By Debbie Hovanasian, Sun Correspondent

UPDATED: 08/29/2009 06:37:14 AM EDT

LOWELL — When the Rev. Nikolas Pelekoudas visited one of his elderly parishioners as she lay dying, he was touched that she wasn’t asking for something for herself. In her mind, there was something much more important to ask of her new, young pastor.

“She told me, “Take good care of my church,'” said Pelekoudas, the newly installed pastor at Holy Trinity Orthodox Church. He considers her request “a blessing.”

A native of Greece who came to the United States in 1981 at age 19 to study psychology, Pelekoudas comes to Lowell from his previous assignment at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Lynn, where he had served since being ordained in 2007.

Pelekoudas attended St. George every Sunday after graduating from the University of Rhode Island with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Through his years of involvement, his pastor saw something in him. Coincidentally, that pastor was the Rev. George Tsoukalas, a Lowell native who grew up a member of Holy Trinity, where he served as an altar boy.

“Part of a priest’s job is to always look and see how their parishioners can be more involved — to have that discernment,” he said. “Father George is exceptional at that.”

When Tsoukalas first asked Pelekoudas, then married with children, to consider the priesthood, Pelekoudas was surprised.

“I was not a youngster who knew from the beginning that I had a calling or vocation,” he said.

“Sometimes you’re not aware — you just don’t know. But he saw something there.”
Tsoukalas was patient and persistent. When Pelekoudas finally enrolled in classes at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, “I fell in love with it. It was a wonderful experience. It started in my head — during the coursework — and then went to my heart.”

Tsoukalas was present for Pelekoudas’ ordination to the diaconate in 2003 and to the priesthood in 2007.

“It was such a blessing to have Father George’s spiritual guidance both times,” Pelekoudas said. “And he was so excited to find that the bishop wanted to send me out this way.”

Pelekoudas, who spent his earlier years in social work and human services, working primarily with families and children, now commutes to Lowell from his home in Lynn about six days a week. He lives with his wife, Evangelia, whom he met in college, and their two daughters and two sons, ages 19, 14, 7 and 20 months.

For now, they’re staying in Lynn, but moving to Lowell “in the future is in the back of our minds,” he said.

He admits that being a married priest on call 24 hours a day “is a balancing act. You have to take care of the family and take care of the community. The way to do it is to put the two together — as one family.”

He speaks with a quiet confidence and his humility is evident. He stresses the importance of honoring God first in everything.

“I don’t mean any of this to sound proud or arrogant — these are the graces of God. We are serving His church. I thank God for His blessings and for His work,” he said. “The Holy Spirit moves as it pleases, so we prepare to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And we please God by serving His people.”

Among his goals for serving the people of Holy Trinity, whose historic church is believed to be the first Greek Orthodox church built from the ground up in the United States, are maintaining and enhancing the spiritual life of the community.

“I want to make sure we have a prayerful community, emphasize the sacraments of the church, and make sure the church provides for the needs of young and old.”

He is also enthusiastic about supporting the work of the Hellenic American Academy, which was founded by the church.

Mainly, he plans to do his best to honor the promise he made to an ailing parishioner to take good care of her church — but only with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

A formal welcome is scheduled for Father Pelekoudas on Sunday, Sept. 20, at 12:30 p.m. at the Hellenic Cultural Center, 41 Broadway St., Lowell. All are welcome.

Send comments or story ideas to Debbie Hovanasian at sunfaith@comcast.net