When Father Stephen Supica arrived in Spokane 32 years ago to lead Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, he was an outlier in his own congregation.
While Supica’s grandfather was Serbian and English was his first language, his congregation was largely comprised of first-generation immigrants from Greece who mostly spoke their native tongue.
Supica had worked ahead of time to bridge the cultural and linguistic divide, spending two years in Greece with his wife Irene, who is Greek American, to learn the language and prepare to lead a congregation of a different ethnic background.
That experience, plus the close-knit nature of the congregation and decades hosting Greek festivals, helped bring him and the congregation together, Supica said.
“We’re a family now,” he said.
In the years since he joined the congregation, Supica and his parishioners have shared triumphs and hardships, performing thousands of services, hundreds of baptisms and weddings, and nearly 200 funerals.
Irene has seven godchildren in the church, and one of the Supicas’ daughters was married there.
But after three decades, Supica will lead his last service this Sunday, before retiring for health reasons.
During his long tenure, the Supicas have helped guide the church as the congregation’s demographics have shifted and diversified. The once-primarily Greek-speaking parish now has members who speak Russian, Serbian, Ukranian and other Slavic languages.
The couple both speak Greek and have memorized a few phrases in other languages, but they often rely on Google Translate and bilingual parishioners to make sure everyone is welcome and can follow along.
Services are now mostly offered in English, but other languages are incorporated, such as when Irene Supica leads the choir in the hymn “Christ is Risen” in various languages.
“It makes people feel at home,” he said. “It recognizes that this is their place too.”
The church’s makeup began to shift in the 1990s as a flood of immigrants came to the area from Serbia after the collapse of Yugoslavia.
Stoja Saric and her husband were among those who arrived then, and she said the church and the Supicas welcomed them. She said Supica made sure that not only Greek and American holidays were celebrated, but also that parishioners who had fled their home countries could celebrate their traditions with the church.
Supica also helped the family in practical ways when they resettled, Saric said, helping them get IDs and other necessities for their new lives in America.
“He has been there for us during the most difficult times and happy times,” she said.
Elizabeth White, who has attended the church since the 1960s, said she appreciates both how much Supica has done for the congregation and how much richer the culture of the congregation has grown with him as priest.
“I’m very appreciative of everything he has done,” she said.
Though Supica is retiring, he will still attend services. And this weekend, he will introduce his congregation to incoming priest Father Daniel Triant, who is moving from Seattle with his wife and children .
Triant worked as an app developer before becoming a priest six years ago, and Supica said he hopes he will lead the parish into the future.
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