Viewpoint: The Last Feast Day at the Original Building of the Greek Orthodox Kimisis Church of the Hamptons
By Catherine Tsounis
“This is God’s Country,” said Geri Goehringer to his wife Barbara, dick and Charlotte Mullen and us at Judge Willie Thompson’s summer party in Mattituck. This statement “God’s Country” has been said to me since the 1960’s when my teacher Mr. Cohen came to visit with the Heralder’s Club of Bryant High school, Astoria. We were reminiscing on the origins of the Transfiguration church. Stanly and Helen Sledjeski sold parts of their original farm below market value to the North Fork Greek Association, because of their deep religious faith in Christianity. Families of the North Fork have moved to the South Fork of the East End of Long Island to witness an unheard of event in economically depressed America: the building of an Orthodox Church complex to act as an internal religious center of Orthodoxy.
The ties between the churches of the North and South Forks continue. Pericles and Tula Bakas, Dr. Robert, Kay and Pauline and Philip Halikias, Sophia Saridakis and others. I have relatives and friends in Kimisis Church, such as Daisy and Tom Lianas and their patrioti John Basil, Stavroula, Christopher and Steven Raia, John and Eleni Galifianakis, Dr. Peter Mihalos, the Spyris family, Sophia and Dr. Spiro Spyris, Sia Arvans, Eddie Floros, Ann Hunt and family, Demetri and Maria Hatgistavrou, the Paul Maus family, Eleni Barbatsoulis, Coula Johnides and the many parishioners that greet me and everyone with a smile. Anastasia, of Anastasia’s Gift Shop by St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Flushing, has a sister, Maria Vlahadamas who is an active member. Gus Karpathakis has relatives from Nisiros who are active members of the Transfiguration Church. Peter Nikiteas, my husband’s patrioti from the Peloponnese of Leonidas and “The Three Hundred Spartans” fame, is President of the Parish Council with his supportive wife Greta. Eveyone is interconnected. The Domino Effect (when one falls, all fall) can describe the Greek communities internationally. The Kimisis Orthodox Christian Church of the Hamptons spectacular growth has secured stability for Orthodoxy in Eastern Long Island. This is the outcome of the dedicated work of Rev. Alexander Karloutsos, Presvitera Xanthi assisted by Rev. Constantine Lazerakis, Presvitera Anastasia and their families, Archons of the Greek Orthodox Church and a Middle America community willing to do the self -sacrificing work for their belief in Orthodoxy.
The Vespers of the Feast Day on August 14th had Rev. Mark Arey, Rev. Dennis Strouzas, Rev. Dr. Dimitrios Moraitis, performed the liturgy with Protopresbyter Alexander Karloutsos and Presbyter Constantine Lazerakis. The sisters of the All Saints Monastery chanted. “Nothing remains the same,” said Rev. Arey who gave the sermon. “Everything is a passage. This community is going through a transformation. More than a generation was kept warm in the love of this church. You are witnessing a new church and community that few communities experience.” Father Alex and Father Constantine added “We are grateful to be here with all. This is the last Feast Day in our little church that so many worked to build. We are leaving our little church with sadness.”
On August 15th, His Eminence, Archbishop Demetrios of America with Prof. Dr. Elpidophoros Lambrianiadis, Metropolitan of Bursa Abbey, Dean of Halki Theological School and representative of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew celebrated the Archieratical liturgy assisting parish priests and visiting clergy. “Hold this liturgy, the last, in our minds,” His Eminence explained. “One more time we will come close to Panagia in our original church. Panagia (Virgin Mary) is the highest form of human being. Mankind has pseudo role models. How are people role models when they are not true persons? She is a support of mankind, benefactor of family and Hellenism.”
Metropolitan Elpidophoros was introduced to the worshippers as the right hand of Patriarch Bartholomew. He grew up in Constantinople and the patriarchate. The metropolitan revealed to this writer that his grandfather was from Chios. He is a graduate of the University of Thessaloniki, where he is a full professor teaching a unique course in Dogmaticsand Symbolism of Theology. Metropolitan Elpidophoros is the special Chief Secretary of the Holy See and other important position. “The whole community is congratulated on the growth of a new church,” said the Metropolitan. “I came here in 2002 or 2003 as a deacon. I am happy to be here at the last liturgy in the original church. I come here from the Mother Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Mother of All churches. The Mother Church has a weakness for the church of America. Patriarch Athenagoras, who was Archbishop of America, formed a love of America with Constantinople.” In many homes, Patriarch Athenagoras, a native of Epirus, is a legend from his days in Astoria, Queens.
“The Patriarchate respects, loves and has a weakness for Rev. Alexander Karloutsos,” the metropolitan continued. “He has gained your hearts and built a small church into a larger church. No matter how large a church grows, the Mother church (Patriarchate of Constantinople) loves you. This is an understatement. A stroke of good luck occurred when one of the great leaders of Christianity and the Greek Orthodox Church appeared on the East End in the person of Rev. Alexander Karloutsos.
A Panegyri luncheon immediately followed the Divine Liturgy at Nammos restaurant in Southampton. Parish Council President Peter Nikiteas gave a moving speech where he acknowledged the additional presence of the following guests: Georgious Iliopoulos, Council General of Greece, who travelled over two hours to attend the service; Ambassador Suzanne Johnson Cook; Congressman Tim Bishop; Mayor Mark Epley and other reverend clergy and honored guests. “Your eminence, Archbishop Demetrios, thank you so very much for being here today. I know I speak on behalf of our entire church family when I say what a tremendous honor and wonderful blessing it is to celebrate our Feast Day with you, our beloved spiritual Father,” said President Nikiteas. “And metropolitan Elpidophoros, who comes all the way from our Mother Church in Constantinople, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, from where our worldwide Spiritual Father, His All holiness Bartholomew leads the Orthodox Christian Church.”
President Nikiteas, in his historic address said “We are particularly enthusiastic to have both of your Eminences with us during this historic moment in the life of Kimisis Tis Theotokou, as we approach the completion of the construction of our new sanctuary and its accompanying facilities. We hope that you are pleased with the progress. We look forward to the day when Archbishop Demetrios will lead us in celebrating the Divine Liturgy in our new Sanctuary. We hope you will enjoy the performance that our young people, the Hamptons Hellenic Dancers, have especially prepared for you……We are truly grateful to tom Makkos and Family for hosting this luncheon on behalf of our building fund. …..We welcome each and every one of you gathered here today.”
I was interestedin the historic importance of Metropolitan Elpidophoros area of Bursa (Greek Proussa). In a documentary on channel 13, the fall of Greek Proussa marked the end of the Byzantine Empire’s dominance of Asia Minor. “Bursa, the first important Byzantine stronghold to the west, falls to them in 1326, the year of Osman’s death.” in https://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/PlainTextHistories.asp?groupid=2763&HistoryID=ac59.
“Bursa remained to be the most important administrative and commercial center in the empire until Mehmed IIconqueredIstanbul in 1453,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bursa
Church luncheons are an opportunity to meet with international scholars on Hellenism. I showed Metropolitan Elpidophoros and Archbishop Demetrios my grandmother Despina Gagas Pappas (Papantonakis) totally Greek (not one word of modern Turkish) baptismal certificate, dated 1898, from the Greek Orthodox Holy Episcopate of Mosconisi, an island off the coast of Lesvos, now part of Modern Turkey. “Your great grandmother’s name of Zaphiria Brusalis (Greek Prousali) means she came from my diocese in Bursa,” said Metropolitan Elpidophoros. “Come and visit Bursa with me.” Newsletter Editor Daisy Lainis and I share the same Great Grandmother. Only international scholars such as Archbishop Demetrios and Metropolitan Elpidophoros can unlock the key to our ancestry, lost in the destruction of official document in the demise of the Ottoman Turkish Empire.
Our community of the Transfiguration Church of Mattituck has a strong Greek presence from Evrytania Karpenisi, Central Greece. On Sunday, august 19th, I informed Eleni Condos, an expert in the history of the Karpenisi region, of my encounter with Metropolitan Elpidophoros. BillCondos, his daughter, Dr. Rany Condos, Joanne and Gregory Fegos wanted to learn more of this, unknown to many, Metropolitan of Bursa. “We have our own Metropolitan of Karpenisi, who represents our Holy Monastery of the Most Holy Theotokos Proussos (Pyrsos) and houses the icon called Theotokos Proussiotissa. The icon came there during the iconoclastic era (829 A.D.) of Theophilos from Proussa. The icon was honored in the Church of Proussa by kings and archons. A noble of the court refused to destroy the icon, escaped to Greece, lost it and found it in the mountain where the Monastery of Proussiotissa stands.” This is how churches areare interconnected: through Greek Orthodoxy and Hellenism.
“We welcome his Eminence to see our magnificent church being constructed,” said Parish Council Vice-President Dimitrios Hatgistavrou. “We want His Eminence to give us his blessings. We look forward to the day His Eminence will consecrate our church. His parents, Angelo and Irene Hatgistavrou worked with Pericles and Tula Bakas as founders of the original church in 1977. In the beginning of 1980, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese assigned Father Nectarios Kehagias to serve the faithful who were now holding meetings in their houses and services at Southampton College. The first Divine Liturgy was celebrated on Mother’s Day in the spring of that same year https://kimisishamptons.org/parishlife/history . Dr. Peter Mihalos, international scholar/physician/philanthropist and mentor to medical professionals, said “we are moving ahead. Kimisis Tis Theotokou Church will be an international site of the Greek Orthodox Faith and Culture.”
In October’ 2012, the newly structured Greek Institute for Language and Culture will begin at the new Johnides Cultural Center. In addition, the Romanian and Slavic institutes for Language and Culture will begin for the first time. The Johnides cultural center, created by the generosity of Coula Johnides, will provide an environment that allows teachers the privacy to provide the best program for students. For more information call 631-283-6169 or email [email protected].
The backbone of the community are the following organizations and persons that are listed in the official newsletter of the Church and from my personal acquaintance: Protopresbyter Fr. Alexander Karloutsos, Presbyter Fr. Constantine Lazarakis ; Choir Directors Bea Parash and Sophia Saridakis; Altar Assistants, John Galifianakis, Ed Earle and Jim Soulopulous; Parish Council, President Peter Nikiteas, Vice President Dimitrios Hatgistavrou, Treasurer John Goudelias, Asst. Treasurer Gus Karpathakis, Secretary Jennifer Friebely; Council Members Joe Badilla, Stephanie Bitis, Peter Cardel, Mary Chobor, Evan Hillen, George Gavalas, Paul Maus, Anthony Mavis, Nicholas Metz, Michelle Papajohn, Bea Parash, Stavroula Raia, Catarina Rallis,and Theodore Velys; THE GOOD NEWS newsletter, Daisy and Tom Lainis, Roy Bradbrook, Eddie Floros, Anastasia Gavalas, Xanthi Karloutsos, Elaine Maroula, Sally Peponakis, Stavroula Raia, Maria Tsikitas and Anastasia Zaccaria; Philoptohos President Andrea Northridge; PTO Parents, President Liza Soulopulous; Hampton Hellenic Dancers Maria Soprasis; Bakaliko, Philoptohos; Athletic Programs, Archdiocesan District Junior Olympics, Fr. Constantine; Ministries, Acolytes, Fr. Constantine; Chanter Sophia Saridakis; Choir Bea Parash; Greek School Principal Christina Georghiou; JOY/HOPE/GOYA, Fr. Constantine and Anastasia Lazarakis; Office Secretary Jeannie Marcella; Photographers Eddie Floros, Elaine Maroulas and Stavroula Raia; Sunday School Director Sia Arvans; Youth Ministry George Gouvelas. For further information on persons’ commitment to the Building Project, visit https://kimisishamptons.org/buildingproject/the-building-committee and email [email protected].
Photo 1 – On August 15th, His Eminence, Archbishop Demetrios of America performs a “Blessing of the Holy Bread” (Artoclasia) with clergy.
Photo 2 – Peter Nikiteas, from Laconia, Peloponnese of Leonidas and “The Three Hundred Spartans” fame, is President of the Parish Council with his supportive wife Greta and Rev. Summers.