Elkins Park, PA – They celebrated Oxi Day at Annunciation Greek Orthodox church yesterday. But in a grander sense, it was a resurrection and a new day for these Greeks.
Hosted in the church hall, it was the first time Oxi Day services, including recitals and speeches were given there. For as long as many parishioners could remember Oxi day was always celebrated upstairs, in the church. But this year, a new tradition took root.
Upon entering the church hall, blue and white flags covered the room. A cake with “Oxi” sat center of the coffee line for all to see. While a banner hung high at the entrance to the hall. Greek school students in blue and white shirts paraded in adding to the pageantry and pride of the day. The setting became nostalgic enough to feel like you were in Greece.
Director of the Annunciation Greek School, John Avgiris started the afternoon off with a firm apology to all those who did not understand the Greek language, and then emphasized, “on this day we need to remember those who gave their lives for our country and culture, Greece.
Therefore, I will speak in Greek”. Parishioners stood and clapped. It was obviously a sentiment felt by many. For many years now, Annunciation Greek Orthodox church had evolved. It had become a melting pot that had become distant from it’s Greek ancestry. It had gone through the American transition. From one generation to the next, their ethnic roots became watered down, and a sense of identity had been lost. It is a natural transition, many ethnic communities share.
But on this day, Oxi day had new meaning. This moment, signaled the changes that are taking place at Americas 6th oldest Greek Orthodox church. A recently added new priest, Father John Johns and wife, Presvytera Evangelia, sat in front watching the performance and were ecstatic at the direction of the new church. “I am thrilled to see my own son (a fourth grader at Annunciation Greek school), in less than four months begin to speak and write Greek. It’s a wonderful step forward for us as a family, and as members of this community”.
An influx of Greeks in to this (3rd and 4rth generation) Greek-American community and expansion of the Greek school, have apparently become the perfect boost for this parish. All around the church hall during coffee hour, the Greek language was heard. Teacher-student conversations and parishioners reflected on their day to day lives in Greek. Many senior parishioners told me that, they have been waiting for this day for many years, and are now thrilled at it’s arrival. They felt as if they were home again in Greece. When the poems, songs and speeches were given, it was all Greek. When teachers were approached to comment about the day, they would segway to Greek immediately as if it were a natural transition.
The Greek school attendance echoed this progress as well. New teachers were recently added and the Greek school population has gone from 18 to 33 now, making it the fastest growing Greek school community per capita in the Philadelphia metropolitan area.
With new board members, new Greek school leaders and teachers, additional students and parishioners, Annunciation Greek Orthodox church appears to be on a new path.
Historically, Oxi day was a day to remember the rejection of the Italian army to enter Greek territory and occupy Greece. At Annunciation Greek Orthodox church, that same day will also echo it’s revival of Greek identity.