Operation Housewarming - Boston

This week our guest blogger is Metropolis of Boston Philoptochos Board member Eleni Stamboulis who writes about the wonderful work being done in the Metropolis to help provide basic necessities for our veterans. It is something she hopes will be adopted nationwide as the need is great and our thelisi (want) to help those who need it most is in abundance. Our veterans have shown courage and strength and Eleni explains how we can show compassion, respect, and support.
As the philanthropic arm of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, outreach continues to be a major component of the Philoptochos mission.   Under the guidance and counseling of His Eminence Metropolitan Methodios, the Metropolis of Boston Philoptochos together with all the Philoptochos Chapters and in collaboration with our clergy, we have adopted a new and on-going project to provide support to homeless veterans in the VA New England Healthcare System.  The project is called “Operation Housewarming” and involves providing housewarming baskets to veterans transitioning to independent living. 

This initiative began over Christmas 2012 when His Eminence Metropolitan Methodios and several members of the Metropolis Philoptochos Board visited the Bedford, MA facility and delivered care packages for each of the residents preparing for transition.  Subsequently representatives of the Veterans Administration (VA) attended a meeting of the clergy at the Metropolis to introduce the needs of the veterans.  More recently, VA representatives attended the 2013 Biennial Metropolis of Boston Philoptochos Conference to educate the Philoptochos community regarding the veteran’s needs.  

In New England, the largest program is based at the VA Medical Center in Bedford, MA and the second largest is located at the VA Medical Center in Brockton, MA.  In understanding the enormity/complexity of the homeless program, we are beginning this project in coordination with VA Leadership to assist the veteran population at the Bedford and Brockton locations with a goal to expand the project throughout New England.

Similarly, our parishes are spread throughout New England.  We felt it prudent therefore that the implementation process be made incrementally beginning with all the Chapters in Massachusetts followed with New Hampshire; Connecticut; Rhode Island; Vermont and Maine.     

As you may know, the needs of our veterans are significant and unfortunately all cannot be fulfilled by the VA System.  It is heart-wrenching to watch our men and women leave to defend and protect our country only to return home and be lost.   The scars of battle are not always visible and often lead individuals down a dark and lonely path.  We owe our veterans a debt of gratitude for their sacrifice so that we may enjoy the liberties that we have.  It is in this spirit that I ask you to join the Metropolis of Boston in extending a helping hand to our nation’s homeless veterans. 

Want to know how your Chapter can participate? 

The Veterans Health Administration is comprised of 23 VA Integrated Service Networks of care nationwide.  Although Chapters can contact their local VA facility it is best to work with the respective VA Network Leadership in your area.  Initial contact should be coordinated by the respective Metropolis Philoptochos with the Office of the Network Director for the particular VA Network.  The appropriate network resources and other information are available via this website:  http://www.va.gov/directory/guide/division_flsh.asp?dnum=1.

The office of the Network Director will then designate the appropriate office within their organization to facilitate the effort.  Such programs/projects are typically coordinated via the VA Voluntary Service Program Director for the respective VA Network who in turn will help to promote the project with the appropriate individuals at the local VA facility(s) levels.  

If you embark on this project, let us know. We welcome questions and news of your progress and want to support you along the way. You can contact Vivian at the National Philoptochos office at vsiempos@philoptochos.org.  

-Eleni Stamboulis
Metropolis of Boston Philoptochos Board Member

Three or One?

At the 2012 National Philoptochos Convention in Phoenix, AZ, the St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church Philoptochos Chapter in Albany, NY was charged with working on a Chapter Challenge that they will be presenting at the 2014 Convention. 

When Jan Gallas, President of the St. Sophia Chapter, received the assignment she immediately hit the ground running and invited her fellow Philoptochos sisters from Troy and Schenectady to join her. It wasn’t long before this challenge became less a challenge and more a time to bond, laugh, and grow. They have since worked together on other projects and have even started a knitting club. 

In the following post, the three Chapter Presidents offer their perspective of the close relationship that they’ve developed:


The Ladies Philoptochos Society Chapters of St. Sophia, St. George and St. Basil
embarked on a remarkable new journey during this past year which began and ended with a social event open to all three chapters.  During the year, common goals were established and new friendships were forged.  Sharing ideas brought forth new energy and vitality while solutions were sought for common challenges.  Perhaps most important we discovered we are not islands unto ourselves – we are not alone.

The Capital District area of upstate New York is blessed to have three Greek Orthodox parishes less than 30 minutes apart.  As soon as the April showers pass and the tulips bloom in Albany’s Washington Park all thoughts turn to Greek festivals.  St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church in Albany leads the way in May when the parishioners welcome thousands through their doors for the largest of the three festival events located in the tri-city area.  It’s a busy time in the St. Sophia parish as festival preparations must take place during Holy Week and Pascha.  Kourambiethes and finikia are baked and packed along with hundreds, if not thousands, of other delicious pastries.  No sooner does the aroma from the souvlaki grill disappear and the music is a distant echo in the wind, when it becomes time to travel a few miles north along the Hudson River and across the Collar City Bridge.  St. Basil Greek Orthodox Church in Troy holds its annual festival the first weekend in June.  Now everyone is starting to get in the mood for delicious Greek cuisine.  This is another opportunity to fill up on moussaka, pastitsio and lamb followed by homemade baklava and washed down with strong Greek coffee and to enjoy more Greek music and watch youngsters wearing colorful costumes perform the intricate steps of traditional folk dances from the various regions of Greece.  Festival goers who were too shy to get up and dance in Albany are now more willing to take a chance to try the dances.  Opa!  As the lazy days of summer approach, it’s time for everyone to relax and enjoy the long awaited sunshine and warm weather which seems all too fleeting following the long and dreary winter.  Well, almost.  Crossing back over the Hudson River and heading west the women of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Schenectady are busy scouring the parks and roadsides looking to pick the perfect grape leaves before they get too large and tough.  You can hear the women say, “Get the ones underneath where they don’t get burned by the sun!”  They will pick 5,000 before the end of June as they begin
preparations for the last of the tri-city Greek festivals which takes place in September on the weekend following Labor Day.  By then, three months will have passed since the St. Sophia and St. Basil festivals.  Everyone is eager to get one final taste of a delicious gyro or a piece of mouth-watering spanakopita because soon it will be time to fold up the tents and wait for the spectacular colors of autumn leaves.  Friends from the three parishes have helped each other with preparations, volunteered to work on festival days and simply enjoyed being together as they share a meal and rest their tired feet!

As members of our home parishes it is easy to describe how “we” view our festivals
and what they mean to “us”.  It brings our individual parishes and the entire Greek-American community together.  We feel great satisfaction as we all work toward a common goal while celebrating our Greek heritage and Orthodox faith.  We greet friends from near and far.  Quite often, distant family members return “home” to revisit fond memories of the past and childhoods gone by.  Our children watch us and learn what it means to be Greek.  They are taught to take pride in their ethnicity.

However, it is a bit more elusive to understand what our Greek festivals mean to the community – to the outsiders, if you will.  In late August and early September of 2011, many upstate communities were devastated by two natural disasters – Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.  Following months of preparation, the parishioners of St. George proceeded with festival plans unsure of what to expect.  Perhaps the festival would provide a brief respite to our neighbors who were dealing with devastating loss.  As a community coming together, perhaps it would be a reminder to hold near and dear everything that is most precious to us – our family, our friends, and our faith.

The day after the St. George festival closed, an unsolicited e-mail was received in the church office.  The sender was unknown to anyone in the parish.  The subject line was “Thank You All So Very Much”.  The message was filled with observations that most of us take for granted.  Through the eyes of a stranger – a very astute one at that – it was like seeing ourselves for the very first time.

A brief excerpt which says it all:
Fortunately the recent weather related destruction did not interfere with your Greek Festival, a wonderful gift to the entire community.

... You create joy, and you share it with whoever crosses your threshold.  These are wonderful gifts, things that seemed to have disappeared from the America in which I grew up.  It makes me very glad that I chose to move to Schenectady recently.  I am very grateful to you, my new neighbors, for the magic of last Saturday.  I wish we could bottle your spirit and distribute it to the rest of our soul sick country, but it is enough that you keep it alive.

You can substitute the city of Schenectady with Albany or Troy or Syracuse – or any city across the United States where there is a Greek Orthodox Church.  The spirit of the Greek culture is alive and well.  So I ask are we three, or are we one?

-Olga A. Delorey, Chapter President
St. George Church
Schenectady, NY
At St. Basil Greek Orthodox Church, the Greek festival is a united effort. Being a small church community, we welcome friends to assist us in making the festival a success and it has been.  
Members from neighbor Greek Churches, notably St. George Church in Schenectady and St. Sophia Church in Albany, have volunteered their services to help. Many of them have been Philoptochos members who have become our close friends.
The festival has a happy, festive air with Greek music, periodic Greek dancing, and cheerful volunteers who are eager to greet and assist visitors. To better acquaint visitors with our religion and our customs we offer church tours. From what we hear, our food is especially appealing.  Almost all of the food is prepared by our parishioners, homemade Greek food.  We often receive requests for the recipes. 
My personal involvement has been in preparation of some of the pastries and volunteering at the craft sale. I am happy to meet new people and explain our heritage, bringing our Greek community closer to our larger community. 
-Christine Dalapas, Chapter President
St. Basil Greek Orthodox Church
Troy, NY

Our St. Sophia Greek Festival in Albany, NY celebrates over 40 years of
camaraderie this year both amongst ourselves and those who attend religiously year after year.  We have made a name for ourselves over time- people call weeks in advance requesting information.  This year we added an extra day, the festival ran for four days with increased attendance.

Our ladies make much of the pastries and most meal items are homemade.  It's delightful to work for weeks on end with friends preparing for our weekend events.

We have three Greek Orthodox churches in the Capital Area (Albany, Schenectady and Troy).  Each Festival is different in its own way with specialty items on the menu.  We all enjoy supporting each other in our endeavors.  It is always nice to go to a Greek festival where you can truly enjoy friends.  It is a special time.

On Sunday of our festival this year, we had Philoptochos members present from all three churches along with a National Philoptochos Board member.  You can be sure we took the opportunity for a photo op.

Greek Festivals are a wonderful way of reliving our Greek heritage and sharing it with others.  Working together is rewarding to all of us.
-Jan Gallas, Chapter President
St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church
Albany, NY

Halki Awakening: The Big Picture

To conclude our coverage of Constantinople and our focus on The Theological School of Halki, our guest blogger this week is a long-time National Board Member, Legal Advisor to the National Philoptochos Society, and Chair of the Philoptochos Pilgrimage, Anita Kartalopoulos who describes the vision for Halki beyond its use as a seminary. Mrs. Kartalopoulos and her husband Stamati Kartalopoulos, Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, have visited Constantinople and the Patriarchate 15 times.
Most of us who hear the word “Halki” experience mixed feelings: we feel pride that Halki, one of the foremost theological seminaries in the world, is part of our Ecumenical Patriarchate but also sorrow that this great educational institution remains closed.  Halki is close to all of our hearts and because of its importance is one of the foremost causes of the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate who ceaselessly champion the reopening of its doors as a seminary.
 For those of us who have visited Halki in the past, we experienced a place in a state of ‘suspended animation’—waiting for the moment when it will awaken and be filled again with seminarians focused on theological study and who seek the greater honor and glory of God.
On June 12th, the participants in the Philoptochos Pilgrimage to the Ecumenical Patriarchate had the opportunity to visit Halki.  Traveling by boat and with great
anticipation, we were accompanied by His Eminence Metropolitan Elpidophoros who for the last two years has been responsible for Halki.  He shared with us his experiences since being assigned as the Abbot of the Monastery of Aghia Triada at Halki---and so much more.  An exciting story of revival, hope and action unfolded.  We listened in amazement and anticipation.

The buggy ride to the gates of the property was filled with smiles and laughter. For many of us, our last buggy ride had been in Central Park. What we witnessed upon arrival at
Halki’s gate, however, was new for those of us who had been there before.  Though the property itself was always bucolic and beautiful, this time it was different.  The gardens were well-manicured, the paths and surrounding areas refurbished and refreshed.  The main building itself had interior renovations and sparkle…light everywhere.  There were volunteers updating the library collections, imaging documents on the computer system and doing the kinds of things that are associated with active institutions.  There were many more people there than we normally encountered—monks, nuns, and tourists—lots of activity.  Truly, the place was humming!

We visited the church, venerated the icons and were so pleased to learn that Holy Week and Easter were celebrated there with many faithful from Greece and Turkey.  Since it was the day before the feast of the Ascension, we too sang Christos Aneste in that beautiful place.

We entered into the seminary building and in the beautiful main hall continued our visit
with His Eminence Metropolitan Elpidophoros.  There he told us of his assignment to Halki, of his desire to see the doors of the seminary open again and his willingness to work tirelessly for that day to come.  He told us that he was unwilling to watch the property sit idle until the seminary would be permitted to reopen.  He said, ‘The Monastery was not closed by the government, so I decided to revive the Monastery.  We now have four monks, one of whom is about to be ordained a deacon, in a matter of days.’  We met the wonderful young monk, Galanos, whose ordination was only days away, as well as the other monks of the newly re-functioning monastery.

‘Halki was not closed as a center for conferences,’ His Eminence further explained, ‘so in consultation with the University of Salonika College of Architecture, a plan for an environmentally-sensitive modern conference center has been developed and reviewed
by the Synod. I would like to share it with you.’  He showed us the architectural drawings of the proposed conference center, light-filled, hope-filled and in complete harmony with the existing structures.  Clearly, the rest of the Halki picture was being revealed.  This Metropolitan was not content with a Halki that was merely a ‘sleeping beauty’—but was seeking to revive the facility and embark on a 21st century mission.

He went on to tell us ‘we need the participation of women if we are to succeed.’ He
explained that given the fact that the property houses a monastery for monks, a location for women’s housing would be necessary.  A near-by property has been identified that will fulfill this need.  Undaunted by the challenges of obtaining and renovating the property, this energy-filled clergyman, enlightened by boundless faith is focused on this vision. 

The Halki picture - is a new more expansive picture than that which existed in the recent
past.  While the mission of reopening the seminary continues unabated, another parallel mission exists.  It was unveiled to us by the dynamic Metropolitan who is today entrusted with the care and nurturing of this jewel of the faith.  We were blessed to have been shown this hopeful, expansive vision and and thankful that we will have the chance to help further this mission: the opportunity to participate in the ‘Halki Awakening.’
                                                                  -Anita Kartalopoulos, National Board Member

To view pictures of the proposed conference center at Halki, please visit this website: http://www.koolnews.gr/diethni/etsi-tha-ginei-i-theologiki-sxoli-tis-xalkis/

The Hope: An End To The Religious Freedom Chasm In Turkey

Guest blogger, Cary J. Limberakis, D.M.D., is the husband of Philoptochos National Board member Alexis D. Limberakis who recently returned from the Philoptochos pilgrimage to the Ecumenical Patriarchate.  They have witnessed first hand the disposition of the Theological School of Halki during their visits there. Dr. Limberakis is an Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle and Regional Commander of the Philadelphia region. 

Emblematic of the longstanding and pernicious religious freedom deficit in Turkey, the Halki School of Theology was forcibly shut down over 42 years ago by the Turkish authorities and has been shuttered ever since.  Despite innumerable raised-then-dashed hopes over the ensuing decades, it appears we are no closer to the actual reopening of the only local Orthodox Seminary of the Ecumenical Patriarchate than we were when it first closed, although that could change.
 The Seminary, located on one of the beautiful Princes' Islands in the Sea of Marmara off the coast of Constantinople and specifically on the grounds of the Monastery of the Holy Trinity founded by Saint Photios the Great in the ninth century, has graduated numerous Orthodox luminaries since 1844 when it formally opened including Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, +Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, +Archbishop Iakovos of North and South America and Saint Chrysostomos of Smyrna.  However, today, the classrooms remain empty and the library consisting of an extraordinary collection of theological manuscripts and books remains little used.
On his very first trip abroad, the newly inaugurated President Barack Obama on April 6, 2009 stated "For democracies cannot be static -- they must move forward. Freedom of religion and expression lead to a strong and vibrant civil society that only strengthens the state, which is why steps like reopening Halki Seminary will send such an important signal inside Turkey and beyond (emphasis added)."  Prior to that, Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton at the very highest levels of American diplomacy sought to have the Seminary reopened.  Most recently, Secretary of State John Kerry has brought the issue up on his several visits to Turkey. 
The Archons of America under the leadership of Archbishop Demetrios have formulated a multifaceted domestic and international strategy to reopen Halki, as well as address the other specific components that comprise the religious freedom deficit* that has raised the international consciousness of the religious freedom crisis in Turkey, but thus far has not been successful in opening the hallowed doors of Halki.  Archon presentations before the White House, Congress, the State Department, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, each of the 50 State Legislatures in the United States, the European Union, the European Court of Human Rights, at Europe's largest human rights meetings at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and with Turkish government leaders including Prime Minister Erdogan have not even cracked the doors open.   
Yet, as Orthodox Christians, we remain optimistic that the religious freedom chasm that exists in Turkey will be addressed and we are beginning to see some signs of that: the confiscated Patriarchal Orphanage has been returned to the Ecumenical Patriarchate by the government complying to a unanimous decision handed down by the European Court of Human Rights.  Other properties are beginning to be returned back to the Church and other religious minorities via a laborious and time consuming administrative process.  However, as we have been accustomed to observe, whenever the Turkish government takes a small positive step, often times it is offset by a negative step, and in this case by the ongoing attempts of some Turkish parliamentarians to reopen Agia Sophia as a  practicing mosque. 
The Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate will never, never give up its struggle to seek complete and unfettered religious freedom for the Holy and Great Mother Church of Constantinople, until the day the bells freedom can be heard around the world emanating from the Saint George Patriarchal Cathedral located at the Phanar.

                                                                              Cary J. Limberakis, DMD
                                                                              Archon Aktouarios
                                                                              Regional Commander - Philadelphia

To learn more on the Ecumenical Patriarchate, visit the following websites: 

*The Five Components of the Religious Freedom Crisis in Turkey

1.  Lack of legal personality: in the eyes of the Turkish government, the Ecumenical Patriarchate does not exist as a bonafide legal entity
2.  Government interference in the election of the Ecumenical Patriarchate
3.  Forcible closure of Halki Seminary in 1971, the only local Orthodox School of Theology of the Ecumenical Patriarchate
4.  Loss of property rights, although this issue is just beginning to be addressed
5.  Nonrecognition of the title "Ecumenical," a canonical, ecclesiastical and historical title used by the entire world since the sixth century, except by the modern Republic of Turkey