By Catherine Tsounis
“When good men die, their goodness does not perish,” – Euripides. A community makes or breaks a church. Worshippers beautify the service with their sincere religious faith. His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Church of America, accompanied by Deacon Aristidis Garinis, celebrated the liturgy for the third consecutive year on Sunday, August 3rd, at the Transfiguration of Christ Church in Mattituck, Long Island, New York. An inspired choir gave the performance of a lifetime. Their ill choirmaster, Demetrios “Jimmy” Talas passed away hours before at Peconic Bay Hospital, Riverhead. His Eminence said, Demetrios Talas left us to chant with the angels in Heaven.” The hymn, “Soson Imas Yie Theou” (Save Us, O Son of God) was sung with passion unheard of on former Sundays, in memory of their beloved choirmaster.
His Eminence gave a forceful, down to the point sermon. He opened his sermon by saying “We need a donor to donate a new sound system for a church with beautiful iconography,” he said. His Eminence donated his stipend an anonymous donor a $500 donation, Nicholas and Marcia Issaris S1,000 bringing a total donation of $1,800. The Parish Council is now in the process of repairing the sound system.
“Outer beauty will not help with our actions,” His Eminence explained. “We must metamorphosize our life. Society needs transformation. We must change things. The Holiday of the Transfiguration gives us a time to think of this message: we believe but must be faithful to HIM, We have been given the privilege of having the Orthodox faith and the universal value of Hellenism. All three presidents, Clinton, Bush and Obama, said ‘they understand our concerns of Cyprus, Patriarchate and Macedonia. Being carriers of Orthodoxy, Hellenism with concepts of freedom and democracy, we expect you to solve problems in America’. We have a tremendous responsibility of what we represent. God must assist us and have the duty to offer to American society.” Generations of men from the Greek Orthodox Church of America have given not money, but BLOOD in the Armed Forces, fighting popular and unpopular wars abroad and as martyrs of 9/11. American history shows the known and oral family history the unknown contribution of Greek-American soldiers to “Keep America Safe for Democracy”. The blessing of holy bread and memorials followed on the oversized, sacred tables of the Church.
Choir members come from Queens and Long island. They are primarily from St. Demetrios of Astoria, St. Demetrios of Jamaica, St. Nicholas Church of Flushing and several Long Island churches. Many vacation for the summer, while a few live all year round. Jimmy Talas, his family and friends come together every summer since the 1970’s to create an extraordinary summer choir. ”I am doing this for Jimmy,” said Cathy Zarbis. “I am a close personal friend of the family. Mrs., Zarbis, a nationally recognized choirmaster and former principal, has been vacationing in Mattituck since the 1970’s. Her Greek roots are from the island of Lemnos, opposite ancient Troy, and the Ionian island of Cephalonia. She was the former principal of P.s. 19, Queens, and a Principal Mentor for the New York City school system. She served as choir director of St. Nicholas Church of Flushing for thirty-four years.
My acquaintance with Jimmy Talas is from my friendship with his wife Parie and their daughter, Maria, a brilliant student of mine at the Transfiguration Summer Schools and former babysitter of my daughter. Parie, her sister, brother and relatives supported Jimmy in helping him create an extraordinary Byzantine choir in Queens and Mattituck. Jimmy and his friends gave of themselves to the Transfiguration Church from the 1970’s, never asking for anything in return. Jimmy was a proud person, who never wanted his photo taken or be given publicity for his community service. A deep pathos, sorrow now pervades the church atmosphere for the loss of a dedicated person. He gave pleasure to our members who looked forward to the summer choir Jimmy created.
“Our Beloved Brother in Christ Jimmy has been called home to God,” said Protopresbyter Constantine Makrinos. “His work on earth was finished. He has gone to receive his eternal reward. If it is true that he suffered these last couple weeks, it is also true, as St. Paul says, that, ‘The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that is to be revealed in us in the life to come.’ …Jimmy Talas was born in Jacksonville, Florida to Teologos and Meni Talas, who returned to Samos Island, where Jimmy grew up.”
Father Makrinos continued saying “Jimmy returned to the USA to continue his studies. In Virginia, as a member of the choir, he met Parie Cyprus, the love of his life. It was love at first site as attested by the 62 years of loving marriage. In 1968, they were blessed with the arrival of their daughter Maria. In time four grandchildren made his life even happier. He was so proud of his Grandchildren and their achievements both scholastically and in sports…He was a good friend to many people….Jimmy will be remembered by all who knew him for his intellect, his musical talents, his calm demeanor, his ever-present humor and his dedication to liturgical singing. Jimmy has sung as a choir director or choir member in numerous churches over the years: in Corona, N.Y.; Flushing, N.Y.; Hempstead, N.Y.; Jacksonville, Florida; West Palm Beach, Florida and Norfolk, Va., as a member of the Byzantine Choir. “Aionia Tou H Mnimi!” (May His Memory Be Eternal!).
The Vespers and Feast Day of the Transfiguration of Christ Church on Breakwater Road, Mattituck attracted over three hundred persons each day. On the August 5th evening Vespers Rev. Elias Nikolaou, St. Paraskevi Church, Greenlawn gave the keynote sermon in Greek, the predominant language of the community. “Life appears difficult and problematic,” he said. “Pray to God for comfort and hope. Look at Cross and feel God loved us. We are transformed.” Protopresbyter Constantine Makrinos was assisted by Rev. Sarantis Loulakis, St. Markella Church, Wantaugh; Rev. Elias Nikolaou, St. Paraskevi Church, Greenlawn, Rev.Vasilios Govits, All Saints Greek Orthodox Monastery of Calverton, Rev. Demetrios Calogredes, Kimisis Tis Theotokou Church, Port Jefferson, Rev. John Antonopoulos, Sts. Demetrios and Catherine Churches, Astoria; Rev. Constantine Lazerakis, Kimisis Church of the Hamptons; Rev. Dennis Strouzas and Deacon Nikolas Karloutsos of the Archangels Michael Church of Roslyn and Rev. Demetrios Ballas, Sts. Anargyroi, Taxiarchis and Gerasimos Church, Greenport, joined parish priest Rev. Constantine Makrinos to perform a memorable celebrated liturgy. The Sisters of the All Saints Greek Orthodoxy Monastery, Calverton attended. Archon Renos and Mary Ann Georgiou worshipped in the earlier service. A luncheon followed in the Church hall on August 6th.
Frankie Englesos of the Nafpactos, Central Greece part of the community, remembers his roots in the fighting spirit of his heroic grandfather, Fotios Parisis. “My papou (grandfather) fought in thee Greece Armed Forces in Asia Minor (1919-1922). He would tell us the Turks were gaining momentum and the Greek army was retreating. His army division was going to leave without him in Smyrna. Papou Fotios climbed the rope attached to the anchor to get onboard. The Great Powers caused the invasion and control of small countries.”
The Transfiguration Church holiday inspired reminiscences by the Epirotan Greeks. John Antoniou recalls “I was part of the Military Police of the Greek Army. I would not talk and just look at all as an M.P.” Tommy and Eleni Pando and their four children and friends are all year round residents of Mattituck with roots in Astoria, New York and Northern Epirus. “My first cousin is Pyrros Dimas,” they said. “We are from Himara, a Greek town. Greek was spoken only at home. We are Greek Orthodox Christians.” Pyrros Dimas is a retired Greek weightlifter, considered one of the greatest of all time. He is a three times Olympic champion who electrified the world with his unbelievable three gold medals. According to William H. Samonides, Ph.D. in “An Account of Asia Minor Tragedy”, July August 2012, Orthodox Observer, “At the negotiating table (Treaty of Lausanne, July 25,1923) following the war, Greece lost all its territorial gains from World War I, including…….and Northern Epirus. Tommy Pando and his related families in Mattituck were the Greeks left in Albania, but never forgotten by their fellow Epirotans in free Greece, America, Canada and Australia.
‘I am a Vietnam Veteran, one of those condemned by Jane Fonda and called baby killers,” said Peter Loucas, a summer resident and member of the Transfiguration community. “I didn’t want to be drafted. I had to serve my country. I did not believe in the war. I could have escaped to Canada or gone back to Cyprus to escape my draft obligation. Six years later, draft dodgers in Canada were given full amnesty and allowed to come home. Everyone should enter the army. It gives a person a sense of responsibility, enhances survival instinct and makes one a mature person. I believe in America. Now Vietnam and America are good friends. The Afghanistan veterans are faced with similar problems as our generation. Peter Loucas and Erasmia Theodore are from Asgata, Cyprus. Erasmia is a folk Artist who is having an Art Exhibition from eptember through October at the Southold Town Library. The public is invited to the grand opening on Sunday, October 7th.
“Cypriot fighters from Asgata, Paphos and other areas played an active role in the Balkan Wars and the Macedonian Struggle for Independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912,” said former Consul General Martha Mavromatis at a the Pan Macedonian lecture on October 30th, 2005. “They fought with valor and went back to Cyprus to relate their experiences.” Asgata village is known for heroism. Their immigrants were some of the founders of the Transfiguration Church of Mattituck.
Nick and Fotini Economou, Demetrios and Mersina Stagias are retired members of the community. They are from the Greece heartland: Arcadia, Peloponnese, homeland of the Kokotronis and Nikitaras freedom fighting families. They are known for honor and patriotism first. ‘I spent thirty years as a Parish Council member, President, Treasurer of Sts. Constantine and Helen Church in Jackson Heights. I served as president of the “The Geros tou Morea” chapter of the Pan Arcadian Federation of America. I ended legal fights, united the members to move forward. When I left as President, I left behind a strong membership, stable and economically strong. The role of the island of Chios in the making of the Transfiguration Church was explored previously in the article: Kambia: Profile of a Chios Village and Society.
Eleni and Bill Condos, immigrants from Karpenisi, Central Greece, shared their Hellenistic philosophy of “ecclesia means people. The Church belongs to all. This is our religion. The Age of voluntarism is over. A Greek proverb says ‘The river goes forward not backwards’.” Fanny and Takis Zicopoulos, from Crete and Epirus, are retired educators and professional from St. Demetrios Church in Astoria. Mrs. Zicopoulos taught Modern Greek to generations of students at St. Demetrios of Astoria Church School, who now have homes in Mattituck. They remember when the beaches and streets around the Church were filled with young Greek-American families.
His Eminence was welcomed with flowers by children of the Syriodis and Zachariadis families. Photography assistance for this article was given by Stavroula Raia of the Kimisis Church of the Hamptons.
The 2012 Parish Council Board, Committee Members and staff include: Pantelis Syriodis, President; Charles Pafitis, 1st Vice President; Alex Mavrikos, 2nd Vice President; Mary Kavourias, Treasurer; Virginia Tripolitis, Corresponding Secretary; the late Vasilios Raptis, Recording Secretary; Dino Demetriades, Assistant Treasurer; Vasilios Frangias and volunteer Despina Demetriades; George Giannoukakis; Caliope Kentrotas; Sophia Lahana; Elias Liakaris; Andreas Markakis; Irene Markotsis; Eleftherios Mourounas; George Moustakos; Michael Pappas; Festival and July 4th, Costas Diakovasilis; Nick Kavourias; Charlie Pafitis; Elias Liakaris; Vasilios Frangias; Rocky Point House, Costas Diakovasilis; Vasilios raptis; George Moustakas; George Giannoukakis, Church Building, Pete Syriodis; Elias Liakaris; George Giannoukakis; Elias Tripolitis; Chanter, George Zachariadis, Fotis Papadatis and visiting cantor Peter Pappas; Choir Director, James Talas; Altar boys, Anastasios Kassapidis, Pantelis Pando, George and Emmanuel Moustakos and Nick Neocleous.
The 2012 Philoptohos Board are the following: Irene Nanos, President; Irene Moustakos, 1st Vice President; Sophia Lahana, 2nd Vice President; Chrystalla Stamatis, Treasurer; Katina Mihaltses, Corresponding Secretary; Lucretia Kratsios, Recording Secretary; Harriet Zannikos, Assistant Treasurer; Voula Anastasiades, Raffles and former President Cynthia Pylarinos. For more information, call the Transfiguration Church at 631 298-9652 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.