By Eleni Sakellis
ASTORIA – The Federation of Dodecanese Societies USA celebrated the 69th anniversary of the unification with Greece on Sunday, March 12 at St. Demetrios Cathedral in Astoria.
The day began with the Divine Liturgy presided over by His Eminence Metropolitan of New Jersey Evangelos, a proud Kalymnian who spoke eloquently about the meaning of the day for all those from the Dodecanese and those who fought for the freedom and unification of the islands with the motherland Greece.
He noted that when his parents immigrated to the United States for a better life like so many Greeks, they also brought a piece of the Dodecanese with them, and he was raised with pride in his Greek and Dodecanese heritage.
His Eminence mentioned the many saints from the islands, including St. John the Theologian associated with Patmos, St. Savvas in Kalymnos, and St. Fanourios in Rhodes.
Metropolitan Evangelos noted the strong emotions of the day and the special nature of our islands, and that it is also a holy day and thanked God for it, quoting the words of the King of Greece at the time who said that the day of unification with Greece was paid for with many tears and much blood, and the Greek spirit is not only present in the islands, but the Dodecanese is Ellas, it was and always will be Greece.
Taking up national issues, the traditions, language, and faith in the Orthodox Church, the people of the Dodecanese even if we are far away, we can still smell the Aegean Sea, and feel the Greek sun shining on us, all this the community has bestowed on its children.
Long live Greece, and long live the islands of the Dodecanese. Metropolitan Evangelos thanked those in attendance including the Consul General of Greece in New York, Konstantinos Koutras, Consul of Greece Manos Koubarakis, Dean of St. Demetrios Cathedral Fr. Nektarios Papazafiropoulos, President of the Federation of Dodecanese Societies George Andriotis, and then led the congregation in the singing of the Greek National Anthem.
The celebration continued after the church services with a reception and presentation in the Petros G. Patrides Cultural Center of St. Demetrios. Also in attendance at the event were the Federation of Dodecanese Societies Vice President John Sakellis of Kos and his wife Nancy, St. Demetrios School Board President Nick Andriotis, and from Greece, the Mayor of Nisyros Christofis Koronaios. John Sakellis welcomed everyone to the event and asked Metropolitan Evangelos to lead the prayer to start the event.
The National Anthems of the United States and Greece were sung by talented soprano Flora Kirou.
The President of the Federation George Andriotis then spoke about the history of the Dodecanese, going back to ancient times, noting that the islands have always been a part of Greece and kept the language and traditions throughout their turbulent history.
The islands are mentioned in Homer’s Iliad as part of the Greek forces who fought against the Trojans in the Trojan War. Andriotis noted the contribution of Greek-Americans to the fight for freedom and unification with Greece from the earliest Dodecanese Society efforts in the 1910’s, 20’s, and 30’s against the Italian rule at the time and throughout World War II. The Greeks of the Diaspora have done a great deal for the Dodecanese, and though the situation is better today, there is still more help needed for our islands.
Above all, the Greek language and culture is what our ancestors fought for, he said, and what we owe them is to continue the fight.
Keynote speaker and Mayor of Nisyros Christofis Koronaios spoke in detail about the struggle for unification with Greece, noting the high literacy rate in the Dodecanese which continued to maintain the Greek language and culture throughout and in spite of occupations over the centuries. He noted that the light of culture and language remains lit by efforts of the Diaspora as well and may the islands always remain free and Greek.
Consul General of Greece Konstantinos Koutras noted that the Dodecanese are at the crossroads and bear the heavy burden of the refugee crisis, and those Greeks in the United States are uniquely positioned to help form the new administration’s foreign policy when we see an angry and threatening Turkey not only in relation to Greece but the EU as well in recent news. Greece, he noted, is holding back the gates, like the Spartans at Thermopylae. Koutras quoted Thomas Jefferson, “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.”
The event continued with the singing of the Dodecanese anthem by Melinda Tziropoulou, a poem on the unification recited by Maria-Spiliani Karpathiou, and the poem Hymn of the Dodecanese Youth recited by Vasilis Michaelides.
The celebration concluded with traditional dances performed by dancers in the unique traditional costumes from the islands of Symi, Tilos, Kalymnos, Nisyros, and Leros. The entire Dodecanese Youth dance group then joined together to perform the final Dodecanese sousta. Many of the attendees and members of the various societies also joined the dance including John Sakellis who performed with grace and skill. The music was performed by Andreas Goustas on lyra and John Themelis on laouto.