On this anniversary of the Fall of Constantinople, learn about The Hellenic Society of Constantinople, Chicago’s link to the dwindling to Constantinople’s dwindling population, and little known history.
Early days of The Hellenic Society of Constantinople
The Hellenic Society of Constantinople was founded on October 11, 1939 by Katerina Tsifitopoulou. Anna Harisiadis, president of The Hellenic Society of Constantinople, explained that initially, the organization was for women only.
“Mrs. Tsiftopoulos, along with a handful of women, all born in Constantinople, formed the group. They called it, ‘Syllogo Konstantinoupolis’. Years later they revised their bylaws and changed the name to ‘Hellenic Ladies Educational & Philanthropic Society of Constantinople’, still exclusively a women’s organization. In 1995 we welcomed men and we renamed it, ‘Hellenic Society of Constantinople’.”
She shared the mission of the organization.
“The Hellenic Society of Constantinople‘s mission is assist the Hellenic youth to further their education and in the process learn of our rich history, preserve our heritage, pass along our traditions, promote education. We also support philanthropic endeavors in the USA and our homeland.”
Since its earliest days, the organization has focused on Constantinople.
“As these ladies began their new lives in Chicago, they felt a strong obligation to sustain close ties to Constantinople and edify those around them of our rich history. In United States schools, our children are taught of the magnificence of the Byzantine Empire. However, very little attention is given to the fact that Constantinople was and remains the seat of the Greek Orthodox faith and is the anchor which preserves our tie to Constantinople.”
The group remains committed to our mission to support the few Greeks that remain in Constantinople, preserve our churches and support the religious freedoms of all Orthodox Christians in Turkey.
About the president
Anna was born in Constantinople. She recalled her journey.
“I left with my parents for Greece in 1963. In 1968 I came to the U.S.”
Her husband of 38 years, Nicholas, was also born in Constantinople. They have two sons and four grandchildren. Her passion for her homeland, as well as her desire to preserve the history for her family and future generations, propel her in her work. Some may know Anna as the executive secretary of the Pan Arcadian Federation of America, Midwest Office in Elmhurst, IL.
A member of the Society since 1994, Mrs. Harisiadis was motivated to join HSC for cultural reasons.
“If we — the younger generation — hadn’t gotten involved there wouldn’t have been a continuation of the Society.”
Supporting organizations near and far
The HSC has supported many worthy causes over the years. These organizations included funding the Alzheimer’s Room at the Greek-American Rehabilitation and Care Center located in Wheeling, IL. Other organizations that have received HSC support include Philoxenia House in Rochester, Minnesota; International Orthodox Christian Charities; Greek-American Community Services; Make-a-Wish Foundation; Orthodox Christian Living Center in Champaign-Urbana; Byzantine Athletic Center in Athens; and the Balikli Greek Nursing Home in Constantinople.
In addition to the Red Cross and Salvation Army, the HSC has also raised money in support of Greek Orthodox churches in Constantinople, needy families in the Chicago area, and in support of our troops.
Each, HSC awards scholarships to students of Hellenic descent, and preferably with roots in Constantinople. In 2016, 5 scholarships totaling $7,000 were presented to worthy students in memory of past organization benefactors.
The HSC awarded scholarships in 2016.
- $2000 in memory of Yiannis Skarpathiotis by Dr. George Skarpathiotis, to Isabella Abbott
- $2000 on memory of Vasiliki Triyandafilou by Drs. William Spear and Georgia Giakoumis Spear, to John Stavropoulos
- $1000 in memory of Chris P. Tomaras by the Hellenic Society of Constantinople, to Christina Adams
- $1000 in memory of George Lukidis by Mrs. Vina Lukidis, to Michael McFarland
- $1000 in memory of Stanley Fistedis by Mrs. Jeanne Fistedis & the Hellenic Society of Constantinople, to Demetra Arianas
To qualify for scholarships, students must have a family member from Greece or Asia Minor. Applications are typically available mid-year on their website.
Commemoration of the Fall of Constantinople coming up
HSC is planning to host an event in May. Along with the Metropolis of Chicago and the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and the group’s spiritual advisor, His Grace Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos, the group will host the Commemoration of Constantinople at the end of May. The 37th annual Commemoration of the Fall of Constantinople will take place on May 30 in Chicago.
New members always welcome
The Hellenic Society of Constantinople is also known for its annual Vasilopita event each January. The event is also a membership drive introducing prospective members to the goals and activities of the Society.
Anna spoke about the continued importance of the Hellenic Society of Constantinople.
“The significance of the geographical location we descend from and proudly represent as it relates to our national heritage and history, is the impetus and thrust that propels all our efforts. That is of the utmost importance in defining us and it summarizes what we stand for. In short, if one has a sense of his/hers Hellenic roots, especially of their glory days, and watched the battering they endured throughout history – and the motherland is still under tremendous duress to this day – they patiently keep the flame lit there and in the Diaspora. This is thanks to those of us who remember. We believe this is what compels others to join our efforts, in order to perpetuate our most honorable causes which are, by default, equally honorable and important to all Hellenes.”
New members are welcome at any time. The Hellenic Society of Constantinople meets 4-5 times per year. Membership applications are available on their website.
“We hope and pray to raise enough interest to see it (HSC) continue.”
Annual dinner dance
The 74th Annual Dinner Dance will take place this year on Saturday, December 9 at Meridian Banquets in Rolling Meadows, IL.
The 37th Commemoration of the Fall of Constantinople, “Engineering an Empire and its Legacy Today”, will take place Tuesday, May 30 at 7:00 pm, at Greenhouse Theatre, 2257 N. Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. The event includes a screening of the documentary “Engineering an Empire: The Byzantines”, as well as a musical program featuring traditional Asia Minor musicians from Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. The event is presented by The Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago, the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and The Hellenic Society of Constantinople, in conjunction with Greek America Foundation. For more information, call 312.337.4130.
John was co-founder and executive director of Greek-American Community Services from 1986-2001. He is a co-founder and longtime board member of the Greek-American Nursing Home Committee. He has provided consulting services to a number of institutions, businesses and organizations and has served on numerous boards and committees. Over the years, John has contributed to The National Herald, The Greek Star, and other publications.
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