By Catherine Tsounis
Organized religion is in turmoil with individual problems. The Asian Tsunami Catastrophe, Iraq War and economy have made a negative impression on Americans. On the other hand, a movement to rediscover one’s roots is taking place among the second and third generations. Many want to reclaim the positive values of their immigrant heritage.
Rev. John Lardas of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Flushing, New York searched for his roots. He discovered his immigrant heritage in the Greek Orthodox Church. He is a third generation Greek-American from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a steel mill region. In the 1900’s, Greeks and Eastern Europeans immigrated to Pennsylvania, finding work in the steel mills. Father John, as he is known to his parishioners, grew up in a home where English was the dominant language. His father, Kemon, is a second generation Greek American artist who works at the Carnegie Museum. His mother, Kalliope, manages the museum’s gift shop, raising three children. He grew up in an independent middle class American society.
Father John’s life changed as a teenager. He decided to go back to his immigrant roots. “While in High School, I felt a calling to become a priest on Holy Thursday during the Procession of the Holy Cross at St. Nicholas Cathedral.” He became a reader for Metropolitan Maximos. Father John served as a Sunday School teacher, G.O.Y.A. advisor and counselor at Camp Nazareth. He had a major obstacle to overcome in his quest to become a priest: learn Modern Greek.
“I wanted to learn Greek. The only way was to be in a Greek speaking environment,” Father John believes. I decided to spend a whole summer in my grandmother’s village of Vrakades, Ikaria. For two month, I spoke, read and even thought in Greek. English never entered my mind.” Father John had focus, and determination. He became fluent in conversation and knowledge of Modern Greek.
The Flushing priest was educated at the University of Pittsburgh with a Bachelor of Science in Education in 1987. Father John completed his Master of Divinity with honors at Holy Cross School of Theology in 1991. While a student at Holy Cross, Father John participated in the Ride for Life, which was a bike tour across the country to raise money for Cooley’s anemia. He served on the Student Government and was the senior class president and lay-out editor for the yearbook from 1989-90.
Fr. John worked at St. Basil’s Academy from 1991-95. He served as Dean of Students and Chaplain. During his time at St. Basil, he was ordained to the Deaconate by Metropolitan Maximos on September 11, 1993. Father John was ordained into the Priesthood by Bishop Philotheos on October 3, 1993. He also served as the Orthodox Chaplain to the Orthodox Cadets of West Point Academy, and was Co-Director of Camp St. Basil.
From 1995 through 1998, Fr. John served as an assistant at the parish of St. Nicholas in Flushing, New York under the pastorship of the Very Rev. George Passias and the Very Rev. Paul Palesty. His direct responsibilities were the G.O.Y.A, Joy and YAL, teaching the 1st, 3rd through 5th grade classes at the William Spyropoulos Day School, Bible Study, Hospital Ministry, along with a very busy liturgical and sacramental life.
In the year 1998, Father John was transferred to the St. Nicholas Parish in Troy, Missouri as the pastor. After two years, he returned to the St. Nicholas Parish in Flushing, NY. Since returning to St. Nicholas, he has been active in helping to establish The Joy soccer program for the Church, the children’s involvement in the Archdiocese Olympics for Joy and Goya.
In 2004, Fr. John was appointed by Archbishop Demetrios to be the spiritual father of the National Young Adult Conference. He is married to Eleni Paxos of St. Nicholas, Flushing, New York and they currently have three children, Vasilios who is 8, Maria who is 6 and Kemon who is 2.
Reverent Father John Lardas celebrated his tenth anniversary of ordination to the priesthood in the fall of 2004. The Philoptohos society of St. Nicholas Church honored Father John for his unique ten year ministry at their annual fundraising dinner on October 14th, 2004 at the Chateau Briand, in Carle Place, New York. “Having the church celebrate my 10th Anniversary, gave me the opportunity to reflect on my calling to the priesthood,” he said. “St. Nicholas has truly been a Church that has given me the practical opportunity for an ongoing education, liturgically, theologically and linguistically I enjoy my weekly Bible Study Program with our youth. Power Point presentations help make modern the eternal and ancient word of G_D.” Father John is extremely computer literate, creating original power point presentations with colorful graphics. His use of a proxima projector makes his lessons more meaningful to large audiences. His library of power point presentations can be utilized as a teaching resource for orthodoxy throughout the nation.
The Assistant Pastor credits his success to his talented wife, Presbytera Eleni. “My Presbytera Eleni stands by me,” he explained. “We met at St. Basil Academy. She was a volunteer helping the children.” She is a graduate at St. John’s University in Computer Science. She has a Master’s degree of Education in Early Childhood.
Rev. John Lardas is a smiling, direct, sincere person who went back to his roots. He learned Modern Greek and became a Greek Orthodox priest that embodies the best of Christianity and Hellenism. Rediscovering his heritage made him into a positive person. American college students are rediscovering their ethnic and religious heritage, becoming strong, positive personalities.