Two Perspectives: One Heritage

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“It’s not the same here,” is a phrase that I frequently hear from Greek natives. “Genealogy research may be a priority for immigrants, but not for us.”  As a third generation American and the descendant of immigrant grandparents, I was surprised and somewhat bemused to find that people in Greece regard my research as interesting, but not necessarily relevant or important. Why?

My friend, Giannis Michalakakos, a Greek native, has patiently discussed this topic with me for hours. We recognize that there is a sharp difference between the two groups: an immigrant descendant is motivated by a quest for knowledge and identity; a native Greek is motivated by curiosity and a desire to delve more deeply into local history and culture.

Giannis placed genealogy in a broader historical context. He likened it to a pyramid where history builds upon itself—broadest at the base, to singular at the pinnacle. I scribbled a rough drawing as he spoke, and came up with this.

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General historians begin at the bottom of the pyramid and move up. They study the basic foundation—global or world history—then progress into regional and local histories. The focus becomes narrower until the story of the family and its individuals are reached at the top. How does each category in the pyramid relate to the one below and above? What part did a village play in the history of the country? Or a family in the history of its village? Sometimes, individual leaders may rise in power to exert influence far beyond their locality—perhaps to lead a country to military victory or become a national leader who, in turn, influences world events.

Genealogical historians, in contrast, begin at the top of the pyramid and move down. The pattern is the same regardless of ethnicity or country of origin:  start with oneself, then gather information about parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and beyond. Learning about the village, and its relation to the larger region and country, usually comes as the researcher discovers the part his ancestor played within the community. At times, the researcher may study a local history to glean information about its families. The process is fluid and depends on the goals and interest of the researcher.

So, how does the pyramid relate to the differing views of genealogy by Greek natives and Immigrant descendants? To quote Giannis, “It all comes down to knowledge.”

A Greek native has knowledge about his family; therefore, his motivation may be one of curiosity, not identity. He has been raised with oral histories and can often recite his lineage back several generations. He or his parents/siblings may be living in a family home built by a great-great-grandparent. He may own land in his village of origin. He may interact regularly with second, third, and fourth cousins from both sides of his family. There is no need for genealogical research–he knows his identity. Rather, genealogy could be a tool to better understand local society, customs and history. Many small Greek villages are populated by just a few clans; thus, a study of  local history necessitates knowing the genealogy of the residents as well as their traditions.  Perhaps he is curious as to how his family fits into the larger historical context of the region and country. He may be motivated to learn if his ancestor received an aristea (award) for fighting in the Greek Revolution of 1821. He may be interested in studying the history of his village if it had been the headquarters of a bey (Turkish ruler) during the 1700’s. Perhaps his family started a business that provided financial security for people in his community.

Raised with strong traditions and steeped in culture, the Greek native is living his history.

In contrast, a typical third or fourth generation immigrant descendant is seeking identity. The farther removed from his immigrant ancestor, the dimmer his knowledge. He may not know the original family name as many newcomers shortened or entirely changed their names (Poulos – from Papadapoulos? Or Stathopoulos?). He may not know the exact village of origin (Arcadia? which village – there are hundreds!) He may have heard family stories whose details were lost in translation; or, perhaps, only parts of the story were passed down. His Greek language skills are waning or non-existent (despite attending Greek school as a youth).

At some point–usually in adulthood when the elders pass on–the descendant realizes that a part of him is gone. There is no parent/grandparent/great-grandparent to ground him to the ancestral land. It is now his duty to pass on family stories and traditions; but to his shock, they are unknown or unclear to him. At this point, he has been thoroughly assimilated into American, or Canadian, or Australian culture. His spouse may not be Greek, and this may have accelerated a drift away from his native religion, culture and traditions.

That’s when something new rises within–the gnawing desire to relearn who he is. The past suddenly becomes present; he feels an urgency to reconnect with his roots and to reconstruct his family lineage. If he has children, his drive to pass on the family heritage may become acute. His search for knowledge begins. Of necessity, it starts with himself–the individual at the top of the pyramid–and filters down as discussed earlier.

Although Greek natives and immigrant descendants share families, genetics and bloodlines, it is understandable why and how they differ in genealogical perspective. To the Greek native, genealogy is irrelevant to identity but essential in the study of local history and culture. To immigrant descendants with dual heritage, genealogy is essential to identity and relevant to understanding ethnic tradition and culture.

Thankfully, the roots that unite us are stronger than the perspectives that divide us.

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Honoring My Cousin, Father Eugene Pappas

There’s nothing that compares to a Brooklyn, New York gala — live band, gourmet food, beautiful venue — everything needed for a first-class celebration. On December 2, my cousin, The Very Reverend Father Eugene Pappas, Archimandrite, was honored at an elaborate and festive gala held in commemoration of his 50 years of service as a Greek Orthodox priest, and 35 years as priest at Three Hierarchs Church in Brooklyn. To say that I was delighted to be there is an understatement; this was an event to be long-remembered and I was thrilled to be part of it.

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Father Eugene Pappas

Nicholas Leon Pappas (Father Eugene) is the son of Pauline Drivas and Leon Pappas (Papagiannakos). He and his siblings, Konstandinos and Georgeanne, were born and raised in the Sheepshead Bay area of Brooklyn, in the center of a thriving Greek-American community. Although he studied law, Father Eugene had deep desires to become a priest. The family name “Papagiannakos” indicates that in the past, a man in the Giannakos family became a priest (παππάς – papa) — thus, forever changing the surname to indicate this honor. Father Eugene told me that he felt, from childhood, that he was destined to be a priest and to carry on the tradition initiated by our ancestor. He was ordained into the priesthood in 1965.

Father Eugene began his ministry in South Korea as the First Foreign Missionary of the Holy Archdiocese of Archbishop Iakovos. In 1969, he opened an orphanage and worked in a boys’ home. His service in South Korea helped pave the way for the Orthodox Christian Mission Center of the USA. Along with South Korea, Father Eugene served in many foreign posts including Japan, the Philippines, Switzerland and Greece. Upon returning to the United States, he became pastor in the faith community where he was baptized, raised and educated.

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Father Eugene preaching the gospel at Three Hierarchs Church, Brooklyn, NY

Father Eugene’s service is not confined to either religious causes or his parish. He is a renowned civic activist and public speaker and is esteemed by civic and faith leaders of all political affiliations and religions. As scholar educator, he has taught Orthodox Theology in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn/Queens, and a special commemoration was held for him by the Catholic community. He is lauded for his leadership and participation in public causes and numerous community initiatives. The walls of his office are lined with plaques, degrees, and honorary citations.

As a man of the times, Father Eugene uses today’s media to exhort and educate audiences far beyond Brooklyn. For the past 18 years, he has hosted a radio program, “Matters of Conscience” on COSMOS FM every Saturday from 1 to 2 P.M.

Father Eugene broadcasting at Cosmos-FM studios. His radio program, Matters of Conscience, has aired for 18 years.

Father Eugene broadcasting at Cosmos-FM studios. His radio program, Matters of Conscience, has aired for 18 years.

He also has a presence on YouTube. This interview gives a brief perspective of his influence in the community:

Despite a schedule that would wilt an ordinary man his age, Father Eugene takes time for the individual. During a recent visit to his office, he paused our discussion to minister to a stranger who walked in off the street and asked for a blessing. His love of family has broadened to a passion for learning about his family history. We have shared many stories, photos, and discussions of our ancestry–much to our mutual delight.

This Saturday, I will be Father Eugene’s guest on Cosmos FM, and we will be discussing Hellenic genealogy–the rewards, the challenges, and how to get started. The radio show will be broadcast at this link, beginning at 1:10 PM Eastern time:  http://www.cosmosfm.org/podcast/.

Along with the many religious and civic dignitaries who have honored this man, I add my voice–thank you, Father, for your faith, your service, and the honor you have brought to our Papagiannakos/Pappas family.

A few photos from Father Eugene’s 50th Gala Celebration.

Father Eugene and his family, Brooklyn, NY, December 2, 2016

Father Eugene and his family, Brooklyn, NY, December 2, 2016

Georgeanne Conis, Carol Kostakos Petranek, Father Eugene Pappas; Brooklyn, NY, December 2, 2016

Georgeanne Conis, Carol Kostakos Petranek, Father Eugene Pappas; Brooklyn, NY, December 2, 2016

Father Eugene and his siblings: Konstandinos (Dino) and Georgeanne Pappas Conis; Brooklyn, NY, December 2, 2016

Father Eugene and his siblings: Konstandinos (Dino) and Georgeanne Pappas Conis; Brooklyn, NY, December 2, 2016

Father Eugene receives a gift from the parishioners of Three Hierarchs Church -- a trip to anyplace in the world he wants to go! Brooklyn, NY, December 2, 2016

Father Eugene receives a gift from the parishioners of Three Hierarchs Church — a trip to anyplace in the world he wants to go! Brooklyn, NY, December 2, 2016