Archbishop recalls days in Oakmont
The congregation of the Dormition of the Theotokos Greek Orthodox Church in Oakmont is celebrating Thanksgiving a little early this year.
Today, members are having their holiday dinner with Archbishop Demetrios, the ranking primate of the Greek Orthodox Church of America and a man who was once their pastor.
It was at the Oakmont parish in 1965 that Demetrios Trakatellis as a parish priest began an odyssey that would elevate him to the position as spiritual leader of the 1.5 million Greek Orthodox congregants in the United States.
“At the time, I was working on a book,” he said. “My brother, Dr. Anthony Trakatellis, who is now the vice chairman of the European Parliament, was teaching at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School. He invited me to stay with him.
“The congregation of the Holy Dormition Church was without a pastor,” he added. “Bishop Theodosios, who was the bishop of the Pittsburgh Diocese at the time, asked me to fill in.
“I did it on one condition: I didn’t want to be paid and I didn’t want to assume administrative duties. It worked well for the congregation and myself.”
In recalling those things for which he is thankful, the archbishop recalled that the congregation of the Holy Dormition Church had gathered in a converted house when he was their pastor.
“Today, as I look around and marvel at what they have accomplished — a magnificent edifice, surrounded with beautiful landscaping — I have a great feeling of thankfulness for what this congregation has accomplished. It is my privilege to honor the protagonists of this community.
Yet, he added, “I feel a sense of sadness. Since I was the pastor of this congregation, many of the men and women I knew at the time are now deceased.
“I can still reconstruct the image of those fine people and the old church building, along with the choir and the altar boy. It’s been almost 40 years since I left here, but in a way, it’s just like yesterday.
“I thank God that he has given me the gift of life; the gift of my Orthodox faith; the gift of origin of being born and raised in Greece, a country that offered to the world the treasures of literature, philosophy, science, mathematics and the arts.
“But most important, I’m thankful that I live in this wonderful United States, that is the avant-garde country in the world, a democratic country that has made great strides in technology, medicines and science.”
It is a country, he said, where anyone can succeed through hard work and determination, regardless of his or her station in life.
Among the clergy on hand to greet him this weekend was a former classmate at the University of Athens School of Theology, the Rev. John Androutsopoulos, retired pastor of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in New Kensington.
“The archbishop has never forgotten an old friend,” said Androutsopoulos. “When he learned that I had completely lost the sight of my left eye, he wrote to me on four occasions.
“His advice best explains the hallmark of his priesthood: ‘Keep the eyes of your heart complete and continue your work.’ ”
Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Church in America
Residence: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, New York City
Born: Demetrios Trakatellis, Feb. 1, 1928, in Thessaloniki, Greece
Parents: Georgia and Christos Trakatellis
1950: Graduated from the University of Athens School of Theology
1960: Ordained a deacon in the Greek Orthodox Church
1964: Ordained a priest
1965: Arrived in the United States and became pastor of Dormition of the Theotokos Greek Orthodox Church, Oakmont
1965-71: Attended graduate school at Harvard University, where he received his doctorate in arts and sciences
1977: Earned his doctorate in theology from the University of Athens
1983-93: Taught at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology at Brookline, Mass., and at Harvard University Divinity School
1993: Returned to Greece to pursue scholarship and responsibilities with the Archdiocese of Athens
1999: Elected Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church in America