BROOKLYN – The men and women who worked for more than a year to create a special night celebrating “100 Years of Orthodox Tradition – 50 Years of Academic Excellence” will have the thanks and appreciation of the parishioners, alumni and friends of the Cathedral of Sts. Constantine and the A. Fantis Parochial school for years to come, but on November 9 the focus was on friends and festivities.
The Cathedral Dean, Fr. John K. Lardas and the Gala Chairmen, Jim Tampakis and Peter Vlitas, promised there would be no speeches, and sure enough, after Vlitas welcomed the guests he introduced the one speaker, Parish Council President, Elias Seremetis, to loud applause.
“Today we live a great moment in the history of our parish and our school. Our thoughts today are on our predecessors, who with effort and sweat created this community,” he began his brief remarks.
Seremetis welcomed everyone, especially the alumni of the school and expressed his deepest thanks to the organizing committee, and concluded by saying “I wish you all health and joy, and for our beloved community to always hold high the flame of Orthodoxy, Greek letters and Hellenic Culture…thank you, long live Greece, and God bless America.”
Tradition is something that both reaches out to a community across the generations and resides in the hearts of its current members. It manifests itself in devotion to its institutions, and the kefi – spiritedness – of occasions like the gala.
Music fuels kefi, and the huge crowd of 600 people – the event sold out almost immediately – was fired up by Greek-American singing sensation Kalomira, who burst singing and dancing into the hall of Steiner Studios with its spectacular views of the bridges and flood-lit landmarks of Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Her energy was contagious. The dancing began immediately and was alter fueled by Yanni Papastefanou and his orchestra and singer Roula Vassos. Another highlight was the performance of Greek recording star Stellios Dionysiou.
The evening began with a beautiful prayer composed for the occasion by Fr. Lardas, and expressed the soul of the special gathering: “We celebrate and honor the generations of faithful people, who from their first breath, taken after baptism, until their last breath taken on earth, sacrificed time and talent to glorify the Church…Oh Lord Jesus Christ continue to send your Grace, mercy and love upon our community.”
Guests and Clergy from other Brooklyn churches included Three Hierarchs’ pastor, Fr. Eugene Pappas, who blessed the food, Fr. Gerasimos Makris, pastor of Holy Cross and Fr. Christodoulos Roditis of the Church of the Kimisis.
Fr. Lardas told TNH “We wanted to keep this celebration in Brooklyn,” and he praised and thanked all the people who worked hard for more than a year to make the gala a great success.
Effie Lekkas was thrilled to be among her A. Fantis classmates. When the school opened in 1963, built from the ground up – a proud achievement many contributed to but forever associated with its primary benefactor, Argyrios Fantis – she was in the first Kindergarten class.
Lekkas was struck by “how emotional,” the alumni became at the gala when they saw each other, and they realized that “we became the people we are today, because we graduated from A. Fantis.”
She has fond memories of her first grade Greek teacher “Kyria Anna Shiftouri. I will never forget her cologne, and jingling bracelets, and her loving embrace. She was Cypriot and because I didn’t speak English until I got to school, she would say that I speak Greek with a Cypriot accent and said ‘tha se kano Kyprea – I will make you a Cypriot,’” a prophesy that became true when she married Cypriot journalist Panikos Panagiotou. “Now I am a Kyprea and proud of it,” she said.
“I am very proud to be here,” said Dr. Alice B. Farkouh, who has been the principal of A. Fantis for seven years, and was delighted to see so many school graduates. Farkouh is an Orthodox Christian with Syrian, Lebanese and Greek-Cypriot roots.
Nertilja Canka was born in the Balkans and she just began as a science teacher at A. Fantis. “I am enjoying the school because the faculty is very helpful and the kids are really good.”
Her colleague, Maria Chatzimichail, who is from the island of Kos, who is also new this year, said, “it’s a wonderful experience to teach Greek in another country.”
The alumni were walking on air. Peggy Tsaltas, with roots in the Peloponnesos, was also a student when the class first opened. She said Kyria Harambidou, who attended the gala, was a great Greek teacher. She did everything to teach us Greek,” and she still remembers the Greek grammar rules in her head in her teacher’s voice. Haralambidou must have been a hero because “we were really bad kids,” Tsaltas said with a smile. “Weren’t we all,” one guest added about his Greek school days.
Maria Dikeakos’ family is from Sparti and Athens. She did not want to single out any of her teachers. “I had a lot of favorite teachers,” she said.
“I am very proud to be a graduate of A. Fantis, said the ebullient attorney and former New York State Assemblyman Matthew Mirones. “I was fortunate to have been there from day one, the opening of the school in 1963. It gave me a great foundation. It was a wonderful environment for children and I think the Greek-American community should take special interest in supporting our parochial schools. Our community is at a crossroads and we have to support the schools that our forefathers build with blood sweat and tears.”
Theodore Pavlounis, who attended with his wife, Helen, is a graduate of the class of 1983. “It’s wonderful to see so many classmates and others here.”
Louis Katsos told TNH the parish was a spectacular place and an interesting place to grow up. He served as an altar boy and was ordained a Reader by Archbishop Iakovos. He was happy to see nephews, cousin and nieces “and some people who are a little bit grayer now than they used to be.”
Andrew Yiannakos, was amazed at “the number of people here, and the love that the people still show for the community and each other…It’s like family: we may argue but at the end of the day everyone loves each other.”
The parish of St. Nicholas at Ground Zero has made St. Constantine and Helen its home since 9/11. Its pastor, Fr. John Romas, told TNH, “This is a great day for all of us…they have welcomed us. They love us and we love them.”