By Catherine Tsounis
Greek Letters Day celebrates the Three Hierarchs of the Orthodox Church: St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. John Chrysostom. The Three Hierarchs developed Greek literature and education. They lived from about 329-409 A.D. Greek Letters Day celebrates the use and promotion of the Greek language abroad.
On February 4th, 2023, Greek Letters and The Three Hierarchs Celebration was held at 4 P.M. at the Holy Trinity Cathedral School, Function Room at 37 E 74th St, New York, NY 10021. The event was sponsored by The Federation of Hellenic Educators of America, Office of Education of the Holy Archdiocese of America, Greek Teachers Association “Prometheus, and Hellenic Paideia of America, Inc. A Presentation was made by the student Director, Mrs. Roula Trikounaki, of the Afternoon School of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral, New York.
Prominent persons who attended included: V. Rev. Archimandrite Chrysostomos Gilbert, Archdiocesan Cathedral Dean of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral, NYC; Rev. Protopresbyter Gregory Stamkopoulos Assistant Director, Department of Greek Education Database Administrator, Department of Information Technology; Rev. Gerasimos Ballas; Consul General of Greece in New York, Konstantinos Konstantinou: Leonidas Raptakis, Rhode Island State Senator: Mrs. Stella Kokolis, President of The Federation of Hellenic Educators of America, Mrs. Vasiliki Filiotis, President Hellenic Paideia of America, Inc. with Georgia Filiotis and Pandora Spelios; Dr. John Nathanas, Surgeon/International Leader/Founder of DIAS International Academic Studies, with Cretan Political/Education delegation Haroula and Kostas Travagiakis, Mayor Manolis Kokosalis, Christina Sfougari, Antonia Mazaraki and Mayor Ioannis Segkos; Mrs. Athena Tsokou Kromidas, President of the High Council for Greek Education in the U.S.; Dr. Anastasios Koularmanis, Director of the Office of Education of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America; Eirini Grapsia, Senior Education Coordinator of the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs of the Greek government; Prof. Demosthenes Triantafilou, Director of the Office of Greek Education of the Metropolis of New Jersey and leaders of education and business. The Cutting of the Vasilopita was followed by a free Reception. For more information, contact (718) 844-0902
The program consisted of: Prayer by V. Rev. Archimandrite Chrysostomos Gilbert and Rev. Gerasimos Ballas; Presentation: Stella Kokolis, President of the American Federation of Greek Educators; Zoom Greetings by Ioannis Chrysoulakis, Secretary General for Public Diplomacy and Greeks Abroad and Panagiotis Passas Director General for International and European Affairs; Greetings: Honorable Konstantinos Konstantinou, Consul General of Greece in New York; Dr. Anastasios Koularmanis, Director of the Office of Education of the Holy Archdiocese of America; Leonidas Raptakis, Rhode Island State Senator; Meropi Kyriakou, Director of New York Cathedral Day School. Vasiliki Filioti, President of the “Greek Education of America” Association. Keynote speech by Rev. Protopresbyter Gregory Stamkopoulos Assistant Director, Department of Greek Education Database Administrator, Department of Information Technology, on the topic, “The importance of the Feast of the Three Hierarchs”, Afternoon School presentation of the Holy Trinity Cathedral New York by Director Mrs. Roula Trikounaki and the ceremonial cutting of the Vasilopita.
Presidents Stella Kokolis and Vasiliki Filiotis said “In celebrating ‘Greek Letters’ we express our eternal gratitude to the Three Hierarchs who elevated the study of our Hellenic letters, culture, and language. This day serves as a reminder of the continuity of our Greek culture throughout the centuries as well as a celebration of our Greek community. For it is the community where both our devotion to Orthodoxy and our Hellenic heritage are intertwined to give us our unique sense of identity and the profound continuity we have with our heritage.” They are two legends in education who have worked 50 years unselfishly, giving from their pockets.
Ioannis Chrysoulakis, Secretary General for Public Diplomacy and Greeks Abroad, explained by Zoom “every day we communicate with Greek teachers overseas. We chat online, learning about their needs. You in the USA are the leaders. You give us strength to continue.” “2023 is a positive year,” said Panagiotis Passas Director General for International and European Affairs. We encourage you to continue your unique work in education. Educators give insights on roots, civilization, and democracy.”
Rev. Protopresbyter Gregory Stamkopoulos outlined the major points of the Three Hierarchs’ contribution. They were also very encouraging of broader secular studies and strongly emphasized the value and importance of the Greek language. Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom all were important Fathers of the Church who supported the unity of the faith and the needs of philosophy and Greek letters. The three Hierarchs are celebrated as patrons of education, learning, and knowledge.
They had a great love of learning and letters. For the Three Hierarchs, however, secular education and theology are intertwined and thus provide us with the opportunity to elevate the spirit above. Educators have a duty to move towards this direction. To provide students with knowledge, not merely dry facts. They should inspire them with a love of learning, including love for divine writings. The Three Hierarchs were learned. Orators, experts in communication, knowing what their audience is. They valued the way to communicate well, speaking the truth. Knowing their audience and drawing them into their viewpoint.
St. Gregory the Theologos was a supporter of Greek Philosophy. He infused Hellenism in the early church. He was the most widely read writer from Homer to present time. St. Basil is considered the founder of monasticism in the East, One of the best known, the Address to Young Men, defends the study of pagan literature by Christians (Basil himself made considerable critical use of Greek philosophical thought). As a means of caring for those who were ill, St. Basil of Caesarea founded the first hospital (c. 369). Christian hospitals grew apace, spreading throughout both the East and the West
During a time when city clergy were subject to criticism for their high lifestyle, St. John Chrysostom.was determined to reform his clergy in Constantinople. These efforts were met with resistance and limited success. He was an excellent preacher whose homilies and writings are still studied and quoted. As a theologian, he has been and continues to be very important. The highest point of Greek learning was combined with Christianity through the contribution of the Three Hierarchs.
“We are all fighting for Greek education,’ reaffirmed Mrs. Athena Tsokou Kromidas, President of the High Council for Greek Education in the U.S.. “Greek learning is the basis of our soul and the spirit for the entire world. We are proud of our educators and their dedication to their profession. Everyone present today we thank. You are the honored guests who support Greek education.
“Greek Learning includes a culture and a language which has an unbroken oral tradition of more than 3500 years,” believes Dr. Anastasios Koularmanis, Director of the Office of Education of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. “The Three Holy Hierarchs, Basil the Great of Caesarea, Gregory the Theologian of Nazianzus and John Chrysostom, combined Greek philosophy and Christian faith. They believed in education. They used Greek to spread their messages and the Greek language.”
“The blessing of the Vasilopita organized by the Federation, the “ Prometheus Society of the Greek Teachers “ and the organization of “ Hellenic Paideia “ was a noble attempt to continue the tradition and bring Greek Educators together.,” believes Prof Demosthenes Triantafillou. “I like to express my congratulations to the above three societies. The Presidents of the three aforementioned organizations have a lot of hard work on their hands! The essence of Philosophy, my academic subject is the search and telling of truth. I think you know that after all these years. If we need to improve Greek Education, all of us have the moral duty to report the truth and describe reality as it is!” Prof. Triantafillou is the Director of the Office of Greek Education of the Metropolis of New Jersey.
Consul General of Greece in New York, Konstantinos Konstantinou explained “they instilled Greek learning into Christianity. Their spirits believed mankind will change with education. Our children can not separate themselves from Greece. Families must raise children for love of the Greek language. When four generations in America speak Greek, I am deeply moved. My grandfather believed teachers are the heart of civilization, who spread Greek to future generations.”
I was in the mountains of Arcadia the summer of 2022, outside the town of Levithi, Peloponnese, with my cousin Christos Macarounis and wife Pitsa. “Katerina, you are getting a new Consul General of Greece in New York City who has roots in Arcadia,” he said. “My classmate from Tripoli, who is a famous Greek attorney, has a dedicated, patriotic son-in-law, Konstantinos Konstantinou, who has no interest in acquiring wealth. He wants to give back to society the values of Greek culture and language. His father-in-law, my friend, is a real Arcas, a Peloponnesian patriot who believes in God, country and family. His son-in-law Konstantinos Konstantinou is like him. You will meet him in New York City.” We all met the Consul General on February 4th at the Greek Letters Day Celebration at the Cathedral Church.
Rhode Island Senator Leonidas Raptakis has been supporting Mrs. Stella Kokolis” unique ministry since his political election in 1996. He drives hours to NYC to speak at Greek events. “We need funding for Greek education,” he said. “Greek language is a pillar of education. We back Mrs. Kokolis in her projects for Greek education.”
Dr. John Nathanas, Surgeon/International Leader/Founder of DIAS International Academic Studies said “In education and Orthodoxy we enrich our youth. I brought leaders from my island of Crete to the Vasilopita of our teacher organizations. The visiting delegation is impressed with our Greek-American schools curriculum.” Dr. Nathenas is a founder of the HANC.
“The Three Hierarchs were and still are great personalities,” explained Eirini Grapsia, Senior Education Coordinator of the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs of the Greek government. “The wonderful thing about them is not only that they loved the sciences and were educated by acquiring knowledge. Other people have done it and are doing it. Not only did they do it to the greatest extent; not only did they harmoniously combine deep Greek faith and Greek education giving a new meaning to the values of the ancient world; but they perfectly combined theory with practice. This is the wonderful thing, that they did not remain in a simple and sterile accumulation of knowledge and education but went into practice. They loved their suffering fellow man and supported him truly and practically. Let us remember the Vasiliada of the great Basil, who accumulated so many charitable institutions there, such as a Hospital, an orphanage, a nursing home, etc., unprecedented for that time. Also amazing is the fact that their life was not easy, e.g. Saint John Chrysostom was persecuted, exiled, while he was very old. But their love for God did not fade. He was the driving force behind being able to accomplish things. They were defenders of Orthodoxy. They firmly laid the foundations of our faith and strengthened them with their spiritual teachings, responding with deep theological cultivation against the heresies that plagued our Church at the time. They are undoubtedly role models and shining examples for us teachers and parents.