Upper Darby, PA – Fr. Gregory Gilbert of St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church was elated and surprised as he stood outside his church yesterday. A procession of parishioners and first responder vehicles paraded by as he waved and blessed each. Just minutes before, inside the church, Father Gilbert and the chanter sounded out another liturgy service to an empty church hall.
For the past forty years, each third week of May, the church was the first in a line of churches to launch the Greek Festival season. However, this year, the annual festival had been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But that would not stop these dedicated parishioners. Somehow they found a way to send a message of unity, and thank you.
Just before liturgy service had ended at St. Demetrios, parishioners of all ages assembled their cars alongside the Friends Cemetery across the street and around the corner. The long line of parked cars was always a place for guests attending the festival, but this year, the parishioners filled those spots with their vehicles waiting in anticipation. Some stood by their cars, mingling with others they hadn’t seen in months. The need for social interaction was too much to ignore.
“This church is a second home for many of us,” said Kiki Karamitopoulos Felfelis, as she shed a tear. The minutes felt like an eternity for some of the children who were waiting with their families, beside their cars. A few children ran across the street and kicked a soccer ball around in the historic Greek neighborhood. If only for a brief moment, it mirrored normality.
At approximately 11:30 am, sirens sounded off, led by local Upper Darby fire trucks, the tailgate began that led by the front of the church. They were greeted by the St. Demetrios Philoptochos and Father Gilbert. “Christ has Risen!” exclaimed Father Gilbert. Banners and flags waved messages of love, faith, and Greece. Minutes later, the parking lot filled with police, fire, and healthcare workers. Parish Council President Michael Economou welcomed and thanked them, while the parishioners served the takeaway meals, normally made for the Greek festival.
The day closed with a social distance group shot of the parishioners in the parking lot and a message from Economou that was handed out.
Thank you to Upper Darby Township, Police, Fire, Healthcare and First Responders!
Hard to believe that today we would be celebrating our 40th consecutive Upper Darby Greek Festival at St. Demetrios Church. Unfortunately, fate had different plans for us all as this dreaded COVID-19 pandemic affected every corner of the world and every aspect of our lives.
For the first time, in our long Greek Orthodox history, we experienced a widespread lock down of our Churches. Our Priests proclaimed “Christ Has Risen” on Easter with no Faithful present to respond “Indeed He is Risen”. I only hope that we and future generations never experience this again.
Today we gather united by our Faith and Love for our beloved St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Community. Social distancing may keep us 6 feet apart, but our convictions draw us closer together. We want to express our support and appreciation to our Priest, Rev. Fr. Gregory Gilbert, for all his efforts during these trying times and we look forward to joining him in Church very soon!
Additionally, we want to thank our Upper Darby Township first responders for all their help and sacrifices throughout the years. They are an integral part of our community and we are truly honored they joined us today. They are our Heroes! In appreciation for their service, our Parish Council and Philoptochos prepared meals and sweets to take with them.
I am truly blessed to be surrounded by so many good people. All the ministries of our Church are represented here today. I pray this scourge is short lived and I am confident we will emerge stronger than ever. Stay Safe.
Christ Has Risen,
Parish Council President
St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church