NEW YORK – The Hellenic American Educators Association affiliated with the United Federation of Teachers hosted its 2nd annual Celebration of Greek Letters Day at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Manhattan on January 23.
The poetry reading and vasilopita cutting was the perfect bi-lingual celebration of the Greek language in America.
Demetra (Deme) Savopolis welcomed the guests who filled the alcove outside the parish Library and Fr. John Vlahos, the Dean of the Cathedral, blessed and cut the vasilopita. George Strum served as the emcee and invited the audience to ask questions or make comments about the readings
The pleasant and inspiring event consisted of readings of great Greek writers and tributes to the Greek language.
Nicholas Vourkas led off with his adaptation of poem by Anastasia Rusoman which noted how different languages are best adapted to different subjects, like French for romance and German if a harsh authoritarian tone is needed.
But for more sublime matters like philosophy, he intoned, the Hellenic tongue is unrivalled.
Adrian Kringas read a poem by Titos Patrikios, an entertaining meditation on the importance and challenge of choosing the right words. The poem by the man who was sentenced to both internal and external exile by authoritarian postwar Greek governments contains the moving line: “but as long as I am able to put two words together, I exist.”
Marianthi Rapti shared one of her favorites, as did Ekaterina Kleiman, and the guests were particularly enthusiastic about the poems read by Louiza Patsis.
In “Lamppost” she wrote evocatively about the light outside her family’s house that prompts memories of her childhood.
Then she read from her second book, Life, Work and Play: Poems and Short Stories, a poem titled “Everything Nothing,” which explores not only the yin/yang of life but the way everything is simultaneously important and insignificant.
Gregory Stamoulis delighted the audience with one of Aesop’s fables, “The Salt Merchant and his Donkey.”
Adrianna Filiotis read a passage titled “Τhe Greek Language They Gave Me” from Odysseos Elitis’ masterpiece “Axion Estin.” She also spoke in Greek and English about the life of the Heraklion-born poet with Asia Minor roots.
Athanasia Lambrou spoke about George Seferis, who won Nobel Prize, as did Elitis.
The theme of Seferis’ words resonated with the Hellenes in the room. The poet said of Odysseus that he was no superman, but that he was driven to endure the challenges of his journey by the love of his homeland and his desire to return.
Bernie Schwab is a social studies teacher at Brooklyn’s Madison High School and he loves Greek culture. He unified the themes of his predecessors by speaking about and praising the great ancient library of Alexandria.
MEMORIES PAINFUL AND INSPIRING
Commemorations of Hellenic culture cannot be purely festive affairs, especially during the current crisis when it is important for Greeks to remember the nation has overcome even greater suffering.
Angie Yanas, representing school District 30 in Queens, read from Constantine Papavasiliou and Samson Soledad’s new book Blessed are the Peacemakers, about the tragedy of the burning of Smyrna.
Strum took his turn reading by presenting Constantine P. Cavafy’s “Ancient Tragedy,” giving event a Platonic perspective: “And the vaults of heaven were filled with poetry.”
Also present for the celebration were representatives of the Federation of Hellenic Educators of America and Hellenic Paidea of America and Vasiliki Filiotis, Andriana Filiotis and George Melikokis, the president, treasurer and vice president, respectively, of the Greek Teachers Association “Prometheus.”
Vasiliki Fioliotis participated by reading excerpts from Elitis’ famous Nobel Prize prize acceptance speech.
She thanked and congratulated Savopolis for organizing the event and prompted applause when she also praised Hellenes who teach in the public schools for helping transmit the Greek cultural heritage to the community’s children and the wider community through their devotion and enthusiasm.
Filiotis aslo urged everyone to support the reopening of the parochial school of the Church of the Transfiguration in Corona.
Helen Pilarinou, who read a poem in praise of the Greek language, declared “long live the Greek-Americans who work to convey the Greek language to the next generation.”
Savopolis, presenting the final reading, continued the theme of support for paidea in America by reading Kosti Palamas’ poem “Ta Sholia Htiste – Build the Schools.”