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Church

Fr.  Vasileios Tsourlis Speaks about the New Council for Greek Education

February 24, 2024

BOSTON – Fr. Vasilios Tsourlis, who was recently appointed by Archbishop Elpidophoros as the president of the Higher Council of Education of the Archdiocese, succeeding Athena Krommyda, explains in an interview with The National Herald about the Council of Education, the course of Greek education, as well as his brief tenure as presiding priest of St. Demetrios Cathedral in Astoria.

Fr. Vasileios, after stating that “the honor shown me by our Archbishop Elpidophoros, is great, but the responsibility is enormous because I am receiving the baton from a distinguished educator, Mrs. Krommyda.” He emphasized that this position, as well as that of all members, is non salaried.

The interview follows:

Τhe Νational Ηerald: In brief, what is this council, what is its purpose, and who are the members?

Fr. Vasileios Tsourlis: The purpose of the council is manifold, from assisting all educators in our schools to fully and successfully cope with the task of teaching the Greek language under today’s conditions and learning challenges, to assisting parishes in creating new schools and strengthening existing ones, and even to the lifelong learning of our educators through seminars.

There are many names, and allow me to mention them in our next interview, as this one is brief, where we will focus on the work of the council, what it has achieved so far, its next steps and goals, the number of schools, etc.

TNH: What is the budget from the Archdiocese for this Council for Greek Education?

Fr. Vasileios Tsourlis: As I mentioned earlier, we are all unpaid. Expenses for conferences and other activities were covered by donations from some members of the council as well as from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, whom I warmly thank for their assistance.

TNH: What role does the Office of Education, with Mr. Koularmanis and Fr. Stamkopoulos, play? What exactly do they do?

Fr. Vasileios Tsourlis with Archbishop Elpidophoros of America during their recent meeting at the Archdiocese for the appointment of Fr. Tsourlis as president of the Council for Greek Education.

Fr. Vasileios Tsourlis: The Office of Education is the executive body of the Archdiocese for Greek Education. The Supreme Council is the advisory body that designs education policy together with our Archbishop. The implementation of this planning is carried out by the Office of Education.

TNH: Why do we turn to the University of Macedonia for help with Education issues instead of our own Hellenic College?

Fr. Vasileios Tsourlis: We collaborate with every top institution that can assist our teachers in teaching the Greek language and Greek culture. Examples include Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Democritus University of Thrace, the University of Western Macedonia, and of course, Hellenic College. We are planning a summer school this summer for teaching Greek to teachers. We are also planning another free summer school in Cyprus in cooperation with the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Cyprus for our Greek language educators.

TNH: How many Day Greek Schools, not charter schools, are currently operating in communities, where, and what is the total number of students attending them?

Fr. Vasileios Tsourlis: I cannot answer that at the moment because the registration of all Greek schools and our educators has not been completed yet. I hope that we will soon be able to have a full register as it will now be included in the annual calendar of our Holy Archdiocese. It is the wish and desire of our Archbishop to ensure that every family knows exactly where the nearest Greek school is, whether it is all-day, afternoon, or charter, and whom they can contact. Let’s not forget that one of the priorities of our Archbishop is the learning of the Greek language in every parish.

TNH: How many Afternoon Schools are in operation, and how many communities do not have any School at all, and why don’t they have one? Also, do you have an opinion on the six Day Schools that closed in New York about five years ago, and do you know how many of them reopened? Is there any plan for their reopening?

Fr. Vasileios Tsourlis: As far as I know, some schools have closed. One of them is in the parish of the Holy Cross, which is now operational again. As far as I know, the other schools have long-term leases and it is impossible for them to reopen in the near future.

Here, it should also be noted that especially in recent years we have seen a large internal migration of our compatriots from major urban centers such as New York to the southern states of America. The establishment of new Orthodox Churches and schools as well as the increase in the members of existing parishes has been observed.

TNH: What exactly happened that made you disappear overnight from your priestley duties of St. Demetrios, the Cathedral in Astoria, when you had started with such enthusiasm for you work and goals, as you had told us in your interview?

Fr. Vasileios Tsourlis: Unfortunately, a month before, health problems had started in our immediate family circle. Then, unfortunately, I also had health issues. Not wanting it to affect my parish work, I humbly asked our Archbishop, Elpidophoros, for his blessing to step back from my daily duties until I could fully cope again.

TNH: Why did you avoid responding to the repeated calls of TNH, even to say that you have no comment, but ‘hid’ behind the statement of Fr. Elias Vilis, resulting in a flurry of whispers and comments against you and the community?

Fr. Vasileios Tsourlis: I never hid behind anyone, least of all behind Fr. Elias Vilis. Fr. Elias spoke both to you and to the Parish of St. Demetrios, I believe very clearly, about the health reasons that I and members of my family had. Having nothing else to add at that time, I thought it was right to focus entirely on the health problems that both I and members of my family were facing and continue to face.

TNH: Don’t you think that your avoidance to not even respond to the appeals of TNH, even to say that you have no comment, does not honor you as a person and as a clergyman?

Fr. Vasileios Tsourlis: I believe I fully answered that. It has nothing to do with the honor of a person and a clergyman because both you and the Parish had the real and complete picture, in writing and orally through Fr. Elias Vilis, as Orthodox Church regulations require.

TNH: How is your health?

Fr. Vasileios Tsourlis: Health issues never stop, but thank God I am much better than I was. Allow me to thank everyone for their warm prayers. It honors me greatly.

TNH: Would you tell us something about the limousine business that you founded, for which you occasionally drive?

Fr. Vasileios Tsourlis: I started a business to help our eldest son Konstantinos, because he wanted to get involved in the automotive industry. In other words, I did what every parent would do in my place. Since then, we help him in whatever he needs. He is a very good boy.

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