Andriomeni Mark Hellenism in Chilly Philly

PHILADELPHIA, PA – The words “kai san prota andriomeni – valiant, like in the past” were richly symbolized by the descendants of the Hellenes of centuries past as they proudly and vigilantly stood along Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway on March 23 as temperatures dropped into the 30s – the latest reminder of a long and brutal winter that refuses to end, even as spring has officially arrived – to celebrate Greek independence.

Today’s cold weather is nothing to complain about, AHEPA Supreme Vice President Phillip T. Frangos told a larger group at the post-Parade Reception, “think of the Greek heroes in 1821,” he said, “and the American heroes who fought at Valley Forge” not too far away from Upper Darby, where the Reception was held – at the St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church Community Center.

Organized by the Federation of Hellenic-American Societies of Philadelphia and Greater Delaware Valley, the Parade was certainly not the only one that will take place in the coming days – evidencing the wide net of Hellenism cast across America – but in some ways it may be the most fitting. Philadelphia, after all, is a combination of two Greek words “philos – love” and “adelphos – brother” hence its nickname: “The City of Brotherly Love.” William Penn named it as such, to symbolize a place where freedom would flourish. Resplendent in American historical significance, even primacy, the city is where both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were adopted.

George G. Horiates, a New Jersey attorney who is the Federation’s Vice President and an Ahepan, wore yet another important hat on that chilly Sunday afternoon: he served as Parade Chairman.

The Hon. Harry J. Karapalides, Magesterial District Judge, Delaware County announced the Parade ongoings in English, and Federation President Stathis Karadonis in Greek. Metropolitan Evangelos, who was honored at a Federation dinner the previous evening, Rev. Father Demetrios J. Constantelos, was one of several clergy who marched, as did students from numerous regional churches and colleges.

Nonetheless, the blustery weather with biting winds did keep some away – as locals assured that the crowd is usually much larger. The outdoor festivities quickly gave way to the warmer confines of the post-parade reception, where Frangos told the crowd: “what better place to celebrate Greek independence than the birthplace of American independence?” He also encouraged Greeks to continue the fight by standing with AHEPA as that organization continues to fight for religious freedom for the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople, the reopening of the Halki Theological School, and a resolution to the Cyprus problem. Phillip Yamalis, Supreme Governor of AHEPA’s Region 2, described the organization’s philanthropic reach, specifically in Greece, where it donates $10,000 every month to feed the hungry.

Frangos, along with Daughters of Penelope President Joanne Saltas were the honorary Grand Marshals. The actual Grand Marshal distinction this year was shared by the Greek School principals throughout the Philadelphia Metropolitan Area/Greater Delaware Valley region.

Karapalides told TNH that even though Philadelphia is considered “the cousin of New York,” it is the “epicenter of Hellenism.” Proudly describing the large and spirited congregation at St. Demetrios, he echoed a sentiment the crowd appreciated during the parade: “all roads lead to Upper Darby.” Horiates added that the majestic Benjamin Franklin Parkway is “the ideal place to have a parade. Even New York, Fifth Avenue” is somewhat confined by tall buildings, he said. But the sprawling Parkway, with flags from nations all over the world is really something to behold, he told TNH. There was a “touching moment when Metropolitan Evangelos stopped in front of the Greek flag and sang the Greek National Anthem.” Non-Greek tourists in the vicinity – many there to visit the renowned Philadelphia Museum of Art – stopped and watched the entire Parade and asked Horiates all about it. “This is not a ‘Greek Parade,’ it is a ‘Greek Independence Day Parade,’ there’s a difference,” he said, indicating that it is not just a moment of ethnic identify, but a testament to liberty.

Hellenic Navy Commander Konstantinos Kalkandis told TNH this was a “great celebration with Hellenic vibes everywhere!” Yamalis added: “Bravo, Philadelphia,” and reiterated that “we are Americans first, sharing our Hellenic ideals.”

Alexander Nikas of the St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church Parish Council (Valley Forge) said it was a true celebration of Hellenism, and Nikos Tsiadis, chanter at St. Luke’s Church in Broomall called it “the best parade ever” in Philadelphia.

Federation Secretary Mela Akranis was the Reception Emcee, and announced the ten young dance groups, all of which impressed the crowd with their skillful mastery of complex Greek dances: Akritai Dance Group (Pontian Society, Upper Darby); Hellenic Heritage (St. Thomas, Cherry Hill, NJ); St. Demetrios Greek School Dancers (Upper Darby); Asteria (St. Sophia, Jeffersonville); Evangelismos Greek School Dancers (Philadelphia); Oi Rizes (Academy of Aristotle at St. George, Media); Asteria (St. Luke, Broomall); Zephyros (St. George, Media); Pegasus (St. Demetrios, Upper Darby); and Macedonian Sprit (Pan-Macedonian Association). Neophytos Constantinou, Consul at the Cyprus Embassy in Washington, DC was particularly impressed by the dancing, and congratulated not only the dancers themselves, but their parents and their teachers.

Demetrios Papazacharias of the Hellenic University Club of Philadelphia told TNH that “I am proud to have marched in the Greek Parade, in the birthplace of freedom in the United States.”

Indeed, the inextricable connection between Hellenes and Americans created an atmosphere of philadelphia in Philadelphia. As Frangos told TNH: “we must continue to nourish that spirit [of 1821] to maintain the flame of Hellenism – in our beloved America, and in our mother Greece.”