Plymouth Observer & Eccentric

By Diane GALE Andreassi
Spacial Writer

In a rare visit to the United States, and the first time in the Detroit diocese, the leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians told an enthusiastic crowd of young people at a Westland church that they must resist temptations."I always pray God will give you strength to enlighten you to follow his path," his All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew said Saturday morning during a youth breakfast at St. Constantine and St. Helen Church . He was in Detroit for a three-day trip beginning Friday afternoon. "Youth fits in with heroism and bravery," he said. "Resist every temptation and walk the path of virtue and love with Christ." The Patriarch Bartholomew was greeted with cheers and applause by some 1,500 followers during a breakfast ceremony dedicated to the youth of the Detroit Archdiocese, which includes Michigan, upstate New York, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Indiana and Ohio. Children and their relatives gushed with excitement about the opportunity to meet their spiritual leader. Some of the young people, like 15-year-old John Gunnells, even had the insight to realize the lifelong significance of the day. "They're (the young people) going to grow-up and remember this and say they saw the patriarch and they'll try to do the same for their kids," explained Gunnells, a Dearborn Heights resident. "It's kind of like bringing together the whole Orthodox culture from all over the nation," he added. In fact, church leaders hoped Patriarch Bartholomew's visit would be a step toward unity among the different Orthodox churches. "As Ecumenical Patriarch, His All Holiness has a keen interest in promoting unity among the various branches of Orthodoxy, as well as among all Christian churches," according to Bishop Nicholas, head of the Greek Orthodox Diocese in Detroit in a press release.


The Orthodox Church is made up of self-governing churches each administratively independent of each other, but united by common faith. Their underlying unity is based on the identity of doctrine, sacramental life, worship, church order and spirituality. Among them are the Greek Albanian, Byelorussian, Bulgarian, Carpatho Russian, Cypriot, Czechoslovakian, Finnish, Georgian, Polish, Russian, Sinai and Ukrainian Orthodox churches. Beside church unity, Patriarch Bartholomew also brought a message of self-control and strength that, he said, is especially needed during the sometimes troublesome times of youth. "In many moments of life you will find yourselves in a dilemma of what to do," he said. "Pick whatever things are true, noble, just, loving and are of good rapport." Patriarch Bartholomew said the most important thing in life is to have the "correct perception of the world, God and ourselves." The things that bring "instant and harmful gratification," he added, will make young people lose their future "joy and success." St. Constantine and St. Helen pastor, the Rev. James Stathakios, explained that having the Patriarch Bartholomew come to the church, which originated in Detroit 70 years ago, "is like having the pope visit a local parish." "He's here to bless us and give us encouragement," Stathakios said. "He's here to bless the youth." While an entourage of police and Secret Service scurried about before the Patriarch arrived, a small group of girls, dressed in native costume, waite to dance during the two hour ceremony. Meanwhile, outside the church, Westland Police Lt. Tom Vaughn oversaw a group of local police officers. "This is just like the pope coming for me," explained Vaughn, who recently converted to the Christian Orthodox faith. Before he arrived, Barbara Thomas, of West Bloomfield, said: "You'll probably never see him again. How do you describe it? It's huge to see him." Cathy Counts of Livonia brought her 6-year-old twin niece and nephew, Carly and Christian Mellos of Grosse Point. While they seemed less enthusiastic as some of the older people present, their family knew it would be something that they'd look back on and cherish. They stayed Friday night with their grandmother, Irene Mellos, also of Livonia. "We are experiencing something very historical in the Greek Orthodox community," said Mellos who has been a member of the St. Constantine and St. Helen church since 1939 when it was located in Detroit. "It's an honor to have the Patriarch have breakfast with the youth, because the youth are the future members and followers of our church," she added. "They are becoming involved. If you don't have the youth, you don't have anything."


Steven Tripp, 13, of Canton embodies that vision. "I'll take my kids to the same church, baptize them Greek and raise them in this tradition," he said with confidence. Tripp listened intently as Patriarch Bartholomew explained that the 10 Commandments are to Christians what a coach is to an athlete. The commandments teach diligence, honor, studiousness, selfcontrol and a need to avoid anger and laziness, explained Patriarch Bartholomew, who is often called the Green. Patriarch for his concern and activism for the environment. "When we observe these guidelines, we win the permanent JOY of life," he added. Alcohol and addictive substances are like bait on a hook, Patriarch Bartholomew said. God brought "you into this life to rejoice in His life and not to become unfortunate prisoners of" bad habits. Maritsa Kalasz, of Livonia, attended the breakfast with her children. She also took part in the 100 voice chorus that sang for Patriarch Bartholomew w on Sunday during a ceremony at Compuware in Plymouth. "It's something real neat for the children to remember," she added. Church council president, John Avdoulos said: "What we're striving for is unity for the whole orthodox faith." A professional photographer, Harry Vitanis of Farmington Hills, emanated excitement as he scurried to get pictures of Patriarch Bartholomew. "He's everything we stand for," Vitanis said. "It's a very humbling experience."

Near and far

Traveling from Ottawa, Canada, Dr. Michael and Tassy Vassilyadi, brought their two children, Frankie, 12, and Christal, 10, to see the breakfast. Likening their 14-hour trip to a pilgrimage, Dr. Vassilyadi said it was their third time seeing Patriarch Bartholomew in person. It didn't, however, take away from their excitement. "We're just overwhelmed with the opportunity to be in his presence," Tassy Vassilyadi said. "We want to hear his message and to see his love for people." Nick Sittas, of Dearborn Heights, had less traveling time than the Vassilyadi's, but the impact of the event was just as significant. "For me it's a once in a lifetime opportunity," he explained. Alice Shukla, 17, of Keego Harbor, was introduced during the breakfast ceremony as having recently won an oratorical competition. She spoke with poise and eloquence as she delivered a heartfelt speech about her faith. "Following the traditions gives me strength on which to live my life," explained Shukla, who attends Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church in Farmington Hills. "I feel myself very fortunate to be born into this faith," she added. The visit from the Patriarch Bartholomew is important in teaching young people today to learn about their heritage, explained Jack Apostle, of Northville. "This is our roots," he said. "I'm glad to see their enthusiasm.