Orthodox pastor comes back to North to serve at St. Andrew; his past
service was in Florida
By Arden Erickson
SOUTH BEND -- Today is the third day of Passover, the Jewish festival commemorating the exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt.
Today is the Vigil of Easter for many Christians as Roman Catholics and Protestants prepare to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ Easter Sunday morning.
For the Eastern Orthodox, today is the Saturday of Lazarus, a major feast of the church in which Christ's act of raising Lazarus from the dead foreshadowed His own resurrection.
This Sunday for the Orthodox is Palm Sunday and the beginning of what is called the Great Week in the Eastern Orthodox Church. For the Rev. Father George Konstantopoulos of St. Andrew Greek Orthodox Church in South Bend, it is the most meaningful time of the church year.
"In the Orthodox Church we relive those moments and last days in the life of Jesus," said Father George. That is true for all of Christianity, but for the Orthodox there is a special vitality to the observance in that they are following the same rituals, liturgies and practices set in place almost 2,000 years ago.
Other than the introduction of English into portions of the liturgies, nothing new has been added and nothing old has been taken away.
This will be Father George's first observance of Great Week at St. Andrew's, having come to the church on Feb. 1 from his previous assignment at St. John Orthodox Church in Tampa, Fla., where he served 20 years. Prior to that he served a church at Fort Walton Beach, Fla., and was dean of Holy Trinity Cathedral in New Orleans.
"We felt it was time to come home," Father George said of the move north with his wife, Elaine, and two of their four children, the other two being married.
Father George holds the title of protopresbyter, the highest station which a married member of the Orthodox clergy can attain.
He has been a priest for 30 years and his story begins in Zaharo, a small town in southern Greece. He was born in 1943 and in 1947 his village was the site of a major battle in the Communist attempt to take over the Greek government after World War II.
The town was being bombed. "We were caught in our homes," Father George recalled. "We prayed and my father took all the furniture in the house and piled it up," creating a makeshift shelter for the family of seven.
"Early in the morning we heard the planes come. Then we heard the bombs. One bomb fell in our backyard. Another one hit the roof of our house and destroyed it."
The piled up furniture worked and no one was injured, but relatives thought they were dead because of all the debris piled over them. They could hear their relatives calling out. "My father told my brother Gus to push the debris away. By the grace of God, we didn't have a scratch."
The Konstantopoulos family subsequently moved to Athens and then Chicago, where a brother and sister were living.
Father George remembers it vividly. "I was 11 years old. It was my first American Christmas. I had never seen so much snow, and the decorations in the shops. That was the most wonderful experience of my life."
He was the youngest of the five siblings and graduated from Lakeview High School in 1962. He then entered Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Mass., completing his studies in 1969 with a master of divinity degree.
His parents had returned to Greece in 1964 and Father George decided to be ordained in Athens. "I owed them that much," said Father George. "They were my heroes." They had moved to America to give their children the best opportunities in life. Once he, the youngest, was in seminary they decided to return "to the sacred soil of Greece."
By the time of his ordination in 1969, he had decided that he would marry, a decision which must be made before ordination. When he was a sophomore he was one of nine students selected to spend the summer traveling the country on a good will tour to promote the program at Holy Cross.
During a stop in Memphis, Tenn., he met Elaine Karris, a second generation Greek-American. He smiles and says, "She's my Southern belle."
Father George is delighted with St. Andrew's and the South Bend community in general. "We have a wonderful mix of people here," he said of the congregation. Of the 200 families, "We have a lot of second and third generations, other members through inter-faith marriages and a lot of converts."
About 50 or 60 of the families at St. Andrew's are from the Elkhart area.