SARASOTA COUNTY — After 55 years in the priesthood, you accumulate quite a few books.
You’ve cracked the spine of every single one of them. Their corners are bent and covers worn from decades of learning. Some have yellowed pages.
“Each one is special,” said the Very Rev. Archimandrite Frank Kirlangitis from behind stacks of papers and half-packed cardboard boxes.
And that’s why Kirlangitis, who retired from St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church April 4, isn’t taking all of his collection with him. Instead, he has decided to share them with the congregation he helped build.
“I’ll set them on a table, and if someone sees something that interests them, they can take it,” he said.
For Kirlangitis, it’s the least he could do for a parish that has given him so much.
“Nothing comes to mind but the word ‘family,’” he said of St. Barbara, where he has spent the past 27 years. “We’ve shared good days, bad days, and we’ve worked together for the common good.”
St. Barbara will honor its beloved priest with a retirement celebration April 18 at The Fête Ballroom at The Polo Grill and Bar in Lakewood Ranch.
Retirement was something that had been on Kirlangitis’ mind for years.
“My favorite saying is, ‘If you love what you’re doing, it’ll kill you, because you don’t know when to let loose,’” he said. “I wish I could continue forever. But the demands of this parish are greater than they ever have been.”
Never was that more apparent than during Kirlangitis’ final week — Holy Week — which in the Greek Orthodox faith includes a full week of services culminating with Easter Sunday.
At 78, Kirlangitis said this year proved particularly difficult.
“I thought, ‘Oh my God. How am I going to do this?’” he said.
But, just like other challenges throughout his celebrated career, Kirlangitis succeeded.
Originally from Steubenville, Ohio, Kirlangitis graduated from the Holy Cross School of Theology in Brookline, Mass., in 1954 and married the love of his life, Stella Belegris, that August.
Kirlangitis continued his studies at the University of Athens and was ordained to the priesthood Feb. 22, 1955, at The Zoodochos Peghe Greek Orthodox Church in Martins Ferry, Ohio.
He spent 10 years there before transferring to St. John the Divine Parish of Jacksonville in 1963. In 1971, Kirlangitis was assigned to the St. Paul Parish of Savannah, Ga.
In 1980, Kirlangitis lost Stella to cancer. Three years later, he moved to the Bradenton with his children, Maria and Michael, to become the first full-time priest at St. Barbara.
Over the next 27 years, Kirlangitis led St. Barbara to become one of the East County’s most vibrant congregations. The year after Kirlangitis’ arrival, St. Barbara organized its first Greek Glendi. He then also lobbied for the church’s first expansion — a $2 million, three-year project that was completed Dec. 7, 1991.
From 2001-09, Kirlangitis led the installation of the iconography that now adorns the church’s walls and dome. Kirlangitis also worked for more than 20 years as chaplain for the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.
However, although St. Barbara’s building accomplishments are numerous, Kirlangitis is most proud of church’s community.
“I’ve been here long enough that the children I baptized years ago are now married, and I’m baptizing their children now,” Kirlangitis said.
The day after Easter was Kirlangitis’ first official day of retirement — and the first time he wasn’t awake to see the sun rise that he can remember.
“I got up at 9 a.m. that Monday, and I didn’t know what had happened,” Kirlangitis said, laughing.
Kirlangitis’ exit from St. Barbara will be a slow one. He will continue to be available until his successor is named.
He said he is excited to spend time with his children and four grandchildren and will remember his time at St. Barbara fondly.
“In my 27 years here, it’s been nothing by wonderful harmony,” he said. “We’ve really done some great things (in the past), but like I told (the congregation), hats off to the past, but coats off to the future.”
Contact Michael Eng at [email protected].