NEW YORK — On December 10, 2020, the Saint Basil Academy children and staff welcomed Archbishop Elpidophoros for their socially distant Christmas celebration. Traditionally, in the past, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop visits the Academy for the annual Christmas celebration: His Eminence is welcomed by hundreds of guests who come to watch the annual Christmas pageant, to celebrate the spirited gift opening and to pay homage to their spiritual leader. This year there were no outside guests, there was a zoom pageant and visiting with the Archbishop required a choreography that kept the numbers low and the distance safe.
A priceless and unique Christmas gift of 2020 was Archbishop Elpidophoros’ acceptance to be interviewed by the Saint Basil Academy children. Chris M, an adolescent resident of Saint Basil Academy, said, "I was surprised that someone so important would agree to do this with us. I was so happy to be part of it." This social connection project, Just BeingHuman, was conceived and designed by Rebecca Pearsall, Director of Clinical Services and Education, as a therapeutic exercise to help children from traumatic backgrounds learn how to relate and connect with others. Throughout the month of November, the children
diligently prepared by thinking carefully about what questions could authentically connect them to the Archbishop. The children asked questions ranging from fun and easy to professional and personal like: “What is your favorite animal?”; “What bad criticisms have you received that didn’t make you feel good?” and “What are three things you are mostgrateful for?”
Executive Director of Saint Basil Academy, Father Constantine Sitaras says, “One of the greatest challenges of our Orthodox Church and of Christianity is to bring the message of salvation to all–especially our young people. During these challenging times of COVID-19, we are blessed with our new Archbishop Elpidophoros. His embracing, caring, and forthright interactions are welcoming to our children– young and old alike. His Eminence relates in a Christ-like manner to our young people.”
The interview with Archbishop Elpidophoros felt so connecting and memorable that it inspired the Saint Basil Academy children to share the experience to as many people as possible. To that end, their interview with Archbishop Elpidophoros will be made public on Christmas Day and smaller postings of questions and answers will follow throughout the year. Pearsall says. “That our children are wanting to connect and share is a product of Archbishop Elpidophoros’ honest connection with them. This joy and love is meant to be shared and celebrated.” Neither the pandemic nor the limitations of masks and numbers could prevent the Saint Basil children from having a joyous Christmas celebration. Traditions were changed, COVID-19 guidelines were followed, and connections of comfort and joy were realized. The Archbishop’s visit was a priceless gift for everyone at Saint Basil Academy: Through social media sharing it will be a gift from the Saint Basil children that keeps giving and spreading joy to the Orthodox community.