ASTORIA – The Federation of Dodecanese Societies USA hosted the 70th anniversary celebration of the Unification of the Dodecanese with Greece in Astoria at St. Demetrios’ Petros Patrides Cultural Center in Astoria on March 11. The event took place immediately following the Divine Liturgy, presided over by His Grace Bishop Apostolos of Medeia- Chancellor of the Metropolis of San Francisco, who was born and raised on Rhodes, along with presiding priest of the community Archimandrite Rev. Nektarios Papazafiropoulos.
Bishop Apostolos noted the significance of the celebration during his sermon, pointing out how the people of the Dodecanese maintained the Greek language, Homer’s Greek, the faith and traditions throughout the years of oppression when the Italians prohibited the Greek language, they learned Greek from the Church. He noted that when the officials from Athens, including Archbishop Damaskinos, arrived on Rhodes for the official unification ceremony in 1948, they had translators with them since they expected the people only spoke Italian, but were soon greeted in Greek by the people who were so excited for the unification with the homeland. Bishop Apostolos encouraged the parents and grandparents present to speak Greek at home to the children and grandchildren since they will learn English eventually and knowing Greek will benefit them in so many ways.
Since the third Sunday of Great Lent celebrates the Veneration of the Holy Cross, Bishop Apostolos highlighted the fact that the Holy Cross gives us the strength that we need during difficult times. He noted the presence of the Consul General of Greece in New York Konstantinos Koutras and Consul of Greece Spyridoula-Ioanna (Lana) Zochiou at the services, then gave a blessing and his best wishes, as well as long live Greece, and long live the Dodecanese.
John Sakellis, Vice President of the Federation of Dodecanese Societies, welcomed everyone to the event in the Patrides Cultural Center, and served as Master of Ceremonies for the event. Bishop Apostolos led the prayer and Katia Zala sang the National Anthem of Greece and the Star-Spangled Banner. The Federation of Dodecanese Societies President George Andriotis spoke movingly about the historic significance of the 70th anniversary of unification, noting the pride the people of the islands feel and the honor we give to those who fought for freedom from Italian oppression from 1912 until unification decades later.
He said, “March 7, 1948 was a landmark day and will remain a beacon and a reference point that secured, plain and direct, our Greek foundation. Our Greek civilization was recognized and our Greek journey continued on the one and only road with our unaltered Greek traditions, the immortal Greek language, and the enormous philosophic and artistic achievements.” Andriotis noted the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, Kleovoulos of Rhodes, one of the Seven Sages, the father of medicine, Hippocrates of Kos, the Aesclepio of Kos was decorated with paintings including the Emerging Aphrodite, by the famous artist Apeles of Kos, and Dodecanese artists created the Laocoon, and the Nike of Samothrace on display at the Louvre.
“Greek civilization did not have geographic borders, it had centers and Greek communities only,” Andriotis said, and emphasized the need to maintain the Greek language and called for unity among all in the Greek community and organizations especially in reference to the current issues, the Aegean, Cyprus, and Macedonia. He urged all the Dodecanese societies to take part in the rally for Macedonia on March 18 at the United Nations.
Bishop Apostolos also noted the importance of unity, adding the quote comparing the Dodecanese to twelve diamonds surrounding Mother Greece’s neck, and pointing out that the Panagia protects the islands, as do the patron saints of each island. When he said, “We are so blessed in New York and in America, but when you go back to your island, don’t you feel better?” everyone responded, “Yes!” Bishop Apostolos then noted that from the largest to the smallest island, they all contributed and gave their blood for freedom, and are all equal in the sight of God. He concluded, “Long live Greece, long live America, and long live the Dodecanese.”
Consul General of Greece Konstantinos Koutras said he had intended to begin by speaking about Nisyros, but seeing the banner for Patmos, it occurred to him that the spirit of Emmanuil Xanthos one of the founders of the Filiki Eteria had to wait from 1814 until 1948 for freedom. He pointed out that the 70th anniversary is not just vital to the history of the Dodecanese, but also to all of Greece. Through barbarian invasions, the suffering, the fear that the islands would be destroyed, the people always kept their faith and love of the homeland, and fought for freedom. Koutras concluded with the little-known history of U.S. Senator Charles Andrews of Florida who during World War II sought to help the citizens of the Dodecanese who were being imprisoned because they had Italian passports.
Melina Tsiropoulos sang the Dodecanese Anthem, Vasilis Michaelides recited the poem Elefthera Dodecanesa (Free Dodecanese), and Maria Koutroupis the poem H Enosi tis Dedecanesou (The Unification of the Dodecanese).
Performances by the dance groups of Tilos, Symi, Nisyros, Kalymnos, Kasos, and then the Dodecanese Youth were greeted with enthusiastic applause. The musicians,
Andreas Goustos, Anastasios Sifonios, and Yiannis Mantas, performed the traditional nisiotika with wonderful skill. At the conclusion of the event, everyone joined in the dancing.