ATHENS – The children of the Diaspora are learning about the heroes and heroines of the Greek Revolution this week, but it's one thing to hear about them in a classroom, and another to walk in the shadows of the Acropolis that inspired them, feel the breezes on Mt. Parnassus that soothed their wounds, and taste the food and hear the music that nurtured their bodies and souls.
The most visionary parishes and organizations in the Community know they must get their children to Greece during their most impressionable years and among the leaders are the clergy, teachers, and parents of Sts. Constantine and Helen Cathedral in Brooklyn and its Argyrios Fantis parochial school.
For the children lucky enough to go, their recent annual midwinter excursion to Greece – and being able to see the mythic land with their best friends – was a blessing and the trip of a lifetime.
Father Evagoras Constantinides, Dean of the Cathedral, told TNH, “this trip is about more than visiting Greece. It’s the culmination of what we have been trying to do at A. Fantis for the entire breadth of their education…from pre-Kindergarten they are learning Greek every day, taking Hellenic studies and religion once a week, participating in holiday shows – and this brings it all together. They see the posters on the wall and read about the history, but to actually come and experience it doesn’t only make it part of their identity as Hellenes and Philhellenes, it really ties their whole education together.”
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The success of the venture has inspired Fr. Evagoras to want to share it. “We are blessed to be able to do this, but I also think about the other schools in Brooklyn and in Queens, and it makes me wonder – as someone involved in camping all these years [Fr. Evagoras is the director of the Archdiocese’s Ionian Village summer camp in Greece] what this would be like if it included all the 8th grade students of all our Hellenic schools in New York.”
Aggeliki Maniscalco was thrilled about the trip. “I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity for my daughter Katerina to experience Greece with her classmates.” And it has been. “We are all really close,” Katerina said of her classmates. She and her mother will share their views about how important this trip was and urge other families to do it. “Especially for the kids who have no other connection with Greece,” Aggeliki said.
Ioanna Glava has taught at Fantis for nine years. She said the trip was conceived two years ago with the aim of putting children in direct contact with Greek history and contemporary Greek life, and to introduce American and Greek students to one another to learn about each other’s lives. “And year by year we are building bridges with other schools. Last year we began with The Moraitis School and when they return home the students will communicate though skype and other means,” working on projects and continuing their relationships.
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The one thing that has not come to fruition so far is their effort to find benefactors, especially to help families of more modest means to make the trip. School Principal Theodore Tasoulas has reached out to various foundations and companies, and that effort continues.
When Steve Giannakouras, whose wife is Russian, took their son William to Greece before, they skipped Athens and went straight to his family’s roots in Githion, “So now he has seen Athens – and so have I!” William enjoyed being there with his friends.
Achilles Zarbas, who loved the Acropolis Museum, said “this trip is amazing.” Lucas Moda has been at Fantis for 10 years, “but it’s my first time in Greece, so I’d like to cherish it as long as I can. The view at Delphi was astounding.”
It was also Avery Birney’s first time. “It’s an amazing country. I love the food and the people are nice.”
Amaya Ortiz, who has been to the Dominican Republic and Peru, liked the ruins most of all, and Lily Torre said, “to see all the beautiful part of Greece with my best friends is wonderful. The view at Sounion was amazing.”
Yaretzi Moreno said she will cherish her many memories of the trip, which Codie Williams said was “pretty cool,” and Xavier Webb loved Acropolis and the trip to Delphi.