MONTICELLO, N.Y. – A few times a year in New York State’s Sullivan County it feels like one is closer to a Greek village than the village of Monticello.
This past weekend, the Northern Chios Society of Pelineon welcomed hundreds of Greek-Americans and fans of Greek culture to its annual celebration of the feast of St. Markella.
The actual feast of the beloved martyr is on July 22, but the Society traditionally holds vespers services and the Divine Liturgy on the Saturday and Sunday before or after the feast day.
This year, the slice of Greece near world-famous Woodstock was a bit of a refuge from the pounding of new reports about the Greek crisis, allowing people to reminisce about the Greece they grew up in or heard about from their forbears.
Everything visitors encounter there is a product of the labors of love of the members of the Society, and just like in Greece, year-round, people who visit when the Church is closed can knock on the doors of caretakers or neighbors ask for the key so they can light a candle.
July 19 was a classic summer day, hot and humid, but nobody minded. The air conditioning donated by George Siamboulis, one of many non-Chian benefactors who love the Society, in the chapel built with love in 1979, and the recently built covered pavilion made it comfortable during the services and the food festival.
Father Constantine Combitsis, who was pastor in a number of parishes in the New York Metropolitan area and who has served the St. Markella chapel for many years, celebrated the Liturgy. He is not from Chios, but he has been adopted by the Society.
Fr. Combitsis also and blessed the abundant wine and food
Dimitrios Moutafis, the Society’s past president who served as Emcee, thanked the attendees, volunteers, the society’s Board, past presidents, its benefactors, including Siamboulis, president of Pan Gregorian Enterprises, and The National Herald for covering the feast and for its longstanding support.
Konstantinos Rallis, from Pispilounta, is the Society’s current president. When he spoke to TNH he was filled with pride in what the society has created there, both in buildings and spirit. “We thank the people who helped us achieve theseL accomplishments and we see there is a will to do even more and we invited even more people to come to our events and help us transfer ethos and traditions we have brought from Greece to the younger generations,” he said.
Moutafis said that Rallis and his workers, along with builder Nikos Katsapis’ staff and other volunteers, donated their services to enclose the cooking area and built the pavilion.
He also noted ”the many donations – icons, crosses, windows – 1001 things,” of the society of Dafnousiou, Chios and the Brotherhood of St. Markella in Brooklyn, the two biggest components of the Society/
Moutafis told TNH of the birth of the Society in the 1950s in response both to challenges faced by the people of Greece at the time, including earthquakes, and the need for mutual support among immigrants.
“The Society was established very quickly and named Pelineon,” the mountain – at 4,200 feet, the highest on the island – that dominates the Northern part of Chios.
There are about 25 villages and towns in the area and all are represented in the Society. “When we cut the Vasilopita every New Year’s we name every village.”
In 1978 the culmination of a serious of meetings at St. Demetrios in Jamaica was the decision to purchase the property that was scouted by members who used to go hunting in the area.
“We immediately went to work building the Church and within a year we celebrated the first St. Markella liturgy in the half-finished Church,” he said.
Soon, through the support of then-Bishop, now Metropolitan Philotheos, vespers were added to the celebration.
The Chapel operates under the spiritual jurisdiction of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, but is does not cease to be a private entity.
The Society also hosts an annual post-Pascha picnic when eight to 10 lambs are roasted.
The parents of Dimitrios Kontolios, whose field is electronics engineering, are from Cambia in Chios and he was born in Warren, OH. His father, like many Greeks near Pittsburgh, worked in the steel mills.
He is very proud on the Society and was happy to add to its story. The chapel’s location was chosen, he said, because it reminded people of the area around the village of St. Markella.
“There is a pilgrimage every year on Chios and they tried to recreate that here is New York…the land was very inexpensive and through donations by Chiotes and non-Chiotes, they were able to buy adjacent property and construct the other buildings.
Among the weekend’s dignitaries were Stavros Haviaras, President of the Chian Federation, Nicholas Mihalios, past president of the Chian Federation and Metropolitan Philotheos, who presided over vespers on Saturday evening.
Head chanter Stavros Pergatis, came all the way from Sparta in Greece and was joined by distinguished local Church musicians including Apostolos Combitsis from St. Barbara in Toms River, NJ, Alexander Vlassis from St. Andrews in Randolph, NJ, and Nicholas Tsiadis of St. Luke in Broomall, PA.
Nikos Kozanis is a home builder who lives in Alpine, NJ. His roots are in Kozani, but from the time the chapel was built he would come with his friends from Chios. “We help as much as we can. We have become like a family and it’s a wonderful festival.”
Dentist Marianne Molfetas, is from a different island, Kefallonia, but she has been coming ever since she was invited by her auto mechanic, Moutafis, whose Teaneck, NJ company is named – naturally – Chios General Auto Repairs. She told TNH “The Church service and the people are beautiful, and it’s a very nice trip.”