NEW YORK – The sky was a brilliant Hellenic Blue for the blessing of the Nicholas Zoullas Hellenic Center of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary Church of the Hamptons on April 6.
After the Archieratical Divine Liturgy with Archbishop Demetrios of America presiding assisted by Parish’s co-pastors, Protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate Alexander Karloutsos and Fr. Constantine Lazarakis, the congregation gathered on the lawn in front of the Center’s entrance.
The procession of clergy from the church was led by the parish’s altar boys in robes of cream and gold, the choir of visiting students from the Holy Cross School of Theology in Brookline, MA and the Archbishop, priests as deacons in vestments mainly of blue that mirrored the heavens.
During the outdoor Agiasmos – Blessing of the Water service, the rich spiritual treasury of the Orthodox Church provided words that put the church’s building projects into perspective through the words of the Gospel of Matthew and St. Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians.
Archdeacon Panteleimon Papadopoulos, mirroring the bible passages, prayed “That this Nicholas S. Zoullas Hellenic Center be grounded on the rock of Faith that is Christ Jesus, to remain forever unshaken and secure for the edification of His people and the glory of His name…That our Lord continue to bless his servant, Nicholas, together with his family, and that he may grant eternal rest among the saints to the souls of his beloved parents, Sophocles and Louiza.”
After the service, Archbishop Demetrios presented Zoullas with a cross that is a copy of the one that crowns the dome of the church and numerous speakers referred to the sacrifices and struggles of individuals and the community, which had to overcome numerous obstacles, including law suits, before the dream a new church and community center could be realized.
Zoullas thanked the Archbishop, Fr. Karloutsos and the community, and spoke briefly about his unique Greek-Orthodox heritage and the obligation to preserve Hellenism and the Faith in America.
He said Greeks and “the Greek Church are very special. We did not have a general begin the war of independence, but a bishop.”
Zoullas said that he was motivated to help build the new center out of concern for the danger of over-assimilation. “My effort is to make sure our children and grandchildren continue to feel their Greek heritage and the Center will keep Greek culture and Greek ideas alive in future generations.”
He said he did not want his name on the building – “that was Fr. Alex’s doing” – but Zoullas spoke to The National Herald with pride and reverence for his forebears, who included heroes of 1821. “They are from Parga, but it was not part of the New Greek state, so they were awarded land in Missolonghi, but malaria made it uninhabitable, so they moved across the Gulf of Corinth to Patras, where my father was born,” he said.
Archbishop Demetrios thanked Zoullas and took a moment to marvel at the parish’s achievement, noting that when Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew last visited, he saw a modest little church. “Today he would say ‘I do not believe it is the same place.”
He also turned the occasion in a teaching moment about the millennia-old power of Hellenism. “There is not just one Hellenic culture…The nation has produced waves of cultures…including the Minoan, Mycenaean, Classical, Hellenistic, Greco-Roman and Byzantine,” to say nothing of Greek inspiration for the Renaissance and the Enlightenment.
“The Hellenic Center stands for an ocean of cultures, one wave after another,” he said.
The Archbishop then cited the many who contributed to the community’s great endeavor, including Presbytera Xanthi Karloutsos, whom he credited for numerous aesthetic elements, but when he said the biggest accolades should go to Fr. Karloutsos, the latter pointed to those gathered around them and acknowledged the community’s efforts.
Soon, Zoullas cut the ribbon and after loud cheers the parishioners and the special guests poured into the Center, which competes the parish complex, that also includes Johnides Family Cultural Center.
The whole, with its internal arcades and Byzantine touches, offers a taste of the great edifices of ancient Constantinople, and the Zoullas Center, with its large but graceful arched window-walls on three sides crowned with a single elegant crystal chandelier, is now one of the most beautiful spaces in the Archdiocese.
After a delicious Lenten meal, there was a presentation of songs, poems and dances by the parish’s Language and Culture Institute of the Hamptons, which includes Greek, Slavic and Romanian programs.
The guests were delighted to hear the youngest sing “Fengaraki Mou Lambro – My Shining Little Moon,” causing many to reminisce about their Greek school days.
When the congregation and guests first arrived on Sunday morning, they were greeted by the magnificent icon of the Dormition on the façade of the new church’s portico.
Eventually the parish will execute a fine iconographic program, but in the meantime, pure white surfaces of the interior of the new sanctuary evoke the glorious churches of the Cyclades and may have prompted many mental notes to book flights to Greece among survivors of the brutal New York winter.
After the Liturgy the congregation was welcomed by Fr. Lazarakis, and Fr. Karloutsos invited Peter Nikiteas, the president of the Parish Council, to the solea. The latter presented Archbishop Demetrios with a blessing cross, which was donated by Bouras and the parish, and whose original design His Eminence had earlier admired on Fr. Karloutsos’ desk before he knew it would become his gift.
Archbishop Demetrios thanked them and said he will tell everyone that it was as gift from the Kimisis parish and wished everyone a blessed Lent, Holy Week and Pascha.
Alexander Miral, a member of the choir whose family has attended Kimisis since the parish’s inception, is proud of the hard work and vision of the parishioners. “The center will serve the community for many years to come.”
Long-time parishioner Angela Giannopoulos was one of many who sang the praises of the Center and those who made it possible.
Building Committee chairman George Gavalas, who worked assiduously with co-chairman Paul Mauss, was thrilled, as was past president Dimitrios Hatgistravrou, who told TNH, “A lot of blood, sweat and tears made all this possible.”