GOARCH - May 28, 1999

Report on the Future of the Greek Language
and Culture in the United States Released

New York, NY - Yesterday His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, held a Press Conference together with members of the Archbishop's Commission on Greek Language and Hellenic Culture and presented the results of the Commission's year long study on the future of Greek Education in America. The report, entitled "The Future of the Greek Language and Culture in the United States - Survival in the Diaspora," was unveiled to the Press by Professor John Rassias of Dartmouth College at the Archdiocesan Headquarters. The other members of the Commission in attendance were James Alatis, Dean of the School of Languages and Linguistics (Emeritus) at Georgetown University and his wife Penelope; Peter Bien, Professor of English (Emeritus) at Dartmouth College; Effie Paptzikou Cochran, Associate Professor in English at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice (CUNY); Dimitri Gondicas, Executive Director of the Program in Hellenic Studies at Princeton University; Vasos Papagapitos, Vice President of Travel Dynamics in New York City; Demosthenes P. Sofronas, Postmaster of Norwich, VT; and Constance Tegopoulos, Assistant Professor of Modern Greek Literature and Language. In addition, Mr. John Catsimatidis and Mr. Peter J. Pappas, the Vice-Chairman and Secretary of the Archdiocesan Executive Committee respectively, were also in attendance.

The Report of the Commission comes at a time when the knowledge of the Greek Language is on the decline throughout the Archdiocese. In his comments on the report, Professor Rassias stressed the need for combining the teaching of the language with a general enrichment program in Greek Culture, which should be adapted to the language needs of the students. As the report states, "the Commission believes that greater use should be made of English at early stages to teach Greek heritage. The Commission also stressed the need to differentiate the types of students who learn Greek in the Archdiocesan educational system. They propose a two-track model to allow students who already speak Greek at home to advance at their own pace, while students who are learning Greek as a foreign language be taught with the relevant teaching models. The Commission also stressed the need for materials that take into account the cultural context of America.

In his opening remarks, Archbishop Spyridon contextualized the whole issue of language and culture in the wider framework of the Orthodox Faith. He stressed the continuity between faith and culture as the basis for the Commission's work. The full text of the Archbishop's remarks are appended below.

Following the Press Conference, a reception was held for the members of the Commission and the Press Corps. The Archbishop then hosted a luncheon for the Commission members to thank them for their "labor of love."

The full report is being made available free of charge by the Archdiocese in both an English and Greek version. The text will also be made available on the Internet. In the next few weeks an oversight committee will be formed to carry out the recommendations of the Commission and to gather the necessary resources from all quarters in the Greek Orthodox Community to address this issue. The Archbishop has called for all interested parties to play a role in revitalizing the love and learning of Greek Culture and language throughout the Archdiocese.

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Statement of His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon
On the Report of the Commission on Greek Language and Hellenic Culture

May 27, 1999

I am very happy and proud to present the members of the Commission and their report, "The Future of the Greek Language and Culture in the United States - Survival in the Diaspora" to all of you this morning, for it stands as a landmark achievement in the life of our Holy Archdiocese. When I assumed my responsibilities for the welfare of this Archdiocese from the hands of our Holy Mother Church, I became immediately aware that the issues of Greek language and culture were in dire need of immediate attention.

The eminent Russian Orthodox theologian Father George Florovsky pointed out throughout his long and distinguished career, that Greek language and culture cannot be divorced from Orthodox Christianity. In fact, the loss of the Greek language in Western Europe was a direct cause of the misunderstandings and eventual break between the Western and Eastern Churches. The value of keeping faith and continuity with the language of the New Testament, and for that matter of the Old Testament in the Septuagint, as well as the language of the Church Fathers, cannot be underestimated. If I may quote him:

"The Orthodox Church of East has been speaking for centuries the same old idiom of the Fathers, has kept and cherished it as her true mother tongue, and for that reason is perhaps better equipped for its adequate interpretation than anyone who would merely learn a foreign tongue in order to interpret ancient texts with some respectable dictionary in his hands."

So it is not merely a matter of culture, but also a matter of Faith that the vitality of the Greek language be preserved and cultivated.

Our Church has arrived at a point in its history where the knowledge of the modern Greek language among the majority of our flock is at an all-time low. This cannot reasonably be attributed to the pastoral decision of thirty years ago to employ English in the liturgical services of the Church, because, as is well known, the language of the Liturgy is not spoken Greek. In fact, one could make the argument that the use of English in the Liturgy and the subsequent accessibility of the Liturgy for converts has increased the knowledge of Modern Greek among those very converts who choose to learn Greek as part of their experience of the richness of our Church.

However, the fact remains that the knowledge of Greek is waning in our Archdiocese and with that, the knowledge and appreciation of Hellenic Culture. This does mean to imply that to appreciate Greek Paideia and the Hellenic Ideals one must speak Greek. This is clearly not the case and is demonstrated in the wider society by the Philhellenic spirit of America. But it does mean that in our Greek-American subculture, where the Greek language is allowed to disappear, it is inevitable that the appreciation of Hellenic Culture will also fade.

Is this to say that the primary purpose of the Church is to teach Greek language and culture? By no means. The primary mission of the Church is to preach and teach the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. But we are also the inheritors of a great legacy, and in a country and time when the appreciation of cultural diversity and ethnic origins are a hallmark of our educational systems, what a shame it would be for our own community to lose the very thing that other faith and ethnic communities are striving to maintain.

For all these reasons and more - and I mean the valiant and noble efforts that are made around our beloved Archdiocese every day by hard-working men and women to make the Greek language and culture alive for our children - I asked Professor John A. Rassias of Dartmouth University to head up a commission to study comprehensively the situation as it stands now, and to propose a means by which we can move forward.

I am very pleased to welcome Professor Rassias and members of the Commission to the Archdiocese today, so that they might present the results of their year-long labor of love for the sake of our Church and our children.

   May 28, 1999 ]