IN FEBRUARY, members of Baltimore's historic Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation were looking for an angel.
They ended up with two of them -- and their name in Greek means angel.
Georgia Angelos, whose grandfather was a founding member of the congregation, and her husband, Peter, owner of the Baltimore Orioles, have arranged to buy and donate to the parish a parking lot that was for sale across the street.
Leaders of the cathedral, at West Preston Street and Maryland Avenue, had wondered how they might be able to raise enough money to secure the lot so parishioners could park nearby.
They had crafted a plan to ask members to buy "shares" in the property that would be transferable to future generations -- similar to the way theater-goers saved the Lyric Opera House.
But on a February afternoon when nearly 200 members gathered to discuss possible financing plans, the Very Rev. Constantine Monios, dean of the cathedral, announced the gift. The property is under contract, and the sale is expected to be final by midyear.
"Prayers are answered. People's hearts are moved. We inform our parishioners of our needs, and they graciously respond," Monios said this week.
"I've always believed that a gift offered on its own is more valuable than if you go out and ask for it," Monios added. "This really was a great gift to us because it reassures our people that there will be parking for them. It helps assure our presence in the city. It came at a perfect time. It's a blessing, and we're very grateful to them."
Monios said Peter and Georgia Angelos planned to donate the parking lot in memory of Georgia's grandfather, John Kousouris, who immigrated to Baltimore in 1904 and died in 1960.
It is the latest of several gifts that the Angelos family has made to the church over the years, along with two Preston Street buildings that were purchased several years ago from the Theatre Project and a hand-carved wooden "screen of icons" in the main sanctuary.
Sunday is Easter for 300 million Eastern Orthodox worshipers around the world, and the Cathedral of the Annunciation is the oldest of 18 Greek Orthodox parishes in Maryland.
Designed in a Byzantine style by local architect Charles Cassell and constructed in 1888 of granite from Port Deposit, the building originally housed a Protestant congregation. The Annunciation community was founded in 1906 at Homewood Avenue and Chase Street and moved to Preston Street in the late 1930s.
That move was a preservation miracle in itself. In the mid-1930s, the Protestant congregation ran into financial trouble and abandoned its Preston Street home. The ornate building had been condemned by the city and was about to be razed for NTC gas station when members of the Greek community asked Baltimore's mayor, Howard Jackson, to rescind a demolition permit. The building was sold to the Annunciation congregation for $28,500. In 1975, the building was designated Maryland's first Greek Orthodox Cathedral.
The new parking lot, at the northwest corner of Maryland Avenue and Preston Street, has room for 85 to 110 spaces, depending how vehicles are parked. Supplementing a 110-space garage that the cathedral owns on Maryland Avenue, it is one of several physical improvements planned.
In late June, the sanctuary will be closed for 10 weeks so contractors can complete an $800,000 renovation of the interior. Work will include restoring pews, strengthening weak sections of the floor, replacing carpet, reupholstering seats in the balcony, renovating the choir loft, upgrading lights and air conditioning, and installing an elevator.
Francis Gibbons is the chief contractor, and Rita St. Clair Associates Inc. is the designer. The congregation, which has 1,500 families, will have services in the gymnasium while the work is under way.
Next year, the congregation plans to renovate its 1955 education building. The next year, it hopes to expand the Annunciation Center across the street, by renovating and moving into three buildings that the cathedral has acquired at 35, 37 and 39 W. Preston St.
Monios said that before he came to the parish 23 years ago, there was talk about moving to Baltimore County. But he said the cathedral is committed to staying and growing in the city, with the help of benefactors such as Peter and Georgia Angelos. Other key supporters, he said, have included Antonia and John Paterakis and Liberty and Harry Tsakalos.
"The cathedral is a major presence in the city and it needs to be sustained," he added. "I'm glad people are helping us do that."
Pub Date: 4/16/98