Terrace On The Park - February 1, 2003
Remarks at the Inauguration
of the Archbishop Spyridon Foundation for Hellenic Education and Culture
Terrace On The Park - Queens, New York - February 1, 2003
My Beloved Friends in Christ,
To all of you I express my gratitude for your presence here this evening. In the years since my departure, it has not been possible to keep up with everyone that I would like to. An occasion such as this allows me to see so many friends at once... -friends from all parts of the country and even cherished brothers ans sisters from Canada- and frankly, this is a bit overwhelming.
Thank you John Catsimatidis, Eve Condakes, Justine Frangouli, John Rassias and Georgia Kaloidis, and of course all the members of the Organizing Committee for this event. Your loyalty, kindnesses and -above all- your love are truly worthy of gratitude beyond all expression.
It is with great hopes and great expectations that I stand before you this evening, to introduce the Foundation for Hellenic Education and Culture that I am honored to say will bear my name. The source of inspiration for setting up our Foundation was last year's visit to the Montreal Hellenic Community Greek Day School "Socrates" which is indeed an educational model for all Greek schools outside Greece. John Catsimatidis' idea to create a new platform to promote our cultural heritage immediately touched the hearts of us all. It is truly humbling to have such friends as the men and women who have banded together to offer yet another creative means dedicated to the active preservation and enhancement of ELLINIKI PAIDEIA, the legacy of our rich Greek Orthodox Tradition.
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You see, my friends, I am among those who believe that we can never overemphasize or overstate the importance of Greek Education and Culture. Especially for those who proudly call themselves descendents of the Ancient Hellenes!
But we are not only Greek, we are Greek Orthodox! I stand with those who believe that you cannot take the "Greek" out of Greek Orthodox! Let me be clear. This is not ethnic chauvinism. This is simply an acknowledgment that The Faith of Jesus Christ -the Gospel of Salvation- was delivered not only in the Greek Language, but to a Greek-speaking and -more importantly- Greek-thinking world!
Authentic, original, true -or to sum it all up in one word- ORTHODOX Christianity was born, has grown and ultimately matured with the Hellenic Spirit and within the Hellenic worldview --the Hellenic PHRONIMA.
But this reality does not in any way lead us to an exclusion of anyone. In fact the Greek Spirit embraces the world, as the great Philosopher Isocrates stated most elegantly. Formulating for all time the answer to the question: who is a true Greek?, he said: "We call -we name someone a Greek- a Hellene who partakes, who shares, who participates in our Paideia," our Culture!
Therefore, whoever partakes of the Culture of Greece, is a true Greek! And indeed, long before there were notions of nations and states in a modern sense of the words, people of all kinds of diverse backgrounds -especially from the age of Alexander the Great- identified themselves as Greek, because of their culture and because of their language.
And I must emphasize here that culture and language go hand in hand. This is why four years ago the well-known Rassias Commission was mandated to investigate in depth the causes and problems associated with the preservation of our Greek language and culture here in the New World. You may recall that one of the most profound conclusions of the Rassias Report was that Greek Cultural Education must be pursued even when the Greek Language cannot be -whether it be for lack of instruction or instructors. This conclusion does not separate the language and the culture. Rather it affirms their connection! But what it does say is that one does not have to wait for fluency in the Greek language so that one can learn something of Greek culture!
Indeed, my friends, there is no room for parochialism or narrowness of vision in our quest to perpetuate our culture. The fact is that Greece is the mother of all western civilization. Greece is the fountainhead of the intellectual and aesthetic patrimony of the western world. I think that we Greek Orthodox sometimes feel a "disconnect" with the rest of our culture here in the Americas and in Europe because of our Orthodoxy! We are not part of the overwhelmingly large Catholic-Protestant majority. But remember, our Orthodox Faith lies at the root of these faith traditions even though there are many people on all sides who are unaware of this fact. Greek Orthodox believe, pray and worship as we have for two thousand years. We remain the core belief system of Christianity at-large, even as we sustain and give meaning to the ecumenical movement.
And if our Greek Orthodox Faith adheres to the roots of all versions of Christianity, let me assure you that our Hellenic Culture and Language equally retain their central position in the history of western civilization. Think of it! Without Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, without Sophocles or Thucydides or Phidias... where would our society, our culture, our arts, our science, our government be today? And if the vision of subsequent generations has expanded into new horizons, we must say with Sir Isaac Newton that it is because they have stood on the shoulders of these giants. Indeed, nearly every aspect of our civilization would be unthinkable without the fundamental building blocks of HELLINIKI PAIDEIA.
And yet there is more. The glory of the Golden Age of Greece was fused with the truth of the Gospel, and it achieved the pinnacle of spiritual beauty known as Byzantium. This spiritual glory lives on today in the Greek Orthodox people around the world. Add to this the literature, the music, the spirit of the re-born modern Greece, and you can see that our Hellenic treasures are as diverse and varied as the ages and lives that have passed through our beloved PATRIDA.
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My friends, I speak with such enthusiasm not because I believe that you need to be convinced of the value of language and culture, but because within the realm of our Foundation activities I see "how the fields are already white for harvest." I came here this evening to announce the inauguration of our new Foundation and -what is perhaps more important- to let you know that we have already began to "put our hands on the plough."
Now, if someone asks the question: "Why a new foundation?" The answer is simple: "Wrong question! The question should be, 'Why not more foundations?'"
This Foundation is one more effort designed to encourage, establish, and sustain programs and ideas that are working to preserve our glorious culture. This culture -and this is not to be underestimated- will be at risk unless significant remedial action is taken immediately. According to the Rassias Commission's most dire prediction, "Greek identity may well be lost in less than a generation." I therefore hope that you will all join me in this worthy and noble endeavor.
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Again, I thank you for your presence here this evening and the warm reception you have given me. I thank you for the rich manifestations of your love and respect. But above all, I thank our Lord for your commitment and faith to His Gospel and for your worthy efforts to preserve the glorious inheritance of our Hellenic Culture and pass it on to the generations to come.
May God grant that we will always be worthy of these precious treasures.
May God bless you and all your noble efforts!