The Rev. Demetrius T. Dogias, who shepherded a growing flock in Northern California as pastor of Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Sacramento, died Monday of pneumonia complications, his family said. He was 73.
The Rev. Dogias was a prominent figure in the Greek Orthodox Church as pastor from 1981 to 2005 at Annunciation Parish, which is the mother church for parishes from Modesto to Redding and Reno. Ordained for about 50 years, he mentored priests fresh out of seminary and was widely known as a history scholar, gifted musician and devout man of faith.
He nurtured a growing Greek Orthodox community in the Sacramento region and oversaw the founding of St. Katherine Parish in Elk Grove and St. Anna Parish in Roseville. He reached out to the community as a speaker at ecumenical services and a smiling figure in a billowing black cassock at the annual Greek Food Festival at the Sacramento Convention Center.
"The children called him Santa Claus because of his long, wonderful beard and big stature," said Terry Kastanis of Annunciation Parish. "He was a warm and loving man."
Born in 1939 in Elizabeth, N.J., the Rev. Dogias was the eldest of four sons raised by Greek immigrants who ran a diner in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. He played the trombone in high school and performed on piano with a small band at church functions.
He graduated from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 1963 and served parishes from New England to New Mexico before he settled in California. He earned a master's degree in medieval history from Fordham University in 1971.
An expert on Byzantine history, he taught classes and provided historical insights on group tours of the Holy Land. He trained in seminary as an excellent chanter and shared his musical talent as an arranger, interpreter and vocalist during weekly choir practice at Annunciation church.
"He translated the words from Greek to English and described their liturgical meaning," said Kastanis, choir president. "Even though he didn't sing with us on Sundays because he was performing the liturgy, he was very much part of the choir."
The Rev. Dogias continued serving at Annunciation after stepping down as pastor and filled in at St. Katherine and St. Anna. He was interim dean of Sts. Constantine and Helen Cathedral in Honolulu in 2007-08 and substituted at Greek Orthodox parishes in the San Francisco Metropolis.
A Sacramento resident, he raised four children with his wife, Eleutheria. They celebrated their 50th anniversary the day before he died.
The Rev. Dogias enjoyed spending hours researching scholarly and religious texts. He recently was writing a book about the saints.
He was also a science fiction fan and "a big Trekkie" who owned all the "Star Trek" movies, said his son Peter. During a Good Friday sermon, the Rev. Dogias suggested that followers awaiting the resurrection of Jesus on Easter were caught in a "wormhole," a time-travel theory popular in science fiction.
"A few people got it and laughed," his son said. "He always smiled about that."