March 15, 2019
The International Day of Greek language and culture was celebrated on Sunday, March 10 at the Stathakion Center in Astoria, at an event hosted by the Federation of Hellenic American Teachers USA and the Department of Hellenic Education of the Archdiocese of America.
Members of the Greek-American community joined educators there to honor four Greek Americans who have stood up for Greek education in America: Fr. John Antonopoulos, Dr. George Tsioulias, the Hellenic Paideia of America Organization’s Vasiliki Filiotis, and Stavros Haviaras, Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
“This room smells and reminds me of Greece. It is really Greek. I welcome you to our humble and small celebration that is big in power and values because we are here to celebrate something great that we inherited from our ancestors and that we have to keep. We have to impart the language and culture to our children. This is the Greek idea, the Greek language, the Greek culture,” said Stella Kokkolis, president of the Federation of Hellenic American Teachers USA.
She then introduced the honorees, beginning with, “a priest that I know for 50 years in Astoria, a respected priest, and a teacher. I remember when I started my career he was always next to me asking: ‘Do you need anything, can I help you?’ A priest full of love and a desire to help education, here in Astoria. It’s a pleasure and an honor to introduce Fr. John Antonopoulos.”
Kokkolis then introduced Vasiliki Filiotis. “Everybody knows this teacher who is well known in Astoria. She gave her heart and helped establish the Saint Irene Chrysovalantou school in Astoria. Thank you for always being here, close to education, close to the Greek community.”
She continued: “Another leader of the Greek community that loves our schools is Dr. Giorgos Tsioulias. He is in our hearts,” said Kokkolis, who said of the final honoree, Stavros Haviaras, that he is, “another person that I know for 50 years. He is younger than me but I know him well, an Archon. Archon in heart, Archon in soul, Archon in kindness, Archon of the family, Archon of the community – not only in the Brooklyn community but in the entire Greek community. He loves Greece, he loves the Greek language, he has a golden family.”
Dr. Ioannis Efthimiopoulos, the Director of the Greek Education Department of the Archdiocese of America in his welcoming message said: “With your presence you honor the Greek language and also the honorees. We celebrate the International Day of Greek language that has been declared by United Nations, to be celebrated every year on February 9. We are talking about a language that has existed for ages. It’s the language of the Bible, the language that Homer sang, the language that Pericles celebrated as the language of Democracy. This language has rhythm and aesthetic. Greek language is no less than a song that’s universal.”
Attending the event were Greek Consul Lana Zochiou, New York State Assembly Member and Congressional candidate Nicole Malliotakis, Bishop Efkarpios, and Bishop Apostolos of Medea.
Zochiou said, “I am here to express my gratitude to the educators of our community, to express my admiration for what they are doing to keep alive the Greek language and the schools. Alexander the Great said about his teacher Aristotle: “I owe my life to my father but I owe the quality of my life to my teacher. And Kostis Palamas used to say, “Educators are those who fight to build the palace of society.”
The president of the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York, Kleanthis Meimaroglou, declared, “You are the heroes. You are not doing a job but [fulfilling] a vocation. You are the ones that impart to our children the Greek language and build their characters.”
The choir of the students of the DGK school of Holy Cross in Brooklyn performed Greek songs. Kokkolis’ grandson sang a Cretan mantinada and then some students spoke in Greek explaining why they like learning Greek:
“My name is Anna. I learn Greek at school and in Greece. It’s a unique and beautiful language.”
“I will tell you my opinion about Greek. I learn Greek at home and at school. I speak a lot with my grandmother and my grandfather,” said little George.
“I like learning Greek because that way I can speak with my grandmother,” said little Vasilis.
Bishop Apostolos said that everybody has to support the educators. “In the USA we have great scientists with Greek heritage…but the Greek educator in America does not have the benefits that other American educators have. We are trying, but sometimes I feel bad as a new Bishop about asking for help and money for school expenses. We need a renaissance, body and soul, and to locate the essence. This way, we can strengthen Greek education and the language here in the USA…I was happy seeing these kids speaking Greek. You know that maybe they do not speak too much Greek – you know that already – but they sing Greek songs – Greek tradition also comes that way.”