The Sun Never Sets On Greek America

HONOLULU – “The sun never sets on the British empire” was a phrase most often used during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries to describe Great Britain’s ubiquitous global reach: namely, that its territories spanned the earth so that at any point in time, the sun was shining on at least one of them.

The same can be said for the expanse of Greeks throughout the United States, particularly confirmed by a visit to the Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Honolulu, HI.

I took a trip to Hawaii a decade ago, when I lectured at an educational conference in Honolulu. Much to my pleasant surprise, while strolling the neighborhood where my hotel was situated, I came upon the Ss. Constantine and Helen Church and immediately thought to myself: “wow, we Greeks really are everywhere!”

I believe it was late in the week (a Thursday or Friday), and I made time in my schedule to attend the Sunday morning liturgy. In that particular instance, my motivations were more cultural than religious. Although I am a relatively-frequent churchgoer, I do not attend every Sunday and do not typically seek out a church to attend when I am traveling. But in this case, the church was very close to my hotel, I had a good suit with me to wear, and I figured: “Greeks in Hawaii? This, I’ve got to see!”
Mind you, I had already been in Honolulu for close to a week – I wasn’t about to squander the opportunity to visit there all the way from New York by limiting my time to a four-day conference – and my surroundings had embedded themselves into my senses of sight, sound, smell, and taste, and occupied a great deal of my thoughts. What a remarkable contrast, then, it was to step into that church and hear the Sunday Liturgy as if I were in any number of other Greek Orthodox Churches in the United States!

I appreciated then – as I do now – the consistency of the Greek Orthodox liturgy, which allows the faithful to experience it no matter which particular church they visit throughout the country, or the world.

And though I never thought I’d compare the Greek Orthodox Church to McDonald’s, the following example seems fitting: during the early part of my Honolulu trip, a bunch of my colleagues and I attended a luau – which is a traditional Hawaiian feast, replete with music and dancing. The show was magnificent, though we couldn’t say the same about the food. A few of us – me included – got sick. Before consulting with the hotel concierge on a list of “safe” restaurants to frequent from that point forward, I decided that for the moment, I’d satisfy my hunger at that old standby: McDonald’s.

Oh, franchise fast food will kill you slowly if you eat it often, but I figured for one or two mealtimes, a Big Mac is a Big Mac – what you get in Honolulu is what you get in New York City.

And it’s exactly the same with a Greek Orthodox church service, minus a couple of regional idiosyncrasies. For instance, I was amazed at how well-behaved the congregants were. No loud talking, no shoving to rush out of the pews and grab the antidoron like seagulls on the beach chasing crumbs.

After moving to Pennsylvania a few years ago, I came to the conclusion that Greek-American churchgoers are quite and patient in most places – my hometown New York Metropolitan Area being an obvious exception.

Another notable difference, however, between the Greeks of Hawaii and those I’ve encountered anywhere else in America are that many of them will wear a dressy Hawaiian shirt (fine material and understated floral print – i.e., not the loud, silky Margaritaville kind) to church! Some of the men and women also wore leis – floral wreaths – around their necks.

Watching the priest, fully adorned in rasa, chanting in Greek to a sea of Hawaiian shirts and leis – the epitome of “Greek Orthodoxy meets Hawaii,” is a sight to behold!

In 1965, then-Archbishop Iakovos performed a Divine Liturgy in Hawaii – which only had been a state for barely over five years at that point – and was committed to establishing a church there. By 1968, the Church had moved into its new home. It remains the oldest Greek Orthodox Church in Hawaii – the other, is a Greek Orthodox Mission in Maui. Besides Greek Orthodox Churches, there are also a small handful of Russian Orthodox Churches on the island-state. The Russians, in fact, were the first to establish Orthodoxy in Hawaii, back in the 1800s.

Other Orthodox sects – such as Serbians, Antiochians and the Orthodox Church of America (OCA) established parishes in Hawaii as well.

I strongly recommend to all my fellow Greeks – if your travels bring you to Honolulu, by all means do not leave there without visiting the Church and, if possible, attending the Sunday service. It is an experience you will remember a decade later – as I do right now – as if it were only yesterday.

As to “why the sun never sets on the Greek-American empire,” although the 50 states’ time zones only span five hours, U.S. territories – which include Samoa and Mariana islands, span virtually the entire 24-hour day. But are there Greeks on those islands, too? The short answer: yes. To be featured in another article at another time. After all, what would an island be without Greeks on it?


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