BOSTON – Protopresbyter Dimitrios Antokas, presiding priest for fourteen years at St. George Greek Orthodox parish in Bethesda, Maryland, experienced the biggest surprise of his 30 years as a priest on Holy Saturday evening. When he entered the church for the midnight Resurrection Service behind closed doors he saw the church filled with more than 300 hundred photographs of his parishioners in the positions they usually sit in the pews.
In a telephone interview with The National Herald Fr. Dimitrios Antokas said “I was taken by surprise. I was in shock actually, when I saw through the efforts of some wonderful people and also our staff and parish council more than 300 photographs were collected over the past few days, which they placed on the pews. I got very emotional and I was very happy.”
Fr. Dimitrios explained that “what they did was they sent out e-mails to the whole parish saying “please join Fr. Dimitrios [by attending the Service in this way]. We want to make him happy and feel our presence.” Everyone sent a photo electronically and they printed them out on our color printer and I guess on Saturday afternoon before the Service it was all done and when I entered the church I was taken by surprise.”
Asked how he felt when he saw his parishioners, Father Dimitrios said “my heart burst with the love they felt for me. A lot of times we don’t really appreciate what have until it’s not there. I have always appreciated my parishioners and I have always known they appreciate me and love me but I think now the love has grown. It has become overwhelming.”
The parishioners had another surprise for Fr. Dimitrios on Monday evening April 20, the day after Pascha. Fr. Dimitrios said “they had a drive by parade. Presbytera took me to office around 6 o’clock and when I came out cars were passing saying ‘Christos Anesti, we love you Fr. Dimitrios.’”
Speaking about Holy Week he said that “Holy Week is always special in the life of the Greek Orthodox Church for the priests and the faithful. This year it was different but our Church through centuries has been through many crises, but we always celebrated Pascha. We did close the church early, right after the Sunday of Orthodoxy. Our parishioners, the Veivis brothers who are in professional film production, said to ‘me let us do live stream because we don’t want our elderly parents to leave the house and come to church’ and we did that.”
It was difficult for Fr. Dimitrios to do the Services in the nave without the presence of the Church, the People of God. He said “it was difficult because all the time and especially during the Holy Lent there was always a lot of activity and preparation. We have youth retreats, the palm making, Greek and Sunday school programs, and suddenly there was no one there. I am blessed to have a pastoral assistant, and we have two excellent chanters, a father and a son: John Kolourakis and his son Dr. Antonis Kolourakis, and we wanted to make sure to bring the liturgical life of the church into the homes of our faithful.”
Fr. Dimitrios sent to each family palms on Palm Sunday. He said “in order to keep everyone connected I was able to go on line and purchase palms and sent them to everyone’s homes. When I was speaking to the parishioners online I was feeling them and when I was sensing them I imagined them in the pews, because I know where everyone sits during the services.”
It is noted here that St. George is one of the most well-organized and active parishes of the Archdiocese, comprised of more than 1,000 families.
“You know we have a Greek school for children for two to four years of age, and the children speak only Greek and they are Americans – even their parents don’t speak Greek. So we are continuing with our Greek School lessons, Sunday School, our Men’s Fellowship – the parish hasn’t lost touch with anybody, and they take initiatives on their own. God Bless them.”