New Jersey.- Former Cyprus Federation of America President Christopher Christodoulou, Th.D., passed away on April 13, 2009, at Morristown Memorial Hospital. A funeral service was held on Wednesday, April 22, 2009 at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church.
Christopher Christodoulou, Th.D. was born in Cairo, Egypt in 1920. His father Christos emigrated from Cyprus to Egypt as an orphan at a young age and his mother Charicleia was from the island of Crete. After graduating from the Greek High School in Suez, Egypt, he furthered his education in Alexandria where he lived in the famous Monastery of St. Sava. While studying he also worked as a proof reader and librarian at the Patriarchate of Alexandria.
In 1939, in recognition of his academic achievement and industrious nature, he received a scholarship from the Patriarchate of Alexandria to continue his studies at the Theological School at the University of Athens. While engrossed in his studies, Europe sank deeper into the horrors of World War II. Unable to remain idle while witnessing such tragic human suffering, Christopher volunteered his services to the Allied Forces and served as the communications operator at the 15th Greek Military Hospital for the Disabled of War.
To support himself as a student, Christopher used his self-taught skills as a stenographer to publishing his professorsʼ lecture notes for his fellow students at the Theological School where he graduated Summa Cum Laude.
In the fall of 1943 he was arrested by the Nazis and imprisoned in the Haidari concentration camp, on the outskirts of Athens, where he endured hard labor and torture. He was arrested for suspicion of spying against the Germans and for providing Greek and European Jews to gain false Christian identities for safe passage from Europe or to escape deportation to northern European concentration camps and almost certain death.
He spent five and a half brutal months in the concentration camp where, by the grace of God, he survived starvation, endured life threatening torture and narrowly escaped execution by firing squad after being forced at gun point to dig his own grave. He was one of only 25 out of more than 2,000 prisoners to survive malnutrition, torture or execution. Wearing the same tattered clothes that he had been wearing for nearly 6 months, the unshaven survivor, malnourished, barefoot and suffering from beri-beri disease came across an abandoned chapel on his way to Athens and said a prayer. On his way, a sympathetic bus driver stopped to pick up the newly released prisoner. In a display of humanity and compassion, the driver helped him onboard and asked, “brother, where can I take you?”
During the civil war in Greece which followed the Allied liberation from the Nazi occupation, Christopher was captured and escaped communist imprisonment. Like so many other prominent clergy at that time, he was forced to take refuge and hide underground where he spent many months with his college classmate and best friend, who would later become his deacon and the future President of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios III.
In 1944 he was ordained a deacon and served at the University Chapel in Athens. After being ordained a priest a few months later, he served as Chaplain of the 25th Greek Special Battalion of the Greek Commandos. This Battalion became famous in the Korean War effort and the movie, “The Glory Brigade”, which portrays the battalionʼs heroic participation with the Allied Forces. In recognition of his outstanding services and dedication to the military battalion, Christopher received a medal for distinguished services from the Chief of the Greek Armed Forces, General John Gennimatas.
In 1945, after his graduation with highest honors from the Theological School of the University of Athens, he was conferred the title of Archimandrite, the highest order of priesthood and entry into the candidacy of bishop, at a private service by the Archbishop and Regent of Greece Damaskenos. He then returned to Alexandria, Egypt and was appointed General Secretary and Chancellor of the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and all Africa. For his outstanding services to the Patriarchate he received the Gold Medal of St. Mark from the Patriarch of Alexandria Christopher II.
In 1947 he came to New York to study at the Union Theological Seminary and Teacherʼs College of Columbia University, where he received the degree of Master of Theology in Religious Education. He also served as pastor of St. BarbaraΥs Greek Orthodox Church in Manhattan, St. Demetrius Church in Jersey City, N.J. and, St. Spyridon in Washington Heights, the largest Greek Orthodox Church in North America.
From 1950 to 1955 he taught New Testament Greek, Liturgics and Christian Education at the St. Vladimir Russian Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York City. Among many articles, lectures, sermons and publications, he also authored the books “History of Stenography” in Greek and “Improving Christian Education in the Greek Orthodox Church of North and South America” in English.
In 1955, he decided to resign his position in the Church to marry Helen Dooros of Jersey City, who he met years earlier and in 1960 they had their first child. At this time, he received a private scholarship by the late Greek shipowner Constantine Goulandris and enrolled in the University of Munich where he received a doctorʼs degree in philosophy and theology. In addition to furthering his studies in one of the finest academic institutions in the world, Christopher wanted to confront and eliminate any personal ill-feelings he might have had against the German people as a result of his horrific WWII experiences and reaffirm his faith in all mankind. While in Germany, he also attended courses in the field of photography and the graphic arts at the German Institute for Graphic Arts. In 1957 he enrolled in the University of Perugia, Italy for graduate studies in education and psychology.
After his return from Europe in 1957 he secured a teaching position in the Manhattan School of Printing, while at the same time organized his own commercial printing companies, the Graphic Arts Laboratory and Creative Color Lithographers, Inc., both of which are still thriving today.
In 1974, the military invasion of the Republic of Cyprus by Turkish forces created havoc among its Greek Cypriot inhabitants. Thousands of innocent civilians were killed and about 200.000 became refugees in their own land. The need for rehabilitation was of the utmost urgency. Archbishop Iakovos, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Churches of North and South America, enlisted Christopher’s efforts once again and assigned him to direct the rehabilitation effort of the Archdiocese on behalf of the refugees.
Soon thereafter, the Archbishop and President of Cyprus, Makarios III, a former classmate and brotherly friend, asked Christopher to organize and direct two humanitarian organizations: The Cyprus Relief Fund and the Cyprus Childrenʼs Fund. Both Organizations were formed for the relief of displaced refugees and orphaned children. The international response to the appeals for help were enthusiastic and generous. Both organizations are still in existence from those founding days and have helped thousands of children and improved countless lives.
In 1975 he was elected and served as Supreme President of the Cyprus Federation of America, a prestigious national organization, known for its dedication to high principles and ideals. In 1998 he was selected from more than 37,000 nominees and was awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, which is widely recognized as the most prestigious award for immigrants or their offspring in the nation.
He remained active throughout his entire life, publishing essays and giving lectures and seminars in the Tri-State area. In 2005, he was awarded an honorary degree from Raritan Valley Community Collegeʼs Center for Holocaust Studies where he enlightened the scholars with his insights and experiences in the concentration camp and Greeceʼs underground effort to save Jews. In November 2008 he received the Cyprus Childrenʼs Fund Award for his philanthropic services to the people and children of Cyprus.
On Friday, April 10, 2009, he drove himself to work to share his usual good spirits with his friends and colleagues and on Monday the 12th he walked into Morristown Memorial Hospital with his two sons at his side. The next day, he went to sleep peacefully with the dignity and courage that characterized his life.
In addition to Greek and English he also spoke fluent Arabic, Italian, German and French.
He is survived by his wife Helen have two sons, James and Zenon, and three granddaughters Christina, Cipriana and Melina.
A KIND SOUL
On a personal note, I will never forget his highly emotional speech during the Greek Consulate General Holocaust Memorial in New York, two years ago. People were crying listening to this biblical man recalling his personal memories, in a very simple way, like a man who simply did his duty as a human being. (To find the text of his speech
Here is the epilogue of his speech:
“On clear nights when the weather is balmy and comfortable I often look up to the sky and see the millions of shining stars. I cannot help but wonder if those stars are there to remind us of the HOLOCAUST, of the millions of Jewish souls, who perished at the barbaric, atrocious and brutal hands of the Nazis.”
Just a week before his death, I had sent him by e-mail a picture of his son Zenon with Vice President Joe Biden, taken at the White House Ceremony. He replied immediately thanking me with the following kind message:
“Thank you so very much for sending me the picture of my son Zenon. It must have been taken at the White House reception on the occasion of the Greek Independence Day.
My older son James was on the Fox News with an interview for the Somalian piracy.
They captured his cargo ship with 28 crew members.
THANK YOU, THANK YOU.
With love and high esteem,
May his memory be eternal!