NEW YORK – The Hellenic American Educators Association(HAEA)/United Federation of Teachers held its “Annual Celebration of Greek Letters” day featuring poetry and literary readings at the Library of the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity on January 22.
As the Feast Day of the Three Hierarchs approaches on January 30, numerous schools and educational organizations in the New York Metropolitan Area host events highlighting Greek paideia and literature in light of the work of the three great saints of Orthodoxy, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. John Chrysostom, who harmonized classical learning and Christianity.
Father John Vlahos presided over the cutting of the vasilopita and HAEA President Deme Savopoulos who spearheaded the event praised the committee before calling up Emcee Demetrios Siatos, who welcomed the guests and later read “The Jasmine Isle” by Ioanna Karystiani.
One by one the participants took the podium to present their favorites among the classics, folk works, and more recent literary creations.
Professor Vassiliki Kekela of Hunter College began with a musical twist – and a pinch of Hellenic pride. The great French composer Maurice Ravel created arrangements for five Greek folk songs titled “Cinq Melodies Populaires Grecques.” Kekela delighted the gathering with recordings of the Ravel and of the traditional versions by Greek musicians.
Mariana Raptis read an homage to March 25, which is coming up fast, and Adrian Klingas was the first to pay tribute Constantine Cavafy. She read Edmund Keeley’s translation of “The City” to “wows” and applause and pointed out that although Cavafy’s poem contains no explicit reference to himself, the reader can help thinking about him.
It seems that every year the event produces a literary surprise, with someone reading a powerful piece that is new to most guests. This year it was read by Savopoulos, another Cavafy, the poignant “Candles,” which is reproduced on this page.
Savopoulos was not shy, but her readings were most welcome, including “The Decision”, a potent little challenge to the politically and socially indifferent written by Manolis Anagnostakis during the Greek Junta and translated Edmund and Mary Keeley.
She also read the anonymous Ode to Greece, written in 1708 but with a message that has a haunting relevance given contemporary events. It closes with the defiant line: “Time cannot wither Greece’s past glory, because wisdom is perennial.” She followed with the equally moving “We Hellenes” with a message combining pride and responsibility:
“We are the poems/We are the poets/We are the Alexanders/We are the Hellenes.
Kostis Palamas work was represented by ‘Dance” and “Sweet-smelling Rose”, read by Patricia Urewith.
One of the highlights were readings and presentations about the delightful children’s book written by Pauline Manos titled “The Adventures of Aris” – about a teddy bear that comes alive. All he wants to do is read books – and inspire children. The presenters included Vassiliki and Andriana Filiotis, and Manos’ daughter Zan Manos Manolakis. The later also spoke eloquently on the beauty of the Greek language and the importance of its preservation in America.
Among the special guests were the Consul General of Cyprus Amb. Vasilios Philippou and Ilias Katsos, vice president of AHEPA Delphi Chapter 25 and the founder of the East Mediterranean Business and Culture Alliance. He congratulated the organizers and thanked the community’s educators for their dedication. Also participating were the members of Hellenic Paideia of America led by its president Vasiliki Filiotis. Her sister Andriana represented Stella Kokolis, President of the Federation of Hellenic-American Educators.
Days to come stand in front of us
like a row of lighted candles—
golden, warm, and vivid candles.
Days gone by fall behind us,
a gloomy line of snuffed-out candles;
the nearest are smoking still,
cold, melted, and bent.
I don’t want to look at them: their shape saddens me,
and it saddens me to remember their original light.
I look ahead at my lighted candles.
I don’t want to turn for fear of seeing, terrified,
how quickly that dark line gets longer,
how quickly the snuffed-out candles proliferate.
By Constantine P. Cavafy
Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard