With Businessman George Tsounis and Helen Psaras – Photo: Dimitrios Panagos
By Constantine S. Sirigos, TNH Staff Writer, The National Herald, April 5-11, 2014
MANHATTAN – When the clouds hovering above Manhattan saw the Greeks marching up Fifth Avenue were undaunted by the early drizzle, they relented, making for a chilly but dry celebration of the 193rd anniversary of Greek Independence. The weather was not ideal, but thousands were on hand, including New York’s new Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Parade Day began with the traditional Doxology after the Divine Liturgy at the Holy Trinity Archdiocesan Cathedral, where there must have been prayers for good weather. The drizzle during the pre-parade reception at the Pierre Hotel hosted by restaurateur Tasos Manessis, had stopped.
Manessis began by welcoming the guests and requesting a moment of silence for the heroes and heroines of 1821, including American philhellenes. The dignitaries then made their way to the reviewing stands, which were only half-filled this year due to fears of worse weather, but enthusiastic crowds lined the blocks between 63rd and 79th Streets. Cheers erupted as horses and riders of the NYPD Mounted Color Guard moved forward, followed by the banner of the Parade’s organizers, the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater
The Honorary Battalion was led by Archbishop Demetrios of America, Federation President Elias Tsekerides, co-Grand Marshals U.S. Senator Charles Schumer and Ambassador-Designee to Norway George Tsunis, Parade Chairman Petros Galatoulas, other parade officials, American elected officials, and other dignitaries. The First Battalion is always preceded by the Lavaron of 1821, the banner of the Kalavritan Fraternity and the honor of being the first of many marching bands belonged to that of the Greek School of Plato from Brooklyn.
LOVE FOR THE STUDENTS
Mayor de Blasio followed at the head of the huge flag that has flown on the Acropolis, borne by top students of the area’s Greek schools. The students garnered many cheers, but the loudest of all were for the Evzones, Greece’s Presidential Guard.
Other professional community organizations like the Hellenic Medical Society, the Hellenic Lawyers Association, and police and firemen were also there in force. Their members braved the weather multiple times as they also marched with their parishes and regional groups. Sunshine or not, the spectators were thrilled to be there to cheer them on: Georgia Galiatsatos- Kaparos of the Archangel Michael Church of Port Washington, NY said “it’s a very important and special day for our family to bring the children and my Goddaughters to remember those who fought for us to gain our freedom from the Ottoman Empire.”
Virtually every parish and regional organization in the New York area (and St. Sophia Church members all the way from Albany) was represented by people marching behind banners or riding on floats, but most heartening were the local high schools’ and colleges’ Hellenic societies. The first students to march were from St. Basil’s Academy, led by Director Fr. Costas Sitaras. Hundreds of Greek day school students looking sharp in their uniforms streamed up Fifth Avenue. The two biggest schools, the Cathedral of St. Demetrios of Astoria, which also has the America’s only Greek high school, and the William Spiropoulos School of St. Nicholas in Flushing marched behind their parishes’ floats.
Students of the Valiotis Day Schools as graced their float, Holy Cross of Whitestone, and school banners announced A. Fantis of Brooklyn, the Bronx’s Greek American Institute, The Cathedral school, the Goulandris- Tsolainos School of St. Spyridon, the Kaloidis school of Holy Cross and the Hellenic Classical Charter School in Brooklyn. Two of the cultural groups delighted the crowds, the Greek American Folklore Society with their authentic costumes, including the Greek Warriors and Myrmidons – Living History Group, in full battle regalia, looking like they just stepped off the movie set for 300.
Many organizations were grouped by regions, like the Cyprus group – which carried numerous banners expressing outrage over the 40 year-long Turkish occupation, and the Pontian float with signs depicting May 19 as Pontian Genocide Remembrance Day. Every year the Greek-Americans appreciate the solidarity expressed by the float of the Knights of St. Vartan-Armenian Fraternal organization. The Federation of Sterea Ellas- Central Greece, the Cretan Societies of NY and NJ, and groups from Epiros had floats, as did the Federation of Laconian Societies.
Macedonian groups followed the Kastorian Society float and the spectators were impressed with the beautiful costumes of the Sons and Daughters of Alexander the Great Greek Dance Group. Federation of Dodecanese Societies members were grouped around the float of the Nisyrian Society, and the Cephalonia Federation Float bore representatives of the organizations that have been busy raising funds for earthquake relief.
Two of Astoria’s major religious institutions marched, crowned by the students of their schools, the Sacred Monastery of St. Irene Chrysovalantou, and the Holy Metropolis of G.O.C. of America and their dependent parishes, including St. Markella Cathedral. Every year five parishes from Brooklyn and Staten Island unite to sponsor a float, and the New Jersey Metropolis sent one with its many parishes and organizations, some of which had their own floats. They are usually led by Metropolitan Evangelos, but this year he had to attend to official duties in Constantinople.
The float of AHEPA, the largest Greek-American organization, drew cheers from its many members and friends as it carried Miss AHEPA and her ladies-in-waiting and was followed by marchers from Districts 5,6, and 7. Commercial groups with floats included Fage Yogurt, Atlantic Bank, and Investors Bank whose staffers, dancing on their float, displayed some of the Parade’s best kefi.
The Pan Gregorian of America float carried an important message that was expressed by many throughout the weekend: Unity = Success. Cosmos TV had a float, and the many fans of the Greek soccer team Olympiakos always get excited when theirs appeared. Fun and philanthropy were well-represented by the floats of the Hellenic Times Scholarship Fund, whose 2014 Gala will be held on May 10, and the Carnival of Love Foundation, which supports organizations that benefit children.
Four young women, Despina Katsigiannis, Haroula Scouaras, and Despina and Anna Galatoulas, told TNH “it’s overwhelming. We’re all happy that regardless of the weather there was a great turnout.: Then latter two are very proud of the work of their father, Parade Chairman Galatoulas. Katherine Boulukos said, “I’ve come every year ever since I was a little girl.” She has been working to establish a much-needed Greek museum in New York. “We have to preserve these organizations that are 100 years old. We have to preserve their stories too.”
The Parade’s lively spirit was embodied through its indefatigable and well-prepared announcers, Anthoula Katsimatides, Petros Fourniotis, Nancy Biska, and Panos Stavrianos. They were lucky it did not rain after all, but parade goers noted they really should be given a tent. Live TV coverage on WWOR Channel 9 was again underwritten by John Catsimatidis and was hosted by Ernie Anastos, Nicole Petallides, and Nick Gregory. Although they reportedly left early, supporters of the far right Golden Dawn Party, whose leaders have been imprisoned in Greece, stood together in their distinctive black t-shirts, disturbing many who saw them or heard of their presence.
At the Pierre reception, the politicians included Rep. Carolyn Maloney, co-Founder of the Congressional Hellenic Caucus. She pledged her continued support for Greece and Cyprus and said she was certain they would overcome their troubles.
NY State Senator Michael Gianaris fired up the crowd with a rousing “Zito Ellas and Cyprus and God Bless America” and industrialist Dennis Mehiel introduced his good friend, Tsunis, who said being Grand Marshal made him “so thrilled, proud, humble and mindful.” Schumer spoke of the contributions of Greek-Americans to New York and the United States.
Peter F. Vallone, who marched every year as Astoria’s City Council member, told TNH “It was an honor to represent the biggest Greek community in the world outside Greece ….Today I’m honored to represent Governor Andrew Cuomo. ” He also noted Astoria was just named “one of the ten coolest neighborhoods in the country by BuzzFeed.com…that’s in large part due to what the Greeks have done for Astoria.”
Archbishop Demetrios put the events of 1821 into dramatic perspective. He noted that he experienced the Nazi occupation, when there were killings, and beatings and starvation that caused children to die in the streets. That lasted four years. “But can you imagine a 400 yearlong occupation and what was required to finally rise up against Ottoman oppression? It was a miracle.”