On May 23, 1992, a small group of Greek Orthodox faithful in the San Diego area saw the need for another parish in the east county. Following the standards set by the Uniform Parish Regulations, this group collected the required signatures - more than 70 - in four days. Having accomplished this task, they petitioned the Diocese to further the endeavor. On June 14, 1992 commonly viewed as “Founders Day”, the organizing committee met with the then Bishop Anthony at the Greek Orthodox Mission in Temecula. California, and were granted permission to proceed. The Bishop indicated that he would assign a priest to the new Community, if by September 1, 1992, they could financially support a priest and also locate a place for church service. On June 17, 1992, they held the first official meeting and sent out a general mailing to 200 individuals requesting support. One month later the First General Assembly was held at the home of Earl and Carol Cantos with Bishop Anthony presiding. At the meeting, the parish was officially sanctioned. Bishop Anthony named the organizing committee as the interim Parish Council. On August 7, 1992, Father James Gavrilos was assigned as its first priest. On September 10th. Fr. James and his wife Presvyiera Angela arrived with their son, Alexios.
St. Gregory of Nyssa Philoptochos was instituted Dec. 8, 1992. This small group of dedicated women strives to give of their time and talents to the church and to those less fortunate. These women exemplify the name “Philoptochos” as they show their love for the poor. They have contributed to Project Mexico (orphanage), Martha & Mary House (home for unwed mothers), to the beautification and function of the church, and to a considerable number of other needs. St. Gregory of Nyssa’s Philoptochos continues in the tradition of her sisters throughout the nation.
The founders sought to create a community that would serve the Orthodox faithful of the east county and be well positioned for future growth. Worship services were held in a beautiful rented chapel at 311 Highland Ave in El Cajon where they are still being held. Kathern Rogers served as Parish Council President during the early formative years. During his five-year pastorate, Fr. James, as President of the Orthodox Clergy Brotherhood, brought many inspiring speakers to the San Diego area. He also helped bring the Orthodox faith to the community at large and began in earnest to increase the building fund. During his tenure, their second son Constantine was born. Fr. James also inspired several young men to attend Holy Cross Seminary. Among these were Earl Cantos, Paul Schroeder and George Hazlaris.
The community was first known as the East San Diego County Greek Orthodox Church. On Pentecost Sunday 1993, the community voted from among eight names and selected St. Gregory of Nyssa as its patron Saint. In commemoration of that day, the community designated it as Founder’s Day. It must be noted that this is the only parish in the entire Archdiocese bearing the name of St. Gregory of Nyssa. It was officially incorporated as St. Gregory of Nyssa Greek Orthodox Church on January 29, 1993. St Gregory of Nyssa is the third Greek Orthodox Parish in San Diego County. Through the generosity of its parishioners, it was never deemed as a “mission parish” and never utilized supporting funds from the Diocese, Even today it is one of the few churches in the country that supports its ministries solely through stewardship.
Father Peter Delvizis was assigned as the proistamenos of St. Gregory of Nyssa on August 1, 1997, arriving with wife Presvytera Victoria. The bylaws of the parish were drafted, voted on and finally accepted by the Diocese in the fall of 1998. On October 31. 1998. St. Gregory of Nyssa honored His Eminence Metropolitan Anthony’s 20th Anniversary to the episcopacy. This was one of two Southern California events honoring his anniversary. The gala event was the first large fund raising attempt by St. Gregory of Nyssa. All revenues from this event were deposited to the St. Gregory of Nyssa Building Fund. The community, being energized by this event, sought to continue it in subsequent years. The elegant Starlight Ball became a spin off of this event.
The church was uniquely blessed to have its first Ordination on December 27, 1998. Metropolitan Anthony, assisted by Fr. Peter Delvizis and Fr. (Deacon) Demetrios-Earl Cantos, ordained parishioner Paul Schroeder to the Holy Diaconate. John Pilafas, another member’s son, also entered the Holy Cross Seminary in September 2002.
Fr. Peter began a search for the relics of St. Gregory of Nyssa soon after his arrival and sought the support for his effort from Monsignor Dennis Mikulanis, who in turn petitioned Bishop Drum of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego, to enlist in the search. The Vatican, which held the holy relics of Saint Gregory in their vaults, agreed to the request of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church. On August 21. 2000, Monsignor Mikulanis hand-delivered the holy relic of St. Gregory of Nyssa. On behalf of the parish of St. Gregory of Nyssa, the holy relic was presented to Fr. Peter Delvizis on August 21, 2000. It now adorns the church that bears his name in a beautiful silver reliquary on a table on the left side of the church below the icon of St. Gregory of Nyssa.
During this time the church began their annual Greek Festivals, which became the primary contributor to the church’s building fund. In January 2001, over an acre of land in Rancho San Diego was purchased for the future site of the church edifice. By November 2001, the mortgage was paid in full and the community set its sights on building a permanent church facility. Fr. Peter also worked with the Orthodox Christian Fellowship at UCSD, and was President of the Clergy Brotherhood during his tenure. John Vassos, Larry Anderson, Nick Paschalydis and Tom Crowell have subsequently served as presidents of the parish council.
Father Demetri Tsigas arrived in August 2002 with his wife Presbytera Eleni, and their two young sons, Jordan and Jonathan. Fr. Demetri continues the tradition of our church by serving Vespers every Saturday and Orthros and Divine Liturgy on Sundays. Bible study is held Wednesday evenings. In his first year, Fr. Demetri has challenged the community to read through the entire Orthodox Canon of the Old and New Testament. He is working with the Orthodox Christian Fellowship for college students, and there is an active Philoptochos, GOYA, Sunday School and also a newly formed Golden Years Group.
In twelve years, the community has developed into a close-knit family, with all the advantages and challenges one finds within a dedicated family. But its focus on spiritual nourishment and growth has been paramount. Those who join us in worship feel the strong presence of the Holy Spirit. Our community continues to welcome those who join us in worship. Two of our young men are now ordained in the holy priesthood, Father Demetrios-Earl Cantos and Father Paul Schroeder and are serving in our Metropolis. George Hazlaris is the current Archdiocesan District Youth Director, to be ordained in the future. John Pilafas is still attending Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. Today, the parish is teaming with young families that have joined the elders who framed the original vision for the parish. Over 30 preschool age and younger children foreshadow a thriving family community for years to come.