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Christine Smith: “We Are All Greek in Denver”

Christine Smith is a first-generation American. Her father immigrated from Cyprus, and her mother from Patras, Greece and she was born and raised in Denver, Colorado, with all the rich traditions of Greek culture.  

She graduated from the University of Colorado and spent her career as the Director of Development in the Denver Public Schools. Her retirement has allowed her to spend her time in support of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Denver and the Assumption of the Theotokos Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Denver, as well as serving on the local PBS board and spending cherished time with her immediate and extended family. 

The National Herald: Tell us about the webinars you have organized.

Christine Smith: As the 200th anniversary of Greek independence loomed, it was important to me to find a way to celebrate not only this extraordinary feat of Greek resolve and courage but also to exalt the many academic and philosophical influences that our culture has endowed to Western Civilization. It seemed imperative that the members of our extended community were reminded of the impact the great Greek forefathers have had on modern life, and more importantly, that our people, particularly our youth, would feel a surge of pride in the DNA they carry to this day.  

The warriors' courage and sacrifice against the Ottoman Empire have opened the way to a life of respect and freedom for all Greeks and have also inspired the world in its struggle against all oppressors since. After all, the Greeks in the war of independence were inspired by the Spartans and passed their courage to their brave descendants in the fight against the Nazis.

We have assembled a series of seminars that speak to additional historical perspectives; faith, including a keynote by His Eminence Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver; actual political participants in the Grexit negotiations with the European Union; and other cultural influencers, from music to ecology to film.

TNH: How is the University of Denver going to help in your effort?

CS: We are so fortunate in Denver to have a private institution committed to the community's educational advancement that surrounds and supports it.  

The University of Denver’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, coupled with their Enrichment Program combined in partnership with the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Denver to assemble a host of speakers to inform and enlighten the public of the relevance of the 200th Anniversary of Greek Independence and the impact that the Greeks have had on the world to the present.

The Governor of Colorado, Jared Polis, has also been pleased to endorse the seminar series by proclaiming March 25, 2021, “We are All Greek Day” in Colorado!

We invite everyone to join us for the offerings online.  

They can be found at universitycollege.du.edu/greekindependence and https://reg134.imperisoft.com/OLLIatDU/search/registration.aspx.

TNH: As a first generation American you noticed the lack of knowledge of our Greek history.

CS: In pursuing our daily lives, it is easy to forget the roots that made our current lives possible. Having worked in education for 30 years, I’ve learned that history lessons must be remembered to ensure the future is a continuation of ancient ideals.  

I now see 3rd and 4th generation Americans unaware of the tremendous courage throughout our Greek heroes' ages, from Alexander the Great to Maria Callas.  

Their contributions to our collective psychology and quality of life are critical to the understanding of our potential as people.  

I wanted to create an opportunity for these contributions to be remembered and engrained in the hearts of people who will take time to participate in the seminars, be inspired by our past, and be engaged in our future.

TNH: Tell us about the extraordinary courage of Greek people who chose to immigrate.

CS: Imagine being penniless, battered by war and famine, and finding the gumption to set your eyes on foreign land that you know very little about, packing your few belongings and setting sail with all your hopes and dreams invested in a prayer that God will keep you strong and steer you well.

Many thousands of Greeks have found that courage and taken our people to all the corners of the world where they’ve established vibrant communities true to our faith and culture.  

When I think about this, I am filled with pride. It strengthens me to know this courage runs through my veins. My father came to America with less than $5.00 and built a solid foundation for our family to thrive on. I am forever grateful and humbled by this great man who spent his life as a proud barber devoted to his culture, faith, and beloved family.

TNH: Tell us about the Greek ‘Philoxenia’.

CS: Being Greek is synonymous with being generous and open-hearted. We are the manifestation of Philoxenia, as it is as natural a part of us as breathing. There is no warmer, caring, devoted culture of people than the Greeks. We have always shared all we manifest with people who come to us in need.  

Our local Philoptochos chapter disperses tens of thousands of dollars each year to care for the needy and the sick who turn to us.

 The islanders of Lesbos and other Greek eastern islands have taken in refugees to the point of their detriment, as their souls compel them to extend all they have for the betterment of their fellow man.

I believe this is a gift endowed upon us as a blessing and that our kindness is ultimately always returned tenfold.  

I can’t imagine my life without service to others, even when sacrifice is involved.

TNH: How has Greece affected Western civilization? How strong is our cultural impact?

CS: The finest, most cherished aspects of western culture have come from the Greeks. All the ‘ologies’ and ‘osophies’ of the sciences and the arts, the basis of drama and comedy, the aesthetic of architectural wonder, critical thinking skills, political discourse, and the foundation of democracy are all rooted in Greek history.

These are the most significant pillars of Western ideals. We have molded the world for the better in the most profound ways.  

Our very language is a descendent of Greek. What more could a parent give its offspring with more love or hope for the times yet to come? What sustains us more in times of peril than these ideals? We fight and die for them. We whisper them to our grandchildren as they fall off to sleep at night. They live and breathe inside of us, and we must propel and protect them with all that we are.

TNH: For the past year, we are apart physically. Can we at least be together in mind?

CS: Yes! This is the point of our seminar series, as well. We couldn’t gather in our usual way to drink and eat together, to listen to songs and dance in pride. Yet, we are compelled to join together and explore the 200th Anniversary of Greek Independence in a new way, intellectually and emotionally. In the true spirit of philoxenia, we share this joy with our extended community, invite them into the treasury of our thoughts and beliefs. We promote understanding and acceptance on an occasion that marks the value of holding those truths paramount and moving away from an autocracy that diminished us as human beings.

TNH: Does everything stem from Greek philosophy and curiosity?

CS: Everything decent in human progress and scientific breakthroughs stems from the Greeks' methods and examinations in ancient times. Their ceaseless curiosity fed the roots of their courage. Unbound by superstition or current thinking waves, they boldly considered what was possible and what steps to take to achieve the unimaginable. They visited and bettered the world known to them. They listened and integrated the rich histories of other cultures into a greater good. They had a real democratic sense of the value and uniqueness of every individual. They held women up as leaders, guides, and the most critical assets in life. Their wisdom is a beacon to all the progress in history.

TNH: You are speaking of the remarkable Intellect of ancient Greece. Tell us more.

CS: Medicine, astronomy, physics, chemistry, botany, biology, zoology, philosophy, the Socratic Method, poetry, storytelling at its best, music, sculpture (the list can go on and on), are all rooted in Greek thought, expanded upon by Greek methods, and continue to astonish the world today. 

Pfizer, led by Albert Bourla, a Greek-American, has developed the preeminent COVID-19 vaccine. The innovation and curiosity of the ancients are in our blood. We carry the knowledge, reverence, curiosity, courage, and intellect of those ancestors inside of us every day, and it manifests in the achievements of our people around the world.

TNH: How strong is the Greek community in Denver?

CS: The Greek community in Denver is a vibrant group of people devoted to their faith and culture. There are nearly 30,000 Greeks throughout Colorado. Our Greek Festival is anticipated each year by all the citizens of metropolitan Denver. Our Greek School is filled with children that will carry our language and traditions forward in time.

Our annual participation in the Greek Gallop 5K Run/Walk keeps us fit and our student basketball leagues, dance troops, and youth groups are thriving. We take joy in being together, and we look out for one another.  

TNH: What is the definition of Orthodoxy for you?

CS: All that I have discussed today is manifest in the blessing of Orthodoxy in our faith. To know that the religious services I attend would be familiar to Orthodox Christians almost two thousand years ago connects me in a deep and enduring way to my roots and the direct connection we have to Christ as he lived in his time.  

Christ drew the very word ‘Apostle’ from the Greek for ‘messenger’. We have kept that trust, as messengers, and have held our traditions true to His intent and execution.

The weight of time has always been a gift, not a burden, to the Greek people. We have held tight to the wisdom we have been granted since the beginning of civilization, and we have shared it.  

Humanity returns again and again to the study of the Greeks, for there, they find the path to enlightenment. Orthodoxy has helped me to find my way, and I am its servant for all my days.

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