Centennial Gala Celebration
for All Saints Greek Orthodox Church
of Weirton, West Virginia
May 13, 2017
Your Eminence, Archbishop Demetrios, Geron of America
Primate of the Holy Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate
Your Eminence, Metropolitan Savas, of the Holy Metropolis of Pittsburgh
Father Alexander Karloutsos, Protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate
Reverend Presbyters, especially our own Father Frank,
Most Devout Deacons,
My esteemed Brother Archons, of the Order of Saint Andrew,
Honored Members of Leadership 100,
Esteemed civic leaders and guests,
Distinguished members of our Parish Council, led by my Brother Archon, Nick Latousakis,
Beloved Faithful of our Church,
Tonight we celebrate and rejoice in the Centennial of our beloved All Saints Greek Orthodox Church in Weirton, West Virginia. Tonight we celebrate our family.
I am honored and humbled to speak on such a historic moment in the life of our Church.
I am overcome with emotion for what this Centennial means for our past, and excited about what it means for our present and future.
All Saints is a beacon of Orthodoxy in the Ohio Valley and an inspiration to all of the Churches in the Holy Archdiocese. Our Parishioners are exemplars of filotemo, devotion, humility, respect, hard work, tenacity, optimism and above all, faith. Against all odds, our Parish continues to prosper and inspire.
Your Eminence, Archbishop Demetrios, Geron of America, you honor us this weekend with your presence. Ladies and Gentlemen, I have enjoyed the blessing and privilege of serving his Eminence personally and our Archdiocese as Treasurer. Our Archbishop is extraordinary person. He is the hardest working man I know. He travels the country and world tirelessly to advance our faith. He is a world class theologian, a leader, a visionary, and above all, a teacher – he is always teaching. His intellect is staggering, and I have never met anyone with such a comprehensive mastery of the English or Greek language, or with the ability to use language with such precision. He is our spiritual father, and we are always in his prayers. He is someone I love like a grandfather. Your Eminence, All Saints extends its love, respect and appreciation for officiating this seminal event in the history of the All Saints Church.
I sought inspiration for my remarks this evening from the master, my YiaYia. When I was 12 or 13 years old, his Eminence, Archbishop Iakovos, of blessed memory, came to All Saints for an official visit on Father’s Day. Everyone over the age of 50 remembers that his visit was an event of state. Despite my age, I was selected to give the keynote speech. Back then, all of our Parishioners spoke Greek. My YiaYia, the poet, Evyenia Loufakis, wrote a speech, where she combined extraordinary observations on what it means to be a father, while specifically recognizing “oi metanastes pateres, pou eithran etho hores glossa, hores xpimata, hores spouthase, ma me pisteos, agape, kai elpitha. – the immigrant fathers, who came here without language, without money, without an education, but with faith, love and hope.”
My YiaYia’s words are as true today, as they were almost 40 years ago. Her words capture who we were, who we are, and who we will always be.
We are an immigrant community. A traditional community. An ethnic community. An inter-generational community. A community whose foundation was truly established on faith, love and hope.
Our Parish is built on four pillars. The first is the immigrant experience; the second is growing up as Americans of Hellenic Descent; the third is living and working in a steel town; each orbiting the central pillar of the Holy Orthodox Church.
This evening we celebrate and honor the immigrant generation who founded our Church. They were truly “protopore” – pioneers. The immigrant generation came to this country with a dream. They knew that America was the land of opportunity, a shining city on the hill, and a beacon of hope for the world. They knew America would bless their families with every opportunity if they worked hard. That generation answered the call, and so did America.
The immigrant generation understood through very personal experience that Hellenism can only be viewed through the glorious prism of Orthodoxy. You cannot separate the two – it is like breathing with one lung. After they had established themselves in Weirton, they didn’t build a community center or a cultural center, rather they founded an Orthodox Church in the North End of Weirton within 100 yards of the blast furnaces. As immigrants from Greece and Asia Minor in those decades, many escaped the savagery and banality of genocide, war, depravation, and many knew hunger, including my YiaYia Maria as a young girl in Kos. Because they lived it, they intuitively understood how fragile our people’s existence was under the Turkish occupation and during the subsequent Balkan and World Wars.They viscerally, emotionally, and spiritually, much more than intellectually, understood the centrality of the Church in their life and in the life of our people. They knew because of their own life experience, it was the Church that maintained our identity, our customs, our culture, our language, and our religion. They took inspiration from the Church’s Martyrs and Saints who went to their deaths for our Faith. I will always admire and stand in awe of three things regarding this generation – first, their selflessness and willingness to sacrifice their lives unconditionally, in silence, and without complaint, for the next generation; second, they were tough in a way that we can never be, and third, their pure faith. They believed.
The monuments they left behind are the twin treasures of the Holy Archdiocese and our All Saints Church. The Church they founded is the only institution that binds the Greek American community together. There is no ethnic or secular organization that approaches the primacy of the Church in the life of our community. The Church is our rock – sacred, holy and eternal.
So I say, on behalf of everyone here this evening, with respect, humility and gratitude, may the memory of our immigrant generation be eternal. We pray that the immigrant generation, who now stands with the Church Triumphant, forever stand with us, the Church Militant.
Tonight we celebrate our heritage as Americans of Hellenic descent. Growing up and living as Greek-Americans has informed every aspect of our lives and that our All Saints Church. We all grew up two in worlds. One is Anglo, and the other is Hellenic. Even those of us born in West Virginia like me, still refer to all non-ethnic Americans as “Americane”. From the youngest age, we realized that we are different, and took pride in being different. We are not just some hyphenated Americans. We know exactly where we are from - the island, the village, and even the house. This knowledge provides us with a sense of place, and that is powerful. This knowledge grounds us. This knowledge provides us with dignity. We were all raised with the values, value system, respect and traditions resident in every Greek family, along with accompanying obligations and expectations. We carry that value system with us every day. In Weirton, our All Saints Church is the eternal flame, “to phos”, that embodies those values.
Tonight we celebrate being proud sons and daughters of Weirton. There is a magic in every steel town. People who grow up in a steel town have a special pride, a mental toughness, a confidence, an assertiveness, that all comes from being a steelworker. It takes a special person to walk through those mill gates every day.However it takes thousands of people working as a team to make a ton of steel. Therefore, the steelworker, despite his robust individuality, has an extraordinary sense of teamwork, of family, of place, and community. These steel town values form the core of the culture of Weirton and our All Saints Church. As it is written in the Weir High Alma Matter, our values quote “are strong as the steel bears thy name.”
We must celebrate the present before we look to the future. I am in awe of the success of our All Saints Parishioners. By every measure, including education, income level, professional achievement, advancement and overall success, our community has succeeded and is succeeding. The All Saints Parish and the Greek American community have successfully navigated the transition from the immigrant generation to the post-immigrant generation, with many of our families are now in the third to fifth generation. At All Saints, our faith, traditions and culture continue to thrive.
The Church’s new building annex, the first expansion in over 50 years, is our generation’s investment in the Church’s future. This Annex was not built with brick, mortar and steel, but rather by the faith of an incredible community, in what only can be described as a collective act of prayer.
I am humbled by, and take great pride in, the tireless effort our Parishioners to ensure that the sacred torch of our forefathers, passed down generation by generation for over two millennia, is now passed on to our children and grandchildren.
There is no choice. There is no higher calling. There is no greater imperative. Family demands, ethnos demands, two millennia of history demand, tradition demands, honor demands, the saints and the martyrs, through their example and sacrifice, exhort. Thank God, we have answered the call, and will continue to answer the call.
While we recognized our past and celebrated our present, there is nothing more important than the future.
The future is going to require a bigger commitment of faith, love and hope than our past. We have to double our commitment, double our investment, and double our efforts to secure our future.
Why, you ask?
There is a war against organized religion of all kinds in our country. The Church is under assault by a rabidly secular media and a rabidly secular popular culture.
To compound this challenge, the Orthodox Church is the Ancient Faith, the linear Church of the Apostles. Our faith is not easy. Orthodoxy challenges you every day. Orthodoxy spends a lifetime teaching you humility. Orthodoxy doesn’t change – it doesn’t care about the editorial page of the newspapers in this century, the last century or the next. Orthodoxy is a spiritual journey of prayer, fasting, self-discipline and self-denial to achieve a path to Christ. In the era of social media, instant gratification, the search for instant fame and fortune, the Orthodox Faith is a hard sell. We all know it. Every parent and grandparent knows it.
Therefore, we must respond with action. Our Parish’s must strive to retain the faith and commitment of our youth. Through every means possible, we must make the Church relevant for young people today. The Parish’s should also attempt to reestablish the Church’s relationship with those who are unchurched - to bring home the faithful who have fallen away from our family, with enthusiasm and open arms.
While this is not going to be easy, I know we will answer the challenge with faith, love and hope worthy of the sacrifice of those that came before us.
Please take a moment, look around and remember what you see. You are a witness to history, our history. You are present at a once in a lifetime moment. Years from now, decades from now, in good times and bad, remember this moment and be inspired.
To my brothers and sisters in Christ, to my All Saints Family, may Almighty God bless us all.
To you I say AXOI!