Monday, February 13, 2006

Honoring the Greeks in Olympic Time



Back in the early seventies nobody got really upset if a clergyman of one religion or another said a prayer before the city council meeting, asking for God's blessing. Father Philemon Payiatis was one of those on the regular rotation, and he was very active in the City of North Miami's affairs. We had a substantial Greek population at the time and the church sponsored an annual Greek Festival which was well attended by about everybody in town. You didn't have to be Greek to enjoy the good home cooked food, the delicious pastries dripping with honey, watch (or join in) the dancing, and listen to the music. It wasn't free, but it wasn't expensive, and the money went for a good cause.

I became good friends with Father Phil, as he preferred to be called, and hardly the month went by when I wasn't over there taking picture for some reason or another. Yeah, I billed for costs, but I also picked up some wedding and commercial business from the congregants. My wife was going to college at the time with a young Greek woman who belonged to the church, and her daughter and my son Jonathan are within months of the same age, so Melpomenie and Jonathan spent many a day with me while their mommies hit the books. When the pressures of my wife attending medical school tore apart our marriage Father Phil counceled me, and when I remarried a few years later Father Phil performed the ceremony.

Then starting about 1980 the demographics of North Miami started changing and the Greek community started moving to the suburbs in western Broward County. The dwindling membership resulted in the annual festival dying. A few years ago, with rising property values and the desire to avoid a long daily commute, the children of the Greeks who'd left two decades earlier started to move back. This year they revived the festival. Father Phil is no longer the energetic and vibrant fifty-something guy I remember, with his prematurely white beard and full head of hair. He still has the hair and the beard, but he now sits in a wheelchair and his once powerful voice is a mere echo of what it once was. Still, it was good to see him again after so many years. He seemed thrilled that my son had graduated seminary and was now working on his doctorate at Harvard, hardly the five year old he remembered.

It was good to see people I hadn't spoken with in years, talk with them about our children, who's doing what, who's living where, exchange phone numbers, and now email addresses also. A new generation of young children are learning the traditional dances and customs, and having a fun time doing it. I plan on giving the church some pictures to use in publicizing next year's festival. I ate way too much honey dripping pastry, but it sure tasted fine!

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