Hellenic Heritage Day –
Transcending Barriers Between The Generations

By Anna Christopher
Special for The Hellenic News of America

When Sevy Phalangas was asked to compose and perform a piece for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Torch Ceremonies in Greece, she said one image repeatedly came to her mind – the image of hands. Young hands, wrinkled hands, tired hands, embattled hands. “I started seeing images of all different hands passing the Olympic flame through time: old ones, strong ones, dirty ones, diseased ones,” she said. “I became increasingly aware that, although the bearers of the Olympic flame are imperfect, mortal beings, somehow the flame has arrived through the centuries untainted.”

On October 11, 2003, it was Phalangas, along with several other Greek Americans, who leant their hands, voices, experiences and genuine love of Greek culture in celebration of Hellenic Heritage Day at the Hellenic Center of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Wilmington, DE. The all-day program, organized by Wilmington’s chapter No.95 of the Order of Ahepa, drew approximately 300 members of the Wilmington and surrounding communities, and featured performances and presentations highlighting Greece’s contribution to everything from democracy and mythology to theater and dance.

Dr. Peter Yiannos, chairman of the program, said Hellenic Heritage Day was started last year by Ahepa as a way to teach younger generations about their Greek ancestry. Yiannos said Ahepa is to be commended for this initiative and looking for positioning itself for its future mission by emphasizing Hellenic Paedeia. “Our intent is to return to roots,” he said. “The program is designed so that the descendents of early immigrants can learn more about their culture, hear about their past, become interested in it and become better citizens via Hellenic Education and Culture.” In a greeting to those in attendance, Yiannos reminded some – and taught many – about the origins of the Order of Ahepa in the 1920s as a means of promoting Greek ideals, traditions and culture in the United States despite overt prejudice and criticism. He read from a flyer distributed by the Ku Klux Klan at voting booths in the early 20th century that denounced and degraded Greek immigrants and other ethnic minorities. “The KKK deserved to die,” he said, “but Ahepa and Hellenism will live forever!”

As the program got underway, it was clear that Hellenic Heritage Day was mostly about transcending barriers between generations, a way for the children and grandchildren of Greek immigrants to gain exposure to their relatives’ collective stories and experiences. The audience sat in a tightly knit semi-circle, some singing along to folk songs and the Greek National Anthem, others transfixed by mythological stories, the comedic theatrics of the traveling company “Ta Super Greeks,” and the Terpsichore Dance Troupe’s spectacular performance. Program organizers made a conscious effort appeal to the community’s youth, enlisting many high school and college students to participate in various presentations. College students Tina Stamatiadis and Ben Jannelli served as masters of ceremonies, encouraging their peers to embrace their Greek heritage during the prepared dialog “Why Am I A Hellene?” Pericles’ Epitaphios, arguably the most famous speech praising democracy, was recited by Afroditi and Stavroula Kotrotsios, and GOYA President Demetrios Kopatsis presented information about the impact on Greek dancing on everyday life.

After Phalangas gave a powerful rendition of the song “Olympiaki Floga” – or “Trumpet of Glory” – which she composed, produced and performed for the 2000 Olympic Torch Ceremonies, former New Hampshire politician Chris Spirou shared his knowledge of the importance of competition in ancient Greek life. There were other types of history lessons, too. High school student Valerie Caras delivered a dramatic overview of the ancient Athenian theater, and renowned storyteller Eleni Constantelos entertained the crowd with her colorful renditions of Greek mythological classics, from the greedy King Midas who falls victim to the ‘Golden Touch,’ to the gods and goddess’ role in instigating the Trojan War. Father Anastasios Bourantas, who performed several traditional Greek war songs with a young member of his congregation, Ian Chambers, said he feels an obligation as a community leader and a Greek American to disseminate his knowledge of custom and tradition. “If I don’t pass this history through song onto Ian and others,” he said, “I wouldn’t be doing my job as a priest, as a leader, as a Greek.” Bourantas emphasized the importance for people of all nationalities and faiths to attend events like Hellenic Heritage Day, not just those belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church.

“Here at Holy Trinity we have wonderful and gifted parishioners that love the Orthodox faith and their roots of Hellenic heritage,” he said. “It is important to attend because in sharing our talents with others we too may be encouraged to share our God-given gifts. “In the same way, experiencing another culture strengthens and enlightens your own personal life.” The Hellenic community was honored during Heritage Day by the presence of Delaware Lt. Gov. John Carney and Wilmington City Council President Ted Blunt. On behalf of himself and Gov. Ruth Anne Minner, Carney declared October Hellenic Heritage Month in the state of Delaware. In the presence of these officials, AHEPA’s 5th District Governor Andy Zachariades and the Chapter’s president John Koninis, the Order took the opportunity to recognize one of its own members, Nick Maidanos. His civic-minded entrepreneurial Greek spirit, to rebuild an uninhabitable neighborhood in inner city Wilmington, was cited. Indeed, all those who were lucky to be present in AHEPA’s Hellenic Heritage program in Wilmington, Delaware, had a taste of genuine Hellenic Paedeia."

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