November 28, 2010
by Steve FrangosIt is time for the local efforts of the historical preservation movement underway among Greek communities around the country to first receive the recognition they deserve and the direct aid they have been denied for so long. It is also time to realize that the churches cannot be a setting simply for the clergy to manage financially or in anyway outside of their religious duties. Churches are the cultural centers of Greek America. Whatever was changed at the bureaucratic level giving the clergy economic and legal status over the physical and financial core of the Greek Orthodox Church in North America needs to be reversed. The congregation needs to be in control of its own destiny and purpose with the clergy only serving in a spiritual capacity. This topic relates to the maintenance and when not already present establishment of the historical and cultural records of all local Greek collectivities in the nation. If this means that the Metropolitans cannot build or sell property as they elect, they should not have ever been given the legal authority to begin with. It is neither a part of our faith nor our long historic tradition that mandates or elevates the clergy over the laity. Please I don’t want anyone to write me about the Turkokratia or the Byzantine Age because we no longer live under those historical, cultural or legal conditions.
The clergy are the honored guests in the houses that the congregation has labored to build. There is no problem with this issue in the nation state of Greece. NO one is called a janissaros in a neighborhood church in Athens re if they do not want to do what the priest wishes. NO one there is told they cannot attend the church their family helped to establish or they will be arrested because the new priest says so. NO one is thrown off the board because the bishop says so. We have a documented historical existence here in North America. With the Greeks in North America the original state issued documents documenting who established and paid for these structures and land that are readily available and often hang framed in the church office, as does a long line of other personal and public historical records. If the priest and bishops cannot serve us on an equal footing then they cannot. If they need then to return to Greece, let them leave, in peace. But if they remain then they must do so as our brothers, colleagues and fellow-Christians not as our unquestioned masters. (emphasis added)
NO PROFESSORS PLEASE
With the churches once again a part of direct community life and control then a second step of offering assistance to the individual communities who wish to maintain their historical and cultural records can begin. In an advisory capacity any number of Greek Americans can be contacted to serve as advisors to the local communities. This advisory group can well serve to inform the local community on which historic, archival and other existing public facilities can help guide and even serve this Hellenic group. This advisory group can easily be drawn from an existing cadre of state historical commissioners, former state folklorists, school superintendents, archivists, librarians, lawyers, genealogists, museum personal, computer specialists as well as those who served as readers for grant applications on the city, state and federal levels. Greek Americans have and continue to occupy all those positions in the daily life of America.
Historical records and documents never have to leave the local community. This advisory group can meet with the local collective and through open discussion determine the wants, needs and capacity of each locale. Simply sharing information on legal forms and formalities that every new American cultural/historical organization must adhere to would be a great service. Educating and alerting the local organizations concerning the public responsibilities of local libraries, historical societies and other existing services would be of great and lasting benefit. Academics need not be involved in this process. Like the priests the tendency to yield to their supposed knowledge or authority causes many on the local level to remain quiet when they know the basic history and cultural conditions far better than anyone from the outside can ever learn. The process of saving historical and cultural documents is more a technical and mechanical issue. Certainly many academics will disagree citing one theoretical study after another. But theory or the notion that thoughts can have a real impact on the world is a fine parlor game for aficionados. But social science theories are not the stuff of science they are just generally agreed upon beliefs.
Do not take my word for it. Go to any local historical society or genealogical organization. How many individuals are archivists or record keepers of one sort or another and how many professors in history? This is not a question of exclusion as much as one of basic utility, the primary goal is record keeping.
Now once again my brothers, sisters and distant Greek-born cousins at the university will say, no, these documents must be collected in such a way so that future historians can make sense of them. I am not advising that we preserve Greek America to give future teachers jobs. I am advocating that we systematically preserve Greek-American history for Greeks living in North America. So that someone with a question about their ancestors can go to the local church library and look it up just as one would do at a neighborhood public library.
In the assessment process each community will have to undergo it may prove to be the case that funds and other resources do not exist within the community itself to preserve or house these material. Other possibilities exist. Examples of alternate possibilities exist all cross Greek America. In Pueblo, Colorado the genealogy collection of a local library now houses more than 200 photographs and other historical materials. In Dayton, Ohio through the offices and skills of a local Greek librarian the community’s records and photographs were placed in the main public library. The Greeks of Lowell Massachusetts have an Internet website with their history and images displayed. Any Greek American community can do the very same. We have to pull together. We have to preserve our own history. We have to stop fighting over who has their name on the top of official stationery. We have run out of time for such petty vulgarities.
Originally published on November 19, 2010