By Catherine Tsounis, Contributing Editor
Vacationers from the New York area witnessed history on Sunday morning, August 5th at the Feast Day Celebration of the Greek Orthodox Transfiguration of Christ Church of Mattituck, New York. His Eminence, Archbishop Demetrios, primate of the Greek Orthodox Church of America, performed the service with the assistance of the parish priest Rev. Ignatios Achlioptas in a filled church. The Archbishop totally surprised a stunned congregation with this: honoring Father Ignatios Achlioptas with the rank of Archimandrite. This is the first time this happened here.
An archimandrite (literally, “chief of a sheepfold”) is a celibate priest who has been elevated to an honorific rank, one level lower than a bishop. Archimandrites are usually styled Very Reverend or Right Reverend and are always the most senior of all in the ranks of the priesthood. Elevation to archimandrite has often meant that the priest is a candidate for the episcopacy.1
“I see an altar in order with dignity,” said the Archbishop. “This means a lot to us. The Message is that Jesus Christ is with us without threatening or intimidating, in a world of injustice. Live in faith and you can even move a mountain.” Prominent persons were present including Archon Mr. Renos Georgiou and Mrs. Maryann Georgiou. For more information, contact the church office at 631 298-8510.
In a previous Feast day sermon, His Eminence said “Outer beauty will not help with our actions,” His Eminence explained. “We must metamorphosize our life. Society needs transformation. We must change things. The Holiday of the Transfiguration gives us a time to think of this message: we believe but must be faithful to HIM, We have been given the privilege of having the Orthodox faith and the universal value of Hellenism. All three presidents, Clinton, Bush and Obama, said ‘they understand our concerns of Cyprus, Patriarchate and Macedonia. Being carriers of Orthodoxy, Hellenism with concepts of freedom and democracy, we expect you to solve problems in America’. We have a tremendous responsibility of what we represent. God must assist us and have the duty to offer to American society.”2
The late Peter Philips widow, Mrs. Helen Philips, his wife and inspiration, was present to witness this historic event. “We donated the Platytera (icon wall drawings in the altar), iconostasis (altar screen), three icons in the iconostasis and the psalterio (Chanter’s stand),” said Mrs. Phillips in a previous interview. Anonymous, low key, Mr. and Mrs. Peter Phillips are the primary reason the church is what it is today after the disastrous burning in November 1984.3 The altar was hand carved by Konstantinos Pilarinos and donated by the Late Peter Phillips. The Platytera (ceiling icons) in the altar sanctuary was drawn by the late Rev. Spilios of Brooklyn. Theodore Fillipakis created the iconography in the Cretan style.4
On August 5th and 6th, the Transfiguration of Christ Church on Breakwater Road in Mattituck, Long Island, in the heartland of agricultural New York, Archimandrite Rev. Ignatios had his first Vespers and Feast Day service. The Vespers on August 5th evening drew tight-knit Greek-American families from Astoria, Flushing through Orient Point, Long Island. Over two hundred persons attended. Archimandrite Ignatios Achlioptas was joined by priests of Long Island parishes to perform the Vespers services. They included; Rev. John Lardas, Archangel Michael Church, Port Washington; Rev. Constantine Lazarakis, Kimisis tis Theotokou Church, Southampton and Rev. Jerasimos Ballas, Sts. Anargyroi, Taxiarchis & Gerasimos Church, Greenport. Rev. Fr. Economos John C. Paizis, Church of the Panaghia of Island Park, Long Island. Rev. John Lardas was the keynote speaker saying, “we warmly congratulate Archimandrite Ignatios on this honor.”
“Welcome to my first August 6th Feast Day liturgy as an Archimandrite,” said Father Ignatios. In one year, we have made progress. We are so excited that the Parish residence is underway. This project has been made possible because of the support of this community and the hard work of the past and present parishioners. I want to particularly thank the founding families and the early members of the Parish Council who made financial and personal sacrifices to give generously to make this dream into a reality. We hope this inspires you to give additional financial support for this effort and for the Church’s continued forward progress. I also appreciate the present members of the Parish Council and its committees who work so hard to keep this Church functioning and who share in the vision to build a permanent residence for our Parish and solving the long-standing challenge of providing appropriate housing for the current and future parish priest. Where there is a will, there is a way. This new title of Archimandrite is inspiring me to be a better priest and engage in a better ministry. YOU are my family.”
In previous sermons, Archbishop Demetrios remarked “This is a beautiful church with iconography,” said His Eminence. The Founders of the Transfiguration set a goal and built a church with small donations from all classes. The passing of the Founders brought new challenges to the new generation of leaders. From 1978 to 2018, they have overcome a shift of population to urban centers. They have beautified and have a unique church with rarely seen Byzantine iconography and a handcrafted iconostasis (altar screen).5
The Transfiguration iconography of Mattituck reminds me of the Transfiguration in the 6th century Mosaic Apse of Sant ’Apollinaire in Classe, Ravenna Italy. The Cross symbolizes the Transfiguration with the three apostles who were present at the Transfiguration – Peter, James and John, represented by lambs. Flanking the cross against a backdrop of golden skies and sunset-tinged clouds are figurative depictions of Moses and Elijah, labeled with their names.6 Colorful iconography with scenes of nature are seen throughout the church. I saw this type of art in the late Roman early Christian art of Ravenna’s churches.
Photographer Andrea Blaga, an Orthodox Christian from Bucharest, Romania, donates and covers most church events. “I came to the Transfiguration church because I need my Orthodox faith,” she said. Her photos are on the church website at https://www.facebook.com/Ton CCMattituck/. Photographer Blaga can be contacted at www.andreablaga.com.
For more information on this writer’s book, “Transfiguration of Christ Church, Mattituck, 1978-2015”, email [email protected].