constantine.
During the church’s rebuild, the congregation has gathered everywhere from an old steakhouse to a library. Koulianos says not only did her faith remain after the fire, but so did the holy relics of their saints. It was one of the only things left untouched by the flames.
“This is the work of the holy spirit, if you will. Because we weren’t capable of doing something like this,” said Koulianos.
The new sanctuary built on Rivière Road does have a specific call to the community. The structure so far has been funded through insurance, donations and a new mortgage. But Koulianos tells 8 On Your Side they still need more funding to bring their vision to life.
“We need to raise $800,000 by December to be able to have the grand opening in January. There is no donation too small,” said Koulianos.
The Saints Raphael, Nicholas And Irene Greek Orthodox Church plans to officially reopen Jan. 25, 2020.
For more information visit the churches website here or call (727) 789-5905.