Lessons in Greek language, cooking, dancing and history at Greenport church

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Greek dance practice session at St. Anargyroi and Taxiarhis Greek Orthodox Church in Greenport on a recent Saturday. The dancers (from left) are Despina Leodis and Maria Leodis, both 15, of Mattituck, Gina Seas,14, of Greenport, Constintina Leodis, 13, of Mattituck and Krysta Daniels, 14, of Greenport.

Church member Peter Fakiris didn’t want to see his Greek culture lost to a generation of children he feared were growing up unaware of their rich heritage. That’s why he nagged the Rev. Gerasimos Ballas of Sts. Anargyroi and Taxiarhis Greek Orthodox in Greenport for several years to launch a Greek cultural program.

And while Father Jerry, as he prefers to be called, kids with his old friend about the nagging, both men clearly delight in the fact that with help of church member and volunteer Donna Geraghty, they were finally able to bring the program to fruition. It has been running now for several weeks on Saturday mornings from about 10 a.m. to noon.  Both hope it will expand to embrace not just the church members who now participate, but the surrounding community with whom they want to share their traditions, customs, food and language.

At 68, Mr. Fakiris, who came to the United States in the 1970 speaking only a few words of English, carries all the zest and rich expressiveness demonstrated by Anthony Quinn in his 1964 film portrayal of “Zorba the Greek.”

A steady stream of smoke emanates from his cigarettes and his arms are ever involved in emphasizing his words as he discusses his hopes and dreams for the program.

“After I pass through, I want to leave behind everything I can,” Mr. Fakiris said of his drive to share Greek culture. “Every kid I get out of the street — I’m happy as can be,” he said, referring to the pressures of drugs and alcohol that lead some youths astray.
A lot of Greek parents want their sons and daughters to learn Greek language and culture, but children are reluctant to put in the time, said Ms. Geraghty. When they get older and want to know more about their traditions and wish they could speak Greek, it’s sometimes too late, she said.

So how did the dozen students respond to the initial offer of Greek culture sessions when their parents urged them to participate? Initially, they admit, they weren’t thrilled. Some resisted the idea of spending Saturday mornings at the church, dancing, cooking, learning the Greek language and finding out about their heritage. Ultimately, they agreed to try it and in just a few weeks, they’ve had a reversal of attitude.

“You get closer to your culture and you get to meet people from different schools,” said Maria Leodis of Mattituck.
“It’s fun to learn,” said her sister, Despina.

“I like meeting new people and having fun,” said Dina Seas of Greenport. The girls, junior and senior high school students, want to recruit others to join them, including school friends who aren’t Greek.

Argie Leodis, a certified teacher who taught in the Kids Quest preschool program in Mount Sinai, now teaches Greek to children and adults at the church. She’s using a first-grade primer to start her students on the road to fluency.

“When they’re able to visit Greece someday, I’m hoping they’ll be able to converse,” she said. “We’re in a melting pot here,” she said of the Greenport community. While she welcomes the diversity, she doesn’t want to lose her own traditions.

Both Greek and Christian Easter celebrations fall on April 24 this year, but for the Greeks, according to Father Jerry, it will have been preceded by 48 days period of strict adherence to specific rules, Lenten services and preparations for Palm Sunday and Easter. While Christians opt to give up something of significance to them for the Lenten period, observant Greek Orthodox church members eat no meat, chicken or fish and no animal by-products, such as eggs, “to prepare for the upcoming great event of the resurrection of Christ,” Father Jerry said.

On Saturday, there was a breakfast at the church and a service marking the resurrection of Lazarus, considered by the observant to be one of the miracles of Jesus in bringing Lazarus of Bethany back to life four days after his burial. Following the service, children prepared palms for the following Palm Sunday service.

Palm Sunday ushered in Holy Week, marked by services each day and culminating in the Easter Sunday Service of the Vespers of Love.

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