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

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Easter in Heaven

My family often celebrated Greek Easter at the home of my parents or my mother’s sister (Bertha Pappas Pouletsos and her husband, Nick). It was always Dad’s job to carve the lamb.

Andrew Kostakos carving Easter lamb, 1992.

Andrew Kostakos carving Easter lamb, 1992, Kensington, Maryland

When Aunt Bertha and Uncle Nick traveled from Long Island to our house in Maryland, the celebration was even more special.

Catherine Kostakos, Carol Kostakos Petraek, Bertha Pappas Pouletsos, Mabel Mercer Wirth, 1981, Kensington, Maryland

Catherine Kostakos, Carol Kostakos Petraek, Bertha Pappas Pouletsos, Mabel Mercer Petranek Wirth, 1981, Kensington, Maryland

Andrew Kostakos, Bertha Pappas Pouletsos, Gary Petranek, 1978, Kensington, Maryland

Andrew Kostakos, Bertha Pappas Pouletsos, Gary Petranek, 1978, Kensington, Maryland

I grew up living close to Aunt Bertha and Uncle Nick in the small community of Hillsdale, New Jersey. My brother and I shared many special times with our cousins, John and Louis; and to this day, we refer to our mothers as “two peas in a pod.” Mom and Bertha were the best of sisters and the best of friends.

Bertha and Catherine Pappas, Hoboken, New Jersey, about 1945

Bertha and Catherine Pappas, about 1944-45, Hoboken, New Jersey

Old photos unleash a plethora of memories for me — a lifetime of family gatherings and activities. After the deaths of Mom, Dad, Aunt Bertha and Uncle Nick, my Easter table was bereft of these beloved people. However, I found consolation in knowing that my grandparents’ table was now complete — mother and father with their sons and daughters — a loving family on earth, now reunited in heaven.

My parents and their siblings traveled to be together on holidays, and now it is my turn. Yesterday, Gary and I drove to Lewes, Delaware, to have Greek Easter with cousin Louie Pouletsos, his wife, Debbie, and their children, Nikki and Maddison. We shared memories of our parents and even poked a little fun at our mothers. We missed them.

l-r: Louis, Maddison, Nicki, Debbie Pouletsos; Gary Petranek, Lewes, Delaware, 2016

l-r: Louis, Maddison, Nicki, Debbie Pouletsos; Gary Petranek, 2016, Lewes, Delaware

2016 Easter, Carol-Gary Petranek, Debbie-Lou Pouletsos

Carol and Gary Petranek, Debbie and Louie Pouletsos, 2016, Lewes, Delaware

As our parents celebrate in Easter heaven, we now carry on their traditions on earth. We cling to familial and cultural patterns as our anchor of tradition, and to the Savior as our anchor of faith.

  • Our traditional Easter dinner of roast lamb symbolizes the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.
  • Our recitation of “Christos Anesti,” (Christ has Risen) attests to the reality of the resurrection.
  • Bright red eggs “kokkina avga” on the table symbolize the blood of Christ that was shed for each of us.
  • The breaking of eggs symbolizes Christ breaking the bands of death and coming forth from the tomb. Each person takes a red egg and cracks the ends with another person. This proceeds around the table until one individual is left with an unbroken egg, and he/she can expect to have good luck throughout the year.
  • Partaking of the “tsoureki,” or Easter bread, reminds us that Jesus Christ is the Bread of Life. (John 6:48: “I am that bread of life.”)

It is tempting to speculate how our departed families will celebrate Easter in heaven. One thing I know is that they will:  “Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.” (Romans 6:8)

Christos anesti to you and your family!

Maltsiniotis House in Agios Ioannis, Sparta

This is the Maltsiniotis house located in Agios Ioannis. My cousin, Father Eugene Pappas, was told by Demetrios Papagiannakos (“Jimmy” Pappas 1875-1948) that there is a blood connection between the Maltsiniotis and the Papagiannakos families. Possibly, the Maltsiniotis name was the precursor to the Papagiannakos name because a member of the Maltsiniotis family became a priest whose name became “Father John”. I haven’t found anything that can prove this interesting story, except that the Maltsiniotis house and the Papagiannakos School (built by this same Jimmy Pappas) share the same property. So, whether the connection is blood or business remains unclear.

The house is a replica of the amazing stone towers found in Mani, which is another clue that the family/families traveled north towards Sparta from the southern Peloponnese, most likely after the Revolution of 1821. It surely was a grand structure in its day! Wouldn’t it be amazing to restore it?

Maltsiniotis Tower Home, Agios Ioannis, Sparta. July 2014

Maltsiniotis Tower Home, Agios Ioannis, Sparta. July 2014

Papagiannakos School, built by Demetrios Papagiannakos (Jimmy Pappas)

Papagiannakos School, built by Demetrios Papagiannakos (Jimmy Pappas). Agios Ioannis, Sparta, July 2014

Sign on Papagiannakos School. Agios Ioannis, Sparta. July 2014

Sign on Papagiannakos School. Agios Ioannis, Sparta. July 2014

In the Society Page!

I am thrilled with the Fulton History website — a gem of a resource where Tom Tryniski has single-handedly digitized thousands of pages of New York newspapers! My favorite, of course, is the Brooklyn Daily Eagle because I am finding fascinating tidbits of my Brooklyn-based family. I did a random search on “Kostakos” and was stunned when the following article popped up:

Aphrodite Semetis Honored at Shower, April 5, 1946, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, page 14

Isn’t this a gem? I have spent a couple of days trying to identify the women who attended this shower. The bride-to-be, Aphrodite, is my father’s first cousin. So, I was quite surprised to see the names of my mother, her sister and their mother as this wedding took place seven months before my Mom and Dad married (November 14, 1946): Katherine Pappas is my Mom, her sister is Bertha Pappas, and their mother is my yiayia, Mrs. Louis Pappas.

The rest of the guests are either relatives or friends of the Semetis family: my father’s sisters, (Georgia Kostakos who married Al Doukas and Alice Kostakos); my father’s cousins (Frieda or Aphrodite Semetis, Fofo or Mrs. George Semetis, Harriet Semetis, Aspasia Aridas Semetis). I also identified Mrs. Nicholas Aridas as Helen Londis; Mrs. Chris Aridas as Katherine Caputo. Irene and Helen Doukas are sisters and daughters of James & Bessie Doukas of Brookhaven, Long Island; Stella Zakas is also from Brookhaven (I don’t know if she is a relative or a friend); Mrs. Nicholas Kasivardas is the next-door neighbor of Constance Doukas. I could not identify the rest of the women, who may be friends or relatives of the Doukas family.

I used the 1940 Census as a starting point to find who these people might be, and the Fulton History website to look for newspaper articles for further information. One clue led to another, and it was great fun to track these folks down! I wish my mother was still alive so I could show her that she made the Society page of the newspaper, a fact that would have brought her much laughter and disbelief!

Learning about my collateral lines and extended family brings me a lot of joy. I also see quite clearly that I am part of a much bigger picture — a family that extends beyond what I knew growing up. Most of the people in this article are now in heaven together, associating as they did here on earth. I wonder if there is a Society page in the Heavenly Times?