TARPON SPRINGS, FLA. – On Epiphany Eve, January 5, at dusk, the Tarpon Springs Bayou – to be filled with thousands of onlookers for the following day’s Cross Dive – was as peaceful as could be. Yet if one listened closely, the sounds of Greek music emanated from the Tarpon Springs Yacht Club, where the local chapter of AHEPA held its annual Epiphany Banquet.
Archbishop Demetrios and AHEPA Supreme President John Galanis were the featured speakers among a guest list that included Metropolitan Alexios of Atlanta, Daughters of Penelope Grand President Connie Pilallis, Sons of Pericles Supreme President-Districts 2, 6, and 25 Andreas Christou, and Bishop Sebastianos of Zela. Also attending were the local clerics, the priests of Tarpon’s St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Fathers James Rousakis and Sampson Kasapakis.
Christou spoke of the hope for more of a presence for the Sons in Tarpon, and Pilallis expressed how she moved to Florida from Philadelphia 25 years ago, and ever since “you have all been my family.”
Galanis began his address by conveying how honored he is to serve as Supreme President “because of all those who preceded me” and all they did for AHEPA. In discussing the history of AHEPA, he also pointed out that Ahepans traditionally honored and followed the U.S. Constitution, but also the Greek Orthodox faith and culture.
To roaring applause, Galanis informed the audience about AHEPA’s pledge of $1 million for the St. Nicholas Shrine at the World Trade Center. He said that “the true gem of Orthodoxy will be at that site.”
He spoke about the word “Progressive” in AHEPA’s full name: American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association. He said Progressive represents the organization’s non-stagnant nature. He was happy to announce that of the hundreds of AHEPA chapters throughout the world, though most are in the United States, there are some in Greece, and in other parts of Europe, including one in Turkey.
Galanis told The National Herald how happy he is to see the “warmth, serenity, and friendship” of the Tarpon Springs AHEPA community. “It is definitely worth the trip coming down here for this,” he added, lauding the close-knit community’s camaraderie.
Archbishop Demetrios spoke at length about Tarpon Springs, noting that the community, which boasts the highest number of Greeks per capita of any American city, also has the largest number per capita of attendees to the annual Epiphany celebration – describing it as a “plithousa agora” – aka standing room only.
The archbishop spoke about the history of Epiphany, the revelation of God on earth, noting that in the early years of the Church, it was Epiphany, not Christmas, which was the focus of the celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth.
Demetrios next turned to St. Nicholas at the World Trade Center. He spoke about the many bureaucratic hurdles the Archdiocese faced until ultimately ensuring that the Church would indeed be rebuilt. “Roman Catholics, Protestants, and Jews ask me: ‘how did you manage this?’” the archbishop noted, referring to how St. Nicholas will be built on such a prominent site on the international stage. His response to them: “we’ve had this site since 1892. It was destroyed on 9/11, and now it will be resurrected.”
Demetrios joked about how the new Church will be exponentially larger, as it will include a Shrine open to all as well as focusing on the needs of the local Greek Orthodox parish, by saying that it is really not any larger: “we always had a basement and the ability to build higher,” but they just decided to build horizontally instead of vertically.
Demetrios concluded by describing AHEPA as having begun in 1922 with survival in mind, but that in 2016 “it is no longer about survival – we have survived, so now it is about achievement.” To support his theory, he pointed to Chris Alahouzos, sitting in the audience, who if elected on March 15 would become Tarpon Springs’ first Greek-born mayor. About Alahouzos, the archbishop said: “think about the Ahepans of 1922 – could they have imagined that one day we would be having…mayors?”
Tim Keffalas, who is running for Commissioner in the same election and is the Secretary of Tarpon’s AHEPA Chapter, invited all Greeks, through TNH, to “come down here and join AHEPA.” He described Tarpon Springs as a wonderful community, and of the Epiphany celebration at the Bayou, he said: “that’s where I met my wife, in 1977. And we were married in 1979.”
L-R: At the AHEPA Banquet in Tarpon Springs: AHEPA Supreme President John Galanis, Archbishop Demetrios, Metropolitan Alexios, Daughters of Penelope Grand President Connie Bilallis, and Sons of Pericles Supreme President Andreas Christou.