St. George of Bethesda Thrives Every Day

NEW YORK – The pulse of a parish is not necessarily best taken on a Sunday. Certainly a parish’s spiritual life flows from the celebration of the Divine Liturgy on the first day of the week, but the vitality of the Church of St. George in Bethesda is often best felt evenings and on the last day of the week when its numerous thriving organizations and ministries can be observed.

When TNH visited the parish on a recent Saturday, the community center was filled with adults active in the Quilt-a-thon that creates blankets for needy babies and children attending Greek school.

Stephanie Wiles, Adrienne Barris and Hellene Katsouras are the co-chairs overseeing the volunteers busy at the work stations. Wiles told TNH that parishioners started it five years ago and that the quilts are donated to institutions like the Georgetown University Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care unit.

“I have been sewing all my life. My grandmother taught me. We all love to sew,” she said.

Katsouras, whose parents have roots in Arcadia, said she always wanted to sew for charity. When she retired from teaching kindergarten after 31 years, she began to attend St. George’s bible study, and then got involved in the sewing circle, before being introduced to the Quilt-a-thon.

Barbara Spyridon Pope served as Asst. Secretary of the Navy from 1989 to 1993. Now that she is retired, she has time to serve on the parish council, but she loves quilting.

“It’s just a wonderful way, during the Lenten period, to be giving back to the community. It’s a work of love,” she said.

“There are just thousands of kids that have nothing.” She said the blanket is like having a stuffed animal toy, and many of them don’t have any toys.

“It doesn’t take a lot of time but is has a lot of meaning.

On that day, the ladies – and one gentleman – where completing the process. Their part takes about 20 minutes per quilt. They blanket components were being assembled since last September, so that only the sewing, the fastening together of all the layers, remained.

A parish stands on the foundation of volunteers and dedicated staffers on all levels active in many kinds of activities; its schools are among its most important resources and challenges.

Lena Petropoulou is the Director of the Greek school. She told TNH that “We have the best volunteer mothers as well as the assistance of the priest” – she is pleased that they are not micromanaged as is the case in many parishes.

Working with all the teachers, she developed comprehensive curriculums for the Friday and Saturday school which first opened in 1968. She arrived as a teacher in 1972 when the school had 25 students. “We now have more than 200 students.”

It is a sensible two-level program. On Fridays there is instruction for the students who don’t speak Greek at home, about 105, and on Saturday, 110 children receive more advanced instruction.

One of the biggest endeavors of the year, the annual festival, is taking place this weekend, May 2-4.

Father Demetrios and Presbytera Maria Antokas were born and raised in the New York Metropolitan Area, so they fit nicely into the cosmopolitan environment of the nation’s capital and its suburb of Bethesda, MD. Father Antokas is assisted by Fr. George Khitiri and Fr. Nicholas Despotides.

The numerous parish organizations include Philoptochos, the Fifty Plus Club, the youth groups YAL, GOYA, HOPE, JOY and Little Angels, and there is also a Sunday School program.

The parish has a Feed the Hungry ministry and the Challenge Fellowship hosts a Divine Liturgy for the community’s  mentally and physically challenged members and their families on the third Saturday of every month.