By Catherine Tsounis
American, Greek and Cypriot flags fly in front of a small church in Long Island farmland. It is the only Greek Orthodox Church in New York to remember three countries in this unique fashion. The Transfiguration of Christ Church in Mattituck was founded by Cypriot immigrants, second generation Greek Americans and immigrants from Asia Minor and the Aegean islands. Cyprus lies at the gateway to the Middle East. The islanders have held their Greek Orthodox faith and traditions in the face of constant invasions. A fervent belief in Greek Orthodoxy is part of their DNA makeup. They were not the rich who built this church. They were hard working furriers and restaurant businessmen of the 1960’s. Many worked six or seven days a week. Their enthusiasm led to donations of land, foundation, architectural plans and interior iconography without a mortgage.
Many were from the town of Asgata. On Sunday, June 24th, the Association of Asgata “Cyprus” held a memorial service for the fallen heroes of the 1974 Turkish Invasionat the Transfiguration of Christ in Mattituck. Prominent persons included: Consul General of Cyprus Koula Sofianou, Philip Christopher, international leader; Mr. Peter Loucas, President of the Association of Asgata “Cyprus”, Apostolos Papaioannou, canter of St. Markella Church in Astoria and others. Rev. Constantine Makrinos is the presbyter of the Transfiguration Church. The Byzantine chanting was sung by George Zachariades and Fotis Papadatis. Rev. Constantine Lazarakis, representing Rev. Alexander Karloutsos, of the Kimisis Tis Theotokou Church of the Hamptons completed the church and memorial service. Cypriot refreshments were served by the Ladies Division of the Asgata Association “Cyprus”. An old fashion outdoor picnic followed.
Demetri and Crystalla Stavrinidis of Southold brought their two grandchildren to the event. Bill and Helen Condos, immigrants from Karpenisi, come every year for the past fifteen years. Karpenisi, in Central Greece, was leveled to the ground during WWII and the Civil War. They understand the horror of foreign invasion. Emmanuel Katerinis from Flushing came special for the memorial.
“We thank all our Greek friends who support us every year,” said Consul General Sophianou. “Wherever there are Greeks, a church is found. Orthodoxy and Hellenism go together.” Philip Christopher comes every year. “In our great country of America, we must remember our roots,” he said. “We must keep trying to unite Cyprus as one island. It is now thirty-eight years since the invasion that partitioned the island. Asgata is my second home. My home of Kyrenia is in the occupied Turkish zone. Everyone makes me feel welcome in the Asgata Association.” His family has homes walking distance to the church.
Themistocles and Manny Constantine’s family, who are from Asgata, were the first Greeks in 1950’s Mattituck. Stella and Neofytos Constantinides, said “our uncle Nick and Aunt Christine Constantine have a home here. We have been coming for years to Mattituck.” Nick Neocleous was the first organizer of the Asgata Association memorial service and picnic thirty two years ago when he was president.
President Peter Loucas has spearheaded numerous events to help his hometown. “came today with my grandchildren,” he said. We must keep our island culture alive. I have my country home in Mattituck since 1986. I am president of St. Demetrios of Merrick, Long Island. Every summer my kids spent their time in Mattituck. They are now in their 40’s. Their children are now coming out to enjoy the Long Island Sound.” The Asgata Association is exceptionally strong. It was established in 1934. Early immigrants came as early as 1900. Asgata was one of the founding members of the Cyprus Federation of America. For more information visit https://www.cyprusfederation.org.
Photo 1 – Village of Asgata.