ASTORIA – The Prometheus Greek Teachers Association will present a celebration of the life and work of Nikos Kazantzakis in word, song and dance on March 2 at the Archdiocesan Hellenic Cultural Center in Astoria.
Professor Thanasis Maskaleris, founding director at the Center for Modern Greek Studies at San Francisco State University will offer a lecture titled “The Humanistic Spirit in the Work of Nikos Kazantzakis,” at 4:15PM, followed at 5:30 by a program of dance and the performance of the poems of Odysseas Elitis which have been set to music and sung by the children’s choir of the church of the Assumption in Fairview, NJ.
At 6:00 there will be a reception and an exhibition of Greek books for sale organized by Hellenic Book Club – Livanis-USA.
In addition to the performance by the children’s choir, the dance troupes of the Cretans Association Omonia will dance. Hara Spiliou will also present Maskaleris’ poem “Argonauts,” which expresses the journey of the Greek immigrant in America.
The Association’s new president, Demosthenes Triantafillou, who was born in Nisyros and raised on Rhodes , and was the founding Principal of the High School St. Demetrios Cathedral in Astoria, the only Greek-American High School in America, spoke to TNH about the event.
He said it was natural for educators to honor Kazantzakis. “He is a giant in Greek literature and he is the symbol of a form of spiritual independence…humanism, scientific study, and the pinnacle of literary expression and the voice of man’s uneasiness about his life and his existence.”
THE ASSOCIATION’S AMBITIOUS GOALS
Triantafillou and his colleagues are planning a series of high quality literary, philosophical and scholarly events, but he spoke passionately to TNH about the group’s wider mission, who reflects his belief that “The community’s educators must be embraced and supported,” and their issues addressed.
He is committed to having the Association take the lead in establishing a pension fund for its members.
According to Triantafillou, except for teachers who are certified and paid by the Greek government, none of the community’s teachers, regardless of their years or decades, of service, to its children are entitled to a pension.
He hopes that the planned events will raise the Association’s profile with the result that the cause of the fund will be advanced.
“It’s an injustice and a disgrace,” he said, and asks “how can we attract young teachers…A pension will not save the world or the Greek language, but it is an incentive and a sign of respect for the profession and the teachers,” who make great sacrifices for the cause of Greek education.
Triantafillou’s experience as an educator includes tenures as a public school assistant principal – he is licensed as a principal and a superintendent in New York State – and he is currently the director of the Greek schools of the of the Ascension Church in Fairview, NJ and of The Church of the Savior in Rye, NY.
He is also concerned that “there is no institution focused on the training of young teachers.” He noted that St. Basil’s Academy performed that function through the early 1970s, when it was transferred to Hellenic College in Brookline, MA, “but in my opinion, it never functioned properly and has not produced many teachers.”
And the community’s schools, he adds, do not offer young people incentives to seek degrees there: “There are not enough jobs.”
He noted, however, that there are people with degrees from Greece and the United States in other areas who can be trained and certified if the proper center is established. Even if they have weekday jobs, they can teach at Greek schools on the weekends.
“It is my dream, as president, to at least start the process that will lead to a center at a place like Queens College, which is the home of the Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies. They have professors, facilities, everything is ready there,” he said.
The Association chose to invite Maskaleris because he spearheaded efforts that led to the establishment of the Nikos Kazantzakis Chair for Modern Greek Studies at SFSU in 1983.
He has co-translated Nikos Kazantzakis’ “Russia”, and is working on a study of Kazantzakis titled “Kazantzakis and the Cretan Life-force.” His most recent book is “The Terrestrial Gospel of Nikos Kazantzakis: Humans Are the Saviors of the Earth” – an anthology of passages from his work about Nature and the workers of the soil.”
Admission to the March 2 event is free, although guests will be invited to make pledges to the pension fund. “The can contribute as much as they want over as long a period as they like,” Triantafillou said. “We have to start somewhere otherwise people will say it’s all just words.”
Among the co-sponsoring organizations are the Greek American Writers Guild, the Arcadian society “Geros to Morea,” and the Federation of Hellenic American Teachers.