Unique Good Friday Service at St. Irene’s Monastery
By Catherine Tsounis
The United States was traumatized by 9/11 and by the April 15th 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Can anyone feel safe in an urban event? The 114th New York City Police Precinct conducted an exceptional police effort in protecting thousands of Greek Orthodox worshippers on Good Friday, May 3rd. The Sacred Patriarchal and Stavropegial Orthodox Monastery of St. Irene Chrysovalantou, Sts. Catherine and George Church and St. Markella Epitaphios (Holy Tomb) moved peacefully through Astoria under the vigilant eyes of police and auxilliaries.
I attended the deeply moving St. Irene’s Epitaphios Procession from 23rd Ave in front of St. Irene Chrysovalantou Monastery, along 31st St to Ditmars, ending at St. Irene’s Church. Cars attempted to interrupt the procession and cross police barriers. The NYPD 114th Precinct kept order and did not allo9w penetration of the police lines. I was totally amazed by the order and safety. One participant said, “We want to worship our Good Fridayservice to show we are de3dicated to our Greek Orthodox faith.” And that they did. Thousands from New York City, New Jersey and Long Island came to support their beloved monastery. Many parishioners expressed deep love for the founder of their monastery.
The worshippers entered with three generations of their family. Well-dressed worshippers proceeded in order to venerate the Epitaphios, while V. Rev. Archimandrite Ierotheos Zacharis, Abbot, anointed their hands with cologne. I personally never witnessed this ceremony before. “His Grace is anointing our hands as Magdalini (Mary Magdalene) did the body of Christ,” explained Dr. Vasia Filiotis, Principal of St. Irene Chrysovalantou School and President of the Prometheus Greek Teachers Association. My gaze on old icons from the 1960’s with silver overlay, as the icons from Ieron Parthenon St. Constantine and Helen Monastery in Chios, impressed. I saw a steam of worshippers never ending for over an hour. Children holding Yiayia and Papou’s hands kissed the Epitaphios with sincerity. Images of my Greek speaking family with Yiayia and Papou came into my memory. A time of deep religious faith with belief in “one’s church, right or wrong.”and Orthodoxy perpetuating Hellenism lost on the shores of Asia Minor. The gift of St. Irene’s Monastery on Good Friday was giving these children a precious memory of worshipping Christ with their beloved, Greek speaking grandparents.
The Epitaphios Procession, quiet, orderly, with young and hold holding banners fanaria (six foot lanterns, flowing white ribbons preceded the Epitaphios. Manoli Kouroupakis on his Good Friday Hellas FM radio program said “Lefkos Pyrgos on the corner of 23rd Ave. and 31st. St. is where I will be watching all three churches Epitaphios Procession.” As we were passing, the Café was packed with standing room only.”
I saw U.N. diplomat Georgia Filiotis outside. “We must keep up with St. Irene’s Epitaphios. We will pass under the Epitaphios at the church’s entrance. Now we will see the Thyranixia (Opening of the Doors).” The Doors would not open until a young man, called Thanasi, would carry the eight foot cross to entrance. A Byzantine hymn was chanted saying “Open the doors to Jesus Christ (basically).” Thanasis Dhamoon is an Indian who married his college sweetheart, Sophia. He was given the distinct honor of standing next to Abbot Ierotheos during the Lamentations and holding the Cross. “I was in the military,” he said. “I served in Afghanistan.”
His maturity and deep religious faith reflect his wartime experiences. The trend in New York City is mixed marriages with Latinos, Hindus and Moslems. St. Irene’s is welcoming all. “Interfaith marriage is a positive, spreading Greek culture,” said Art Demopoulos of ODYSSEY magazine at Hermes International Expo 2013. “It is a positive…. The Greek American experience is assimilation with retention of Greek identity.” Orthodoxy is a unifying factor.
Mike Marounas, of Queens and the Transfiguration Church in Mattituck, L.I. was participating in the Epitaphios Procession with his wife, young son and koumbaro George Fuiaxis.”I want my son to experience Greek Orthodoxy in an urban environment.”
“Tonight we hold on to our Greek Orthodox faith in Astoria among multi-ethnic communities,” said Abbot Ierotheos. “Before a multitude of diverse people, we showed our commitment to our faith. Only the Church is our refuge, holding on to Greek Orthodoxy.” Thousands marched in Astoria, with the help of the NYPD 114th Precinct, to hold on to their right of freedom of religion. For more information, contact The V. Rev. Archimandrite Ierotheos Zacharis, Abbot at The Sacred Patriarchal and Stavropegial Orthodox Monastery of St. Irene Chrysovalantou, 36-07 23rd Avenue, Astoria, NY 11105-1916, Telephone: (718) 626-6225, Facsimile: (718) 626-7669 and E-mail: Sacred Patriarchal Monastery of St. Irene Chrysovalantou.
Photo 1- V. Rev. Archimandrite Ierotheos Zacharis, Abbot.
Photo Credit: Catherine Tsounis