PHILADELPHIA, PA – “Greece is not a place, it is a spirit that guides us,” said Dr. Spiros Spireas, Guest of Honor and Eleftheria 2015 Medal Recipient of the Federation of Hellenic American Societies of Philadelphia and Greater Delaware Valley to the attendees at the Federation’s Saturday Evening Dignitaries Dinner, held at the Adelphia Banquet Hall in the Philadelphia suburb of Deptford, NJ on March 21, the eve of the City’s Greek Independence Parade. Spireas is Founder an Chair of SigmaPharm Laboratories, holder of more than 70 patents on inventions, a distinguished academic and prolific writer, and a champion of Hellenism.
Federation Chairman and the Dinner’s Emcee Demetrios Rozanitis, set the tone for the evening’s theme by calling upon Greeks to “Stay united.” He welcomed the guests and introduced the speakers, the first of whom was Cyprus Consul in Washington, DC Neofitos Constantinou, who said that Cyprus maintains the “Hellenic light of 1821” and that the meaning of March 25 is more significant than ever for both Greece and Cyprus, given their current economic difficulties.
Next was AHEPA’s Supreme Governor Philip Vogis, who delivered the message of Supreme President Phillip Frangos, of the love of Greek-Americans for their homeland.
Captain Konstandinos Kalkandis of the Greek Navy fired up the crowd by declaring “Eleftheria I Thanatos – Liberty or Death,” the words of Bishop Germanos widely attributed to the start of Greece’s 1821 quest for independence. Holding up the Greek flag, he explained that the nine stripes are for the nine syllables: el-ef-the-ri-a-i-than-a-tos, and emphasized that for Greeks, there is no other option. If you settle for anything less than freedom, he proclaimed, you are not Greek.
George Horiates, a past president of the Federation, spoke movingly about Danielle Kousoulis, a 29 year-old Greek-American struck down in the prime of her life on 9/11; she was a Vice President at Cantor Fitzgerald on the 104th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Her parents, George and Zoe Kousoulis, who are the Parade’s Honorary Grand Marshals, were in attendance as was their son, Peter, who thanked Horiates for his kind words, which he said “could not have done more justice” to his sister.
Next came the evening’s featured speech by Dr. Spireas, who was presented the medal “In honor of his works for humankind at SigmaPharm, his efforts on behalf of the Greater Greek American community, Metropolis of New Jersey, and unwavering support of Hellenic Issues.” He serves as President of the AHI Foundation and is a Church Archon.
Dr. Spireas spoke passionately, and candidly. He congratulated Nicole Tsarouchas on her beautiful renditions of both the American and Greek national anthems, and said he almost “lost it” with emotion in Elena Iliades’ reading of the Greek poem “O Gerodimos.”
“Country, religion, and family,” is what being Greek is all about, Spireas said, and that is why “I Ellada Pote Den Pethainei – Greece Never Dies!”
But Spireas warned: “Don’t be so sure that we are worthy of our ancestors. We need to do more. Now that we’re alive, to leave a legacy for our children, worthy of our ancestors. That means we should not fight, we should be united. And if you must fight,” he continued, “forgive and forget. Otherwise, we are stupid – we carry bitterness and negativity to the grave.”
Continuing his straightforward talk, Spireas said: “I don’t like SYRIZA. I like their rhetoric, but as a capitalist, I don’t see how they’ll” accomplish their goals. “But I’m not going to be like Cubans who turn their back on Cuba because of Fidel Castro. We cannot turn our backs on Greece, we must help Greece.”
Spireas ended his speech, certain that Greece shall never die indeed, because “Christ will not let Greece disappear.”
Metropolitan Evangelos of New Jersey, who also delivered the invocation, preceded the benediction with a few words, recounting his own journey in learning different languages, like French and Spanish, “because I thought Greek.” He explained that thinking in Greek helps us learn other languages, and pointed out that third and fourth generation Greek-American children learn “foreign” languages in school, but we should “encourage them to learn our language – Greek.”