By Catherine Tsounis, Contributing Editor
Students with disabilities are rarely acknowledged for the heavy burden of accommodations they make to cope at school, while it is others who believe they are making the accommodations.
A unique Special Needs Liturgy Program was held, Saturday, December 7, 2019, at St. Catherine and St. George Greek Orthodox Church, Astoria, NY. Father Nicholas Paros conducted the service. After the morning service, a Christmas Party for kids and young adults was held in the church hall. Frosty the Snowman with Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus gave smiles and gifts. The singing of English Christmas carols and Greek New Year/religious hymns by all gave everyone an uplifting Christmas feeling. A lavish brunch was served to all. Grandparents, parents, children and young adults smiled, engaged in arts and crafts, mingled with all in friendship.
Why did I come? Prof. Alexander Colombos, who is the webmaster/board member of the Greek Teachers Association “Prometheus“ explained “we are having a special program on December 7th at Sts. Catherine and George Church. The special liturgy is focusing on the youth’s spiritual needs. Our Greek Orthodox Church is instilling a religious experience. There are few Special Needs religious experiences. Out traditional Christmas program is not only based on tradition but on being a part of activities that have meaning and are accessible to him/her.”
The St. Catherine and St. George Church liturgy by Father Paros showed how Baby Jesus changed everything. The newly ordained priest tried to draw Special Needs youth into his religious service, even if there were any behavioral disruptions. Father Nicholas is bringing children into their Greek Orthodox faith. This Special Needs Children and Young Adults Program is reaching out to the Middle Class, which is the basis of the strength of the Greek Orthodox community. Who they are and the economic level is never considered at the Sts. Catherine and George Church Program. I saw genuine happiness.
Maria Evangelou Christodoulou is the Group Leader for the families of children with Special Needs. She is the mother of a young adult son with special needs. “We are giving a lot of joy to those families and children. We want to deliver the message to the community about our miraculous work for these children. Their parents are heroes struggling to make their voices been heard.”
Ms. Evangelou-Christodoulou explained “our mission statement is from Matthew Chapter 18‘4 Whosoever, therefore, shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.” We encourage one another with love respect and our Faith! Togetherness in our Community making memories and Giving to those whom need us. Being the humble role model while each of us contributes to form a quality program and gathering, for now and for the future with joy, faith and hope! friends as well as typical children we support each other and receive holy communion. After we gather for Our children will one day be adults in our community. They must know their community as well that we care. I am blessed together with our other parents our clergy our volunteers and supporters to know our community is aware of our children and of our Young adults.”
Persons I interviewed at the Christmas Program included: young adults Panagiotis and Bill: Maria Manouvelos, grant writer; Dean Malis who drew the minotaur and other freestyle artwork and prominent members of the community. For more information, email Theodora Evangelou Christodoulou at [email protected].
In the early 1970s, an idealized postcard of the future building of Sts. Catherine and George church was created by Colman Kuharik. The postcard was distributed to all for support of the 640 capacity Church. During the service, I noticed the Byzantine Platytera, “The Panagia of the Heavens” in the altar with St. George presenting the idealized St. Catherine and St. George Church model to the Panagia and baby Jesus. Platytera is an icon of the Theotokos, facing the viewer directly, usually depicted full length with baby Jesus. I recently saw similar iconography in Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (Istanbul) Turkey. St. Catherine and St. George Church has rich Byzantine iconography that is seldom seen in newer churches. Visit and experience Byzantine tradition during the Christmas season.