Each of the transliterated Greek words which make up the name, Haghia and Sophia, has two meanings: the former means “holy” and “saint” (like, the Latin sancta), while the latter means “wisdom” and is also a female name. Probably through the Germanized Latin rendering of the name of the Cathedral in Constantinople, Sankta Sophia. Saint Sophia came to he accepted in English. However, the translation of the Greek name is Holy Wisdom, for the cathedral is dedicated to Jesus Christ, Who is the Wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24), and not to a saint named Sophia. The word Saint is by custom always spelled out in the name. The inscription above the main entrance reads:
Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral
The Holy Wisdom Of God
Saint Sophia Cathedral is under the direct jurisdiction of Archbishop of America Demetrios headquartered in New York City and is the Archbishop’s cathedral in the nation’s capital. It is not a diocesan see.
Church and Cathedral History
This parish was established in 1904 by newly arrived Greek immigrants. After worshipping in rented or makeshift quarters, the community built its own church at 8th and L Sts., N.W., which was completed and dedicated in 1924, remaining there until moving to this site, which was purchased in 1943. Ground breaking and foundation stone laying occurred on September 25, 1951. The building, designed by architect Archie Protopapas of New York City was ready for occupancy on February 19, 1955. The first service was celebrated on February 20, 1955. The cornerstone was laid by President Dwight D. Eisenhower with His Eminence Michael, Archbishop of North and South America, officiating on September 30. 1956. Saint Sophia was elevated to the status of a cathedral on February 18, 1955.
Architecture and Interior Decoration
The architectural style is Byzantine, with the typical central dome about 80 feet high symbolizing Jesus Christ as head of the Church. On the fade, surmounting an arch which embraces the three main entrance doors, is found in relief the two-headed eagle which expresses the unity of the Byzantine State and the Church. It was the feeling of the early Byzantines that the Church would baptize the whole spirit and organization of society and the Emperor would provide for the physical welfare of the people as the vicar of God on Earth.
Plans for the interior decoration were drawn up in 1965. As of this writing, the interior decoration of the sanctuary, the nave and the balcony has been completed; work remains to he done in the narthex (vestibule). Of the more than 90 icons in mosaic and in acrylic all but two were executed by American-born mosaicist and painter Demetrios Dukas and the remaining two, by Basil Lefchick. The program was overseen by consulting Byzantinologists from Harvard University’s Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies in Washington, D.C., to assure that the scheme of the iconography, adapted from that of the churches in Constantinople after 843 A.D. (when the Iconoclastic Controversy had finally ended with the return of icons in churches), is authentically represented. The combined seating capacity of the nave and the balcony is nearly 1000.
Saint Sophia Cathedral will be formally consecrated after completion of the decoration program in a ceremony during which the relics (bones) of a saint are placed in the altar to commemorate the Early Church’s worship in the catacombs.
Construction of an education center began in 2003 and was dedicated on September 16, 2004. It is an extension of and integral with the Cathedral and contains classrooms for the Sunday School, a library, a ballroom and glass encased atrium for social functions. It has the same architectural style as the Cathedral and bears the name Frosene Education Center after philanthropist and major donor FroseneTrakaliotis Michels.
Great credit accrues to Presiding Priest Emeritus, Dr. Reverend Doctor John Tavlarides, and the successive Boards of Directors for their assiduous dedication over the past decades in bringing the interior decoration program to near completion and education center, to completion.
Not to be overlooked is the accomplishment of then-pastor (1934-1954), dean (1955-1960), and finally Bishop before his passing in 2007, Aimilianos Laloussis (Chicago and Charlotte-Atlanta dioceses (1960-1973)) during whose tenure the church structure was built. A park across the street from the main entrance to the church is dedicated to him. Amidst the plantings and benches there is a small obelisk bearing inscriptions with information about Bishop Aimilianos.