BOSTON, MA – Prominent businessman and philanthropist George Behrakis of Lowell, MA in an exclusive interview with TNH spoke about many important issues pertaining to Greece, our Greek-American community, and the Greek Orthodox Church in America. He also discussed his home parish, Holy Trinity of Lowell, and its Day School, which is the only Greek Day School in all of New England, from which Behrakis, his children, and all of his siblings graduated.
Behrakis leads and funds a huge anti-smoking effort in Greece, especially among young children, with the help of his first cousin, Panagiotis Behrakis, a prominent professor and pulmonologist in Athens.
Regarding the Greek economy, Behrakis said that “academia and the private sector must work together on how to innovate and bring new products to the market. Greece needs this, they have the brains, and they have the power but if they don’t do anything they are going to lose the brain power. Do you know how many Greek physicians from Greece have settled here [in the United States]? How many professors are teaching in universities and colleges in New England?”
As to the Behrakis Medical Symposium, which he organized and sponsored at Harvard University, he said “I did that because I was very proud of the research. These Greek fellows and physicians that came to Harvard have had their papers published in the major cardiology journals, which is a very difficult feat.”
Behrakis said “the Greek-American community is very strong except that we are not as close a community as others are, somehow we stray. A lot of people get an education and forget that education started with the Greeks. They become more Anglicized than focused on Greek part of their life. We need to teach our young children about the history, the language, and the influence of the Greeks. We need to take the children to Greece so they can be exposed directly whether they go to the Ionian Village, or take a semester in college there, we need to take them to Greece so they will understand the strength of Greece’s brainpower – I think that’s very important.”
WHAT’S MISSING FROM THE COMMUNITY?
“It’s hard to determine what is missing from the Greek-American community because we need to have a meeting of the minds, whether that means we must bring in consultants to open our eyes. Let the outside world come in and have them give us their opinion, just as in business you bring people in to evaluate you, to make you a better person, a better businessman.
“I know some people say we are a Church, we are not a business, and that is correct but both have to work together as a community. The Church needs to be a church, and to be educators, but we need stability in finances, too. We cannot survive without finances.”
Behrakis thinks that “some churches are doing well, but others are not. It all depends on management there, too. Youth are very important, we have to concentrate on youth. The future of our Church is the youth, and we are heading into fourth generation now in America.”
Can the Archdiocese go ahead with the present Archbishopric leadership and hierarchy? Do we need a change, do new blood, new people with fresh ideas?
“What comes next out of the Patriarchate is a concern that we all have.” Whether we should continue under the Patriarchate’s authority “is a good question but is not for me to answer. That is for people to get together who are in the know, who travel and see what is happening in the world. The Archons had recently a meeting in Berlin I didn’t attend because I had to go elsewhere. I just fear governments. Educators and intellectuals are good, but the government can control everything and in Turkey the government is controlling more and more. Hopefully, the secular groups will endure. Reading in German and in our papers about the conversion of churches in Turkey should be on the front pages of the newspapers. The Christian churches are becoming mosques and museums. If St. Sophia becomes a mosque it is going to be a black eye for us all Orthodox.”
An autonomous Greek-American Church is a topic about which Behrakis would like to sit down and have a real roundtable discussion, weighing the pros and cons, and this has not been done. I’d like to have a meeting that focuses on that specifically: the benefits the shortcomings.”
Parish described his home parish and its School as existing amid competition. “We have new churches in Dracut, in Andover, and again, from my perspective as a businessman, it is about management. They have to sit down and really spend a whole day to discussing how we can improve the Church. The Parish Council needs to bring in members who are educators and businesspersons. The Parish Council president and the priest ought to do that.
“I am a graduate of the School, as are all of my children, and it is very painful to see dwindling numbers because we need to maintain the Hellenic language, the culture, the traditions, and everything.
Why hasn’t the local bishop gotten involved? Behrakis says he is not privy to that. Will Behrakis take the lead himself? “I’ll be part of it, but not in the lead role – we need new blood.”
and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.