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Leading the Way: Experiences as youth pave way to the priesthood

The Rev. Father Jon Magoulias, priest at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, played bass guitar in a band during high school and likes to sing.

The latter is especially helpful, because 95 percent of his church's services are sung.

"I like music, all kinds," he said. "I enjoy classic rock. I like country music. I like classical music. I enjoy Byzantine music. I've transposed Byzantine chants into Western notation. Our church choir sings a number of hymns that I have transposed."

Magoulias, 53, grew up in Centralia, Ill., with his parents, two older sisters and a maternal grandmother. The closest Greek Orthodox church was 70 miles away and his father managed a bowling alley's restaurant/lounge until 3 or 4 a.m., so the family attended services only on Christmas, Easter and a few other times a year.

"It was a very mystical and uplifting atmosphere that I felt," Magoulias said. "But I didn't understand Greek. We didn't speak it, even in the home. The only time Greek was spoken was when my grandmother and our parents didn't want us to know what was going on."

The family did integrate religious practices at home. "We followed days of fasting and had icons in the home," he said. "There were times, the first of the month or during storm season, when my grandmother would go through the house with the censer to pray in every room that either the month would be blessed or to protect us from the storm."

Here's more information:

Family: Wife, Georgia, 53; four children, Matia, 29, who is married to a Greek Orthodox priest, twins Maria and Anastasia, 25, and son Yianni, 15; two grandchildren

Education: Bachelor's degree in philosophy of religion from Hellenic College, Brookline, Mass.; master of divinity degree from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology

Calling: "Because of what I saw around me in the late '60s and early '70s — the protests, the abuse of alcohol and drugs, the distractions — I felt I really needed to find myself and see who I was supposed to be. I went to (Hellenic College) to do some study on my roots. When I got there, I realized this is where I belonged. When I decided to become a priest, a lot of answers came together."

Career: Assistant priest at Assumption Cathedral in Denver; priest at Holy Cross in Justice, Ill., a Chicago suburb. Came to Annunciation Church in Modesto in August 1986. Serves on board of seminary, on council for the Metropolis of San Francisco (oversees 70 churches in California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Arizona, Alaska and Hawaii), on council for Archdiocese in America, headquartered in New York, and as vicar of churches between Reno and Bakersfield.

Future: "In the Orthodox church, it's like the military: We go where we're told. I'm very fortunate to have remained in Modesto as long as I have. I have attained the highest rank I can as a married Orthodox priest. This has been a wonderful place to raise our family and do the Lord's work."

Greatest challenge: "To convey the message of Christ and his Gospel as it's been preserved in the Orthodox Church for 2,000 years. (The Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions grew out of the original church established by Jesus Christ and his disciples. The two branches split in 1054 A.D.)

Greatest passion: "Trying to help people realize how important it is to live our faith in Christ — experiencing the faith on a daily basis."

Personality: "I'm outgoing, somewhat aggressive — in a positive way, hopefully — studious, diligent, hardworking. My children would call me loving and caring. I think it would be fair to say I am intense, that I have a definite direction that I like things to go."

Spare time: "Be with my family. I don't golf very often, maybe three to four times a year. I like to travel, but usually it's on business."

"Leading the Way" runs twice a month and profiles faith leaders — ordained and lay — in our community. To suggest someone, send the name and contact information to Sue Nowicki, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352-5256 or e-mail snowicki@modbee.com.

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