I think there’s a common golden rule in nearly every faith tradition. There’s some commonality in that saying — respect for all and integrity for all humankind. – The Rev. Elias Koucos

The Rev. Elias Koucos, chairman of the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable, learned the importance of service through life in his church and family.

"Generally for Greeks, faith and family has always been a major aspect of our lives," the Rev. Koucos said. "When the immigrants came over here, they came to work to help the economy in Greece, which at the time was really bad, and they would work to support their families living back in Greece."

The Rev. Koucos, 64, one of two Greek Orthodox priests in the greater Salt Lake area where he has lived his entire life, is the son of an immigrant. Service has been his lifetime mission, a calling that came comfortably to him even as a child.

The Rev. Koucos' father, William, came to the United States to work at the Bingham mine. At 15 years old, William Koucos was the only member of his family of 11 other siblings to emigrate to the U.S. He was unable to speak English and had nothing more than the clothes on his back.

After spending some years at the mine, William Koucos made attempts at entrepreneurship by opening a candy malt shop near the old Bingham High School in Copperton. He then owned and operated a bar in Salt Lake City for the rest of his life. He sent money back to his family in Greece up until his death at the age of 78.

The Rev. Koucos came to fully appreciate the sacrifice his father made when, in 1972, he went on his first trip to his father's old home in Greece. Nestled in the Peloponnesian mountains is a small village called Agios Vassilios, where the Rev. Koucos' surviving relatives — mostly aunts and uncles — still lived.

"The village was still quite remote," the Rev. Koucos said. "It only had one light that lit up the roadway coming in, so everything was still kind of primitive. They didn’t have any plumbing, and it was mostly sheep and goats and farming that they lived on. Now I understand why he wanted to provide better living conditions."

While many of those relatives have passed on or moved away, the Rev. Koucos works constantly to make life better for his own family and his community. His parish consists of 1,000 families between Bountiful and Draper, for whom he performs ecclesiastical services such as weekly worship, baptisms and funerals.

His connection to his church has been a constant strength for him ever since he was a 10-year-old altar boy.

"From then on, I knew I wanted to be involved with the church," the Rev. Koucos said. "When I went to the altar, I felt comfortable, and it was kind of an epiphany for me that that was where I wanted to be."

In addition to serving as the priest of his own church, the Rev. Koucos was appointed chairman last year of the Interfaith Roundtable, an organization that he has served in since it began in 1999.

Interfaith Roundtable started as an Olympic charter requirement for Salt Lake City so that athletes and visitors around the world could have a place to gather in their own faith traditions. It has continued to exist to this day.

“Because of the time frame involved in working together and trying to get things ready, there were a lot of friendships that were created," the Rev. Koucos said. "We felt it would be nice to continue the effort in gathering and creating an atmosphere where people could come together of different faiths to understand and respect each other, even though we didn’t believe all of the same things."

Interfaith Roundtable consists of nearly 200 members, all of different faiths, who meet once a month. In addition to providing volunteer service, the organization aims to foster acceptance for other religions and beliefs.

"It’s mostly just being aware of what the different traditions are, and days that people can and cannot gather or eat certain things," the Rev. Koucos said. "I think there’s a common golden rule in nearly every faith tradition. There’s some commonality in that saying — respect for all and integrity for all humankind."

The work is exhausting. Sometimes the Rev. Koucos comes home only to fall asleep and leave again early the next morning. But his wife, Ellen, is very supportive of his work and is in turn a spiritual inspiration and motivation for him.

"I try to set an example, not only for our congregation, our members and parishioners, but for my own family," said the Rev. Koucos, who is the father of two grown children.

Taylor Hintz is a Deseret News features reporter and journalism student at Brigham Young University in Provo.