The namesake of St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church, 5300 El Camino Road, is fitting for the reputation of Sin City, according to the Rev. John Hondros.
Although the church was named for the founder’s son, John Pappas, Hondros said the naming was also part of God’s will.
“St. John is a desert saint and always had a call for repentance,” he said. “It’s an appropriate message for us here in Las Vegas.”
According to the Bible, St. John the Baptist was born to Zechariah and Elizabeth not long before Jesus was born to Mary and is commonly known as the forerunner of Christ, proclaiming the arrival of someone more powerful.
“Jesus told his disciples no one born among women could be compared to St. John because of his righteousness,” Hondros said.
According to the Bible, John was preaching repentance and baptizing people in the desert when Jesus appeared at the Jordan River and asked to be baptized.
John recognized Jesus and refused, telling Jesus, “I need to be baptized by you.”
“St. John did not want to do it because he knew this was the Lord, but he was obedient to Christ’s request,” Hondros said. “Christ did not need to be baptized, but he was preparing the way for our baptisms.”
As a result of Jesus’ baptism, the waters of the Jordan River regenerated.
“Customarily, we still call upon the Lord to bless the waters so that they may become the Jordan River,” Hondros said.
John was later imprisoned for condemning King Herod’s incestuous marriage to Herodias, his neice and brother’s former wife, Hondros said.
“John the Baptist basically said what they had done was an immoral thing,” Hondros said. “Therefore, Herodias had great hate towards him.”
While at a party, Herodias’ daughter Salome danced before Herod, who offered her a gift in return. Herodias told Salome to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a plate.
“Herod knew St. John was an honorable man, but he had made an oath,” Hondros said. “He kept his word and had John beheaded.”
Members of the church celebrate the baptism of Christ and the life of St. John the Baptist with two feasts on Jan. 6 and 7.
“It’s customary for men who have the name John to have a celebration at their home,” Hondros said. “I do it as a parish, and we usually have a dinner or luncheon on the weekend closest to the feast.”
The church was founded by a small group of Greeks who held its first services in an Episcopalian church in the 1950s, according to Gus Flangas, a church member.
“There were a group of Greeks living in Las Vegas that founded the church, and my family was almost part of that initial group,” he said. “I was born in Ely, and we moved here in 1958.”
According to Flangas, the church moved into an old Jewish synagogue on the corner of Carson Avenue and Maryland Parkway in the late ’50s. It moved a final time in 1990 to the church on El Camino Road.
Since 1972, the church has hosted the annual Las Vegas Greek Festival. It attracts about 25,000 guests each year with a plethora of Greek music, food, entertainment and a torch relay run.
“It’s really a celebration of our church and culture,” Flangas said. “It’s not a specific celebration of any particular day.”
For more information on the church, visit vegasgreekorthodox.com.
Contact Southwest/Spring Valley View reporter Caitlyn Belcher at 702-380-0403 or firstname.lastname@example.org.