Archbishop Visits St. Basil

Children ask fun, personal and professional questions

Traditionally, the Greek Orthodox archbishop each year visits St. Basil Academy in Garrison, which the church operates, for its annual Christmas celebration. 

He is welcomed by hundreds of festive participants who come to watch the annual Christmas pageant, celebrate a gift opening and pay homage to His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros (Lambriniadis) of America, most honorable exarch of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

This year, because of COVID-19, was different. “Visiting with the archbishop required a choreography that kept the numbers low and the distance safe,” said Rebecca Pearsall, director of clinical services and education at St. Basil.

After accepting an invitation from the children who live at the St. Basil Academy, the archbishop came to the Garrison campus on Dec. 10 to meet a small group who stood for all.

Children at Saint Basil Academy unwrapping gifts with the archbishop

Children at Saint Basil Academy unwrapping gifts with the archbishop (center). (Photo by Rebecca Pearsall)

The visit was part of the academy’s annual Just Being Human project conceived by Pearsall. It was designed, she said, “as a therapeutic exercise to help children from traumatic backgrounds learn how to relate and connect with others. Throughout November, the children diligently prepared by thinking carefully about what questions could authentically connect them to the archbishop.”

There were three types of questions posed: “fun and easy,” professional and personal, she said. The archbishop, masked and behind a plastic panel, was game, answering some with a smile, and all with consideration, Pearsall said. They ranged from “What bad criticisms have you received that didn’t make you feel good?” to the probing, “Do you snore?” Asked to name three things he was grateful for, he responded: “Health, family and church.”

A teenage resident of St. Basil said he was surprised that “someone so important would agree to do this with us. I was so happy to be part of it.” 

Born in Istanbul in 1967, Elpidophoros studied in Greece and finished his postgraduate studies at the Philosophical School of the University of Bonn, Germany. In 1996, he studied at the Theological School of St. John the Damascene in Balamand, Lebanon, to solidify his knowledge of the Arabic language. In 2001, he earned a doctorate of theology from the Theological School of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. In 2019 he was elected as archbishop of America and enthroned in New York City.

Elpidophoros is the youngest person to hold the position and “his connection to modern-day issues is palpable,” Pearsall said. This past June, he marched in a Black Lives Matter protest in Brooklyn, saying that “it is our moral duty and obligation to uphold the sanctity of every human being. We have faced a pandemic of grave physical illness, but the spiritual illness in our land runs even deeper and must be healed by actions as well as words. And so, I will continue to stand in the breach together with all those who are committed to preserving peace, justice and equality for every citizen of goodwill, regardless of their race, religion, gender or ethnic origin.”

His visit to Garrison was “joyous and memorable,” Pearsall said. “Traditions were broken, in the best way. This visit was such a gift for all of us.”

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