The Greek Crisis in Spirituality Takes Toll But Solutions Abound

July 2016 update: Excited to announce my new role at The National Herald/Ethnikos Kyrix as an international correspondent covering Greece along with the intersecting role it plays with Greek-Americans living in the United States. From serious topics including the economic crisis and the refugee crisis to fun topics such as island hopping, tourism trends and Greek life… read and follow long!

Find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Periscope TV for more frequent updates and send story ideas: @alizkoletas. (#AlizinGreece and #GreekGirlsGuide)

spirituality crisis

By Aliz Koletas, International Correspondent

“People used to be happier before but now they’re not as happy. I would see five people fishing before but now there’s only one.” Greece is known for its idyllic pastime of fishermen with their lines thrown into the crystal blue waters with seemingly no care in the world but a sea of fish ready to caught and enjoyed for dinner. This peaceful perception is changing recently with the economic depression that has rocked the country. It’s no secret that Greece has been hit hard by an economic crisis the past several years and while most people are talking about the economy or the banks or the EU, hardly anyone talks about the spiritual crisis and the stresses that are being placed upon the religious health of the Greeks.


Elton Hoxha, 22, came with his family to Greece in 2009 but has noticed a change in the Hellenic outlook on life and happiness referencing the scene of fishermen that he has seen dwindled down to just one. Hoxha helps out on the island of Lesvos with refugees that have been stranded there but is familiar with the spiritual crisis going on amongst younger Greeks around him. He says the older generation understands how rough the situation is in Greece but the younger ones are at the point of “whatever happens, happens” because there’s not much they can do.

That apathy can lead to a very depressed state of mind that starts to question life and faith. Danae Kritikou, 20, from Nea Makri in Athens explains why she sees Greeks around her losing faith in God and their religion. “They don’t think things are going to get better. Every day things are getting worse and they wonder, “Where is God?” Kritikou volunteers at Exit, helping provide food for the homeless in Athens but tries to spread a message of hope and peace as well to the younger Greeks struggling to understand what’s happening in their country and if God really cares about them.

“They’ve started asking, “Where is God? What is going on and why is He doing this?” says Mary Fountoukidou, 35, from Athens who works with her husband to help rehabilitate Greeks addicted to drugs and alcohol. Fountoukidou says they mostly don’t understand why God would do this to them since most Greeks are Christian Orthodox and believe in God. She responds, “I tell them maybe we are Christians in name only. We have created other gods such as money, banks and credit cards.”

And that’s perhaps the most significant link between the economic crisis and the spirituality crisis hitting Greece.

“Greeks used to live in a dream when it came to money. They lost their world when they lost access with the banks,” says Nicholas Antonakos, 35, who works in Athens at Hellenic Ministries, a Christian organization that helps Greeks struggling with their spirituality and quality of life. “Their identity has been shaken- they feel like they don’t belong anymore.”

And that feeling can lead to disastrous outcomes including depression and suicide. Recent news reports from PBS, CNBC, IBT Times, The Guardian, Forbes and other media organizations point a study showing a 30% jump in suicides the past several years especially among Greek men.

What started this feeling of hopelessness that has led to depression and then ultimately to suicide? Dr. John Gianopulos, a professor at Greek Bible College a theological seminary outside of Athens explains the background first saying, “The link between the economic crisis in Greece over the past five to ten years has had a negative effect on young people and has led them to lose faith in God and the church and is very disheartening.

Parents and grandparents have been subjected to a series of fiscal haircuts in wages and pensions resulting in many being unemployed and depressed.

The unemployment rate is very high for college graduates here, resulting in the greatest natural resource the country has is leaving Greece to seek employment elsewhere. The five most active embassies in Greece where young people are lined up to seek visas include: Australia, Canada, England, Germany and USA.  We are losing our greatest natural resource -our young people.


Many young people are moving back to live at home with their parents. Others are choosing to live with their grandparents some back on the farm and in both cases begging for pocket money and survival. The suicide rate in Greece for all adults is averaging one per day due to the financial crisis, which has been caused in part by cronyism and corruption within the government.”


According to Gianopulos, 97% of Greeks are Greek Orthodoxs “yet few young people attend church on Sunday. Attendance is primarily made up of elderly women. Many of the youth are turned off by the church and could care less about the things of God. During the summer months what concerns them is swimming and the sun.”

Gianopulos references several Bible passages that show why this is alarming.

“Saint Paul in 2 Timothy 2:13 reminds us that “ if we are faithless He remains faithful”. In Titus 1:2 Paul reminds us that ” in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began”. Hope is not wishful thinking but certainty and God never lies. So the character of God is holy and he does not lie.”


Yet Gianopulos doesn’t end his thoughts on hopelessness instead encouraging young Greeks “to hold fast to the hope of God’s promises.” He references a Christian author who ties a connection between ancient Greek heroes and present Christians.


“Thomas Cahill writes In Reaching for the Invisible God by Philip Yancey p. 279 “ in all the tragic dramas of antiquity, whether lived or staged, we detect the same pattern: the hero be he Alexander the Great or Oedipus, reaches his pinnacle only to be cut down. Only in the drama of Jesus does the opposite pattern hold: the hero is cut down only to be raised up.

The Christian faith talks about human sinfulness and rebellion against God which we see on the news daily. So what is the biblical definition of sin? In contemporary jargon sin is doing what you want. Sin is having attitudes that are self-centered rather than being God centered.”

What specifically is being done about this spirituality crisis in Greece and helping Greeks become more God centered like Dr. Gianopuilos suggests? Antonakos along with hundreds of other fellow Greeks and volunteers from around the world came together this year in Northern Greece through an outreach called Operation Joshua giving spiritual assistance to suffering Greeks by personally visiting houses in villages and towns offering New Testaments to any interested Greeks.

Northern Greece
Northern Greece


Paul Deligianidis, 29, is a Greek-American from Boston who flew all the way from America to help his mother country. “I’m not a good speaker but handing out (these) Bibles, I don’t need to say anything.” He shared the positive reaction from Greeks looking for spiritual relief and talked about one instance where he was asked for extra Bible so family members and friends could benefit from the spiritual outreach.

"One gift for you!"
“One gift for you!”

What all of these Greeks and Greek-Americans interviewed for this article have in common may be the key to fighting against depression or spiritual apathy that so many younger Greeks around them feel. Bianca Di Salvo, an interfaith spiritual counselor in New York City, explains the connection. “We are in essence hardwired for community. Helping others is part of that. It makes us feel better by connecting us to others and making a positive impact in the world.”




Dr. Alex McFarland, director of The Center for Apologetics and Christian Worldview at North Greenville University detailed how an economic crisis anywhere not just in Greece can cause a person to lose faith in God and their religion. “I think that there are three basic reasons:  1. Misconception about the character of God;    2. Misconception about the nature of life in this world; and 3. Misconception about the promises of Christianity.  First, we must trust that God is good, not evil.  Problems do not mean that God doesn’t care, has abandoned us, or is powerless to help.  God’s character is goodness, love, wisdom, and power.  Even in times of severe adversity, He is at work, and is a close by as a prayer.  Secondly, this world contains the path to heaven, but this world is not heaven.  In a fallen, sin-filled world that is in the process of being restored, why wouldn’t there be problems of all sorts?  It is a broken world, amply reminding us of how much we need a Savior. Thirdly, the Christian Gospel promises the subtraction of our sins, but does not promise the subtraction of all suffering.  It does promise the addition of God’s presence through the suffering.  And in suffering, approached with a godly attitude, we grow. Christ paid for our sins, but suffering purifies our character.  Or, it can, if we allow it.”
He goes on, “During tough times, we may remain strong by praising God for who He is (the Lord who doesn’t change, and who won’t abandon us).  We praise God that He knows what we need, even before we ask. It may sound counter-intuitive to pray thanks to God when times are tough.  But in such deep valleys, we learn things about the sufficiency of Christ we otherwise could not know.  Also, we learn to thank God and be grateful for blessings we may have taken for granted…If God can do the greater things (create the universe, pay for our sins, and conquer the grave), which He did, then surely He can do the lesser things (help me with my mortgage, find me a job, get me through this diagnosis).”

Monte Drenner, a licensed mental health counselor in Florida and author, has counseled people for nearly 30 years on how to deal with challenges from a spiritual perspective.

“An economic crisis often creates feelings of being powerless, helpless and hopeless all of which are the breeding ground for depression and suicidal thinking. These thoughts and emotions cloud judgment and decision making which only exacerbates the crisis.  The way to avoid these negative thoughts and feelings is to empower the (individual) to focus on decisions they can make to improve their situation. First decide that “If I’m going to go through the crisis than I am going to grow through the crisis.” Spirituality is about transforming one into a better version of themselves so now the crisis has a positive meaning. The next decision is to decide that the crisis will make them better and not bitter and to see how they could grow from the situation. Next step back and look at the big picture of their life. They may be having an economic crisis but there are other things happening in their life like relationships perhaps that are very rewarding. Stepping back from the problem and looking at positive things leads to gratitude that helps ward off depression and suicidal thinking.” He suggests looking back at other storms one has weathered to gain hope that they will endure the current crisis.

One normally doesn’t think of crisis and positive happenings but Jordan Finneseth, an author and spiritual development coach in Santa Rosa, California, explains how tough economic times can actually bring out the good in you.

“When it comes down to it, trying times like these put our most firmly held beliefs about life, the world, and reality as a whole into question. As a long time meditator, I would say that its moments like these that actually bring our full attention and awareness to life and the present moment. When things are going really well and everything is good, it’s easy for us to become complacent and sort of ‘automate’ in life, and take things for granted. Then, when that situation changes or that ‘good life’ is taken away, you learn what you truly put your faith in.


Were you putting your faith in that cushy job, nice house, nice ‘things’, or an overall faith in money? Or were you appreciating the time spent with people and the valuable life lessons and self-evolution taking place? It’s beginning to seem as though these crises are actually more like moments of opportunity to strengthen our faith and resolve in life.


Have you ever starved to death? Because if not, then it seems like something has always provided at least just enough so far. In times of lack, we are presented with the opportunity to reevaluate the things that are important, evaluate what is and is not working in relation to those important things, and then, the most important part, take action towards improving the things that are important. The time has come for us all to start taking a more active role in making the world and our global economy the one we want to see, and that starts with awareness of one’s on inner ability, through whichever method of faith you choose, to create change within yourself. Change yourself and your surroundings cannot help but change along with you.”


Talking about a spirituality crisis and having a specific plan of action to combat it are two different stories- and sometime bridging that gap can take too much energy. Knowing your course of action will help take theory into reality. Without a clear road map, you may lose your way and sight of your goal. Taking control of the situation around you is key says Eric Marlowe Garrison, Assistant Director of Health Promotion at The College of William & Mary in Virginia and best-selling author.


“When we face a financial crisis, as Greece is going through, do we spend our time worrying or do we spend our time looking for solutions over which we have control? These are choices. But if you look at the people who spend their time looking for blame versus those who spend their time acting to get through this, you can bet money (that you may or may not have) on who will prosper in the end. We are either active (doing something) or inactive (doing nothing). People can react (without logic or forethought), or they can respond to a situation (after reflection). Remember: a crisis is the reaction, it is not the situation.  One of the best ways to assess your values and look for harmony is the Life Values Inventory ( It is free and can help individuals understand their values for a more harmonious life.”


Meanwhile Damon Nailer, a spiritual life coach, author, minister and motivational speaker based in Monroe, Louisiana has some hands on advice and steps for those struggling with their faith.

Ways to avoid losing one’s faith during an economic crisis:

  1. Realize that your financial status/situation is separate from your spirituality and walk with God.  People try to link the two but they are actually separate.  Many individuals possess money/wealth but are miserable spiritually, mentally, and emotionally.  On the other hand, many who live in poverty are some of the most spiritually, emotionally, and mentally sound people you will ever encounter.
  2. Understand and look at it as a part to the whole and just a state and not one’s overall fate. Many famous and affluent people endured financial difficulty and dilemmas but they continued on in their plans and goals and things eventually became much better.
  3. Remind yourself that God won’t put any more on you than you can bear.  If He allowed it and brought you to it, then he can also bring you through it.


Ways to avoid depression:

  1. Prayer and fasting.  This enables you to suppress all negative emotions and draws your spirit closer to God.  It gives you great spiritual strength.
  2. Meditation.  Find scriptures that deal with God providing and taking care of his people and meditate on them day and night.  For example- Give us this day our daily bread, He satisfies our mouth with good things. Take no thought about what we shall eat or drink or how we will be clothed.  For our heavenly Father knows that we have need of these things.
  3. Listen to motivational and inspirational speeches and even music.  This will invigorate the inner man and help us to replace any negative thoughts or ideas with positive ones.



And as she gets ready to spend more time this summer helping other fellow Greeks around her through their economic hardships and spiritual burdens, Danae Kritikou sums it all up by saying, “It is very important because this is a hard time. If we don’t do it now, when are we going to do it? People are in need of help now. I found hope in Jesus and if I can find that hope, so can they find that hope in Him.”


International Orthodox Christian Charities Raises Awareness and Funds for Greece

*I’m excited to announce the next step in my journalism career as a news reporter for The National Herald (As the sister publication of the Ethnikos Kyrix, now almost a century old and the only daily Greek language publication in North America, The National Herald (TNH) was founded in 1997 in response to popular demand: to meet the needs of emerging generations of Greek-Americans whose primary language is English.)  

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NEW YORK, NY – International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) recently hosted an event to raise awareness, as well as funds, for disaster relief and economic development throughout the world.

IOCC Development Officer Louis Zagami told TNH that for every dollar the organization raises, 92 cents goes directly to the needy, and they can leverage seven times that amount through grants. “It’s not about giving a handout but a helping hand up…helping people stuck in a bad place… usually not their fault.”

Zagami recalls vising beneficiaries recently in Greece and noticing a different type of poverty. He saw a businessman dressed in a suit waiting in line for food for his family due to the economic crisis. While this poverty is not as public as poverty in say, Ethiopia, he points out that it’s still poverty. With the struggling economy, salaries are getting cut and many families can barely make ends meet.

That’s where IOCC steps in.

Since the crisis hit, they have distributed 23 million dollars and are still actively involved in helping Greece. This is also why Zagami says more awareness, such as the May 24 event in New York, needs to be raised in the states and the rest of the world about the need for those who can afford to financially give to learn about the plight of those who aren’t sure when their next meal is coming…or how it’s getting on the table.

Zagami visits thirty different parishes throughout the year on the East Coast for this very reason. Most people especially Greeks seeing their own country suffer want to give but don’t know how and IOCC fills that void.

From the 2007 fires that burned in Greece to the financial collapse, others across the world are helping IOCC help countries getting hit with turmoil and helplessness. But it’s not just Greece being helped.

Over 110 million dollars has gone into Syria, Lebanon and Jordan just to name a few other countries since the refugee crisis started about five years ago. With hundreds of volunteers all over the world, Zagami describes his organization as “doing great things but with humility.”



A Hip Mayor Brings Thessaloniki to the World

*I’m excited to announce the next step in my journalism career as a news reporter for The National Herald (As the sister publication of the Ethnikos Kyrix, now almost a century old and the only daily Greek language publication in North America, The National Herald (TNH) was founded in 1997 in response to popular demand: to meet the needs of emerging generations of Greek-Americans whose primary language is English.)  

Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Periscope TV for more frequent updates: @alizkoletas.

New York, NY. — The proud mayor pulls out his cellphone to show off a picture of his beautiful granddaughter. A tattoo on his wrist peeks out from underneath his tailored suit. An earring glistens under the lights of the room. He talks of Thessaloniki being a proud beacon of hope to the rest of the world, not just Greece. One immediately gets the sense that Yiannis Boutaris isn’t your average mayor.

While in the United States to pick up an award and meet with other Hellenic leaders and groups, Mayor Boutaris took a private tour of the Onassis Cultural Center hosted by the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC) on May 31. The private tour included a look at Onassis Cultural Center’s newest exhibit: Gods and Mortals at Olympus: Ancient Dion, City of Zeus.

HALC member Bill Matsikoudis introduced Boutaris with words of praise for providing a positive image in the light of the economic turmoil happening currently in Greece and he reiterated that Boutaris “has broken the mold of the typical Greek politician.”
Whether this includes welcoming the LGBT community or recognizing the 50,000 Jews from Thessaloniki who were sent to the concentration camps, Boutaris is also at the same time trying to show the rest of the world just how valuable Thessaloniki is, and this trip to the United States was another way for him to remind Greeks and Americans alike of his mission.

“Our vision is that Thessaloniki will become a very important city for this area of the world,” he says as his eyes light up. Boutaris may be old enough to be a grandfather but he emits youthful energy and a thirst for business coming from his family’s expansive winery business. It’s that same business expertise he’s taken to the city he loves in hopes of bringing it to another greater level. He wants anyone listening to take his advice and “come to Thessaloniki and discover the city!”

Matsikoudis says that’s why they feel a “strong spiritual connection” to Boutaris. Matsikoudis, whose father is from Thessaloniki, is part of HALC in order to help promote Hellenic culture and believes the mayor is doing that while also not being afraid to speak his mind even when it is deemed controversial.

“Combine that with the fact that he’s done a good job for the city” is the proof he feels that Thessaloniki should be highlighted as a way politics and business can come together for the good to accomplish great things in Greece.

The Onassis Center was proud to have the mayor in their presence, and Maria Galanou of the Executive Director’s Office noted Boutaris’ great ability to combine both powerful leadership with simple humility. “Hosting Mayor Boutaris is a great honor,” she said. “We congratulate him on his award. It is well-deserved and recognizes his valuable contributions to the city of Thessaloniki.”

Huffington Book Advice: Get Some Sleep

*I’m excited to announce the next step in my journalism career as a news reporter for The National Herald (As the sister publication of the Ethnikos Kyrix, now almost a century old and the only daily Greek language publication in North America, The National Herald (TNH) was founded in 1997 in response to popular demand: to meet the needs of emerging generations of Greek-Americans whose primary language is English.)  

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NEW YORK – The word revolution conjures images of wars and fighting…blood, sweat, and tears, but Arianna Huffington, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, is leading the fight for a sleep revolution. She recently authored a book aptly named The Sleep Revolution, pointing out the perils of the sleep deprived culture we are in and the whys and the ways to change it.

She appeared at a book signing event packed with hundreds of people at the luxurious international Greek-owned bedding store Coco-Mat in New York City on April 6.

Before speaking to the crowd, she told The National Herald, “I just love that we’re having this party at a Greek store with Greek music and Greek food.”

She talked about coming from a Greek family that revered sleep, and now she’s trying to bring that message to everyone on a public scale with her new book.

With cameras and cellphones held high, the crowd gathered around to hear why she felt this issue was important enough for her to write at length about it.

She expressed concern about children being misdiagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) when they are really sleep deprived. And that’s not the only age group: she is targeting colleges with hundreds of sleep fairs coming up soon to spread the message of how important it is to sleep more especially in college.

Not to leave the older generation out, she warned that sleep deprivation leads to erectile dysfunction so she jokingly cautioned the crowd to “forget Viagra and get seven to nine hours of sleep!”

Encouraging the crowd to try out the mattresses by jumping on them, Huffington tried to drive home the point of how important it is for everybody to get enough sleep to feel better in life.

She also acknowledged her two daughters Christina and Isabella, who were in attendance that night. Not just family came out to support Huffington; lifestyle queen Martha Stewart was in attendance as well.

Stewart told TNH how wonderful it was to see what her friend was up to, “and she’s up to sleeping! She’s trying to get me to sleep more but I don’t know if I want to!”

While Huffington may still need to convince Stewart of the benefit of sleeping more, she has already convinced Uber to partner up with her to spread the message about drowsy driving. Although drunken driving incidents have been lowered recently, she pointed out that drowsy driving accidents are rising.

She is hoping as well that her sleep revolution campaign will not just start from behind the wheel but will also reach into the corporate world with nap rooms rights alongside boardrooms.

It will be interesting to see if The City That Never Sleeps will read Huffington’s book and take her advice and start a Sleep Revolution become The City That Sleeps Well.

More information on The Sleep Revolution is available at

Dia Pyros: Brintziki Vineyards Introduces its New Wine- From The Fire”

*I’m excited to announce the next step in my journalism career as a news reporter for The National Herald (As the sister publication of the Ethnikos Kyrix, now almost a century old and the only daily Greek language publication in North America, The National Herald (TNH) was founded in 1997 in response to popular demand: to meet the needs of emerging generations of Greek-Americans whose primary language is English.)  

Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Periscope TV for more frequent updates: @alizkoletas.

Dionysi and Dionysia Brintziki, founders and owners of Ktima Brintziki celebrated the worldwide release of Dia Pyros this week in New York. “Dia Pyros,” meaning “from the fire” has a truly remarkable story of its grapes surviving the terrible “Greek Hellfires” of 2007 when the Brintzikis remember how over 3000 fires raged across Greece scorching 670,000 acres of land making it the worst fire season on record in the past 50 years in Greece. The fires even reached Brintziki Vineyards outside Ancient Olympia, and while the vineyards weren’t spared, the grapes somehow still survived through the scorching flames. Ktima Brintziki has captured the uniqueness of vinifying these grapes which have undergone such an extreme situation and after one long years of aging, they have come out with a wine that truly one of a kind. Upstairs at Kimberly Hotel was packed with Greeks and non-Greeks alike who came out to support the Brintziki Winery. Groups of New York food bloggers, including Daska Navia from Tater Thoughts, gathered together to reflect in the gathering and raise their wine glasses in salute to the incredible story behind Dia Pyros. Dean Gamanos, founder of Greenwich Wine Society in Connecticut, raved about how Greek wines are finally being discovered in America and how happy he was to support the event. As an organic winery and the first green and energy friendly winery in Greece, Brintziki Winery and the couple behind it, the Britzikis are also proud of the fact that they can now share their wine with the rest of the world and tell the miraculous story of how their grapes came through the fire to tell this story. Being released are 2300 individually numbered bottle of Dia Pyros, which are wax sealed bearing the handwritten signature of Dionysis and the oenologist George Kotseridis. More information is available at

Dionysia Brintziki showing off their wine

A group of NYC food bloggers and friends enjoying the event

Greeks and non-Greeks gathering for the presentation 

Dia Pyros meet Chrysler Building

Greek-Americans Discuss Cultural Assimilation


*Below is my first article for The National Herald, the largest Greek-American newspaper in the United States. It explores the Greek-American assimilation into the US. I’m excited to write for the paper on many different issues and events involving the Hellenic culture and people! Follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more frequent updates: @alizkoletas.

The United States is known as a melting pot of languages and nationalities. Some may view that in a positive or negative light but a concern of many cultures is balancing how to assimilate to a new land while still keeping old traditions. For many Greek-Americans, this struggle is real and present especially in younger generations. “It’s easy to see that second and third generations begin to lose the culture because of less overall exposure to the culture. They tend to marry non-Greek, not speak Greek within the household, cease observing traditions, and ultimately drift from the cultural identity,” says Kosta Kokolis, 40, a physical therapist and owner of Physical Therapy Office in New York City. “I didn’t find it hard growing up because I was raised around many first generation Greeks and lived in close proximity to one another. It is more difficult now because we become more Americanized and live in different geographic locations to friends and family.”

OF GENERATIONS… Jamie O’Boyle, senior analyst for the Center for Cultural Studies and Analysis in Philadelphia, PA, explains: “First generation carries on their traditions inside the home. Second generation shares them with their parents but is also aware of the dominant culture (in this case, American). Third generation is American, which means traditions are a matter of choice. There is nothing outstandingly different about the Greek experience in absorption into American society as opposed to other European immigrant experiences. They marry out at the same rate as most ethnic groups.” But Dr. Theodore Xenos, 32, a chiropractor with offices in the Bronx and Astoria, has a different perspective. He notes that “growing up it was hard to keep connected to your roots because of the school friends… and being singled out or mocked for being more cultural” but now looks at it differently, explaining that living in the NYC area makes it easier to stay close to the Hellenic culture, pointing to the Greek music as a way to connect with others. Xenos considers himself fortunate to amid a strong Greek population – something not all Greek-Americans get to enjoy.

Nick and Melanie Angelis, 33 and 31, a husband and wife in the anesthesia and alternative medicine fields, respectively, live in Northwest Florida. They would like to raise their children in the Greek culture and language, just like they were raised, but they acknowledge that “some culture tends to fade with each generation. Greek culture requires lots of people.” Merely having one couple over is “barely Greek,” they say, “because at least five people are needed for true Greekness!”

OF FOOD AND FAMILY… Then there’s Hope Nalpantidis Malone, 30, a mental health therapist on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, who says what she liked most growing up Greek was “the strong family values and ties to Greek culture. We always had music on in the house, there was always dancing, and there was always food. My mom taught me how to make the traditional dishes very early on. I notice when I have a hard week at work, the Greek radio is playing and I’m making these traditional dishes. That’s my comfort food: lentil soup or stuffed peppers, not pizza and mac and cheese!” Like the others, Malone wants to raise her children with the same family values and many of the cultural aspects with which she was raised, “but with less yelling. My family was always so intense, and loud! We yelled when we were happy, we yelled when we were sad, I don’t think I realized people didn’t have to yell to get their point across until I met my husband… I thought it was just a Greek thing,” she notes, “but a lot of cultures I have found are very similar.” But she offers a unique perspective on the most difficult part of keeping the culture alive: “making time for simple things like church, or finding family groups to join. I remember going to dances, and celebrations with my family often in my community. I don’t see that happening these days. It seems that everyone is so busy with work, there isn’t the same time for socializing that existed when I was little. In some ways it’s so easy to stay connected, though social media and the Internet (because) I can look up a recipe and stream Greek music….but connecting with other Greek people my age remains a struggle.”

Maria Ress, 41, designer and founder of Kastel Jewelry in Chicago, IL, reflects on why “it is difficult some days to stay close to my roots. Being a jewelry designer and running Kastel Jewelry leaves me little time to do anything else than work and I am surrounded by so many non-Greeks most of the time. That is why I like to take some time in the in the summer to take my family to Greece and reconnect. It is almost my salvation, it brings me back to the roots not only for myself but my children as well. We look forward to going back and visiting family.” And while she raised her children with the same traditions her immigrant parents passed to her, Ress agrees that speaking the language more often to them is the biggest challenge she faces.

OF LANGUAGE AND VALUES… That challenge is exactly what 26-year-old Adam Georgiou, who works for Google in New York, faced growing up. “My parents attempted to make [speaking Greek] happen. My mom is a fourth-generation New Yorker, not Greek at all and doesn’t speak Greek, but she dragged me to Greek school at the request of my dad for at least six or seven years. I had private tutors and everything.” But Georgiou never picked up the language all that well, even with going to Cyprus and Greece often in the summers. “Academic language studies pale in comparison to everyday speaking, and my dad—the only Greek speaker in the house – wasn’t all that motivated to speak Greek with me,” he explains. And while Georgiou considers himself more American than Greek, he readily admits that his family is a huge part of his day-to-day life to this day, and he doesn’t see that changing anytime soon. He credits the way he grew up with instilling in him some of the habits he holds today. “Work ethic, honor and hospitality are probably the top traits I was taught, and my dad made sure I was busy and made me feel personally bad when I wasn’t. To not get something done was to disrespect our name. That wasn’t an option. Hospitality was also built into our house. Food and drink were expected to be offered to our guests at all times, without reciprocation. All of this led to a sense of immaterialism that I still hold close today. It’s not about stuff, it’s about living well.”

The Angelises see how that ties into a strong culture. While they agree that staying fluent in the Greek language is one of the hardest parts about staying close to their Hellenic roots, they believe that their strong ethnic identity helps them relate to other family-focused cultures and to have close friendships even outside the Greek community. But finding out someone is Greek just “simply speeds up the process of becoming fast friends.”

Malone echoes the sentiments of having a close family, which has helped her create long-lasting friendships in many other cultures outside the Greek community, even joking about how the loud yelling is not just a Greek trait but a very common prevalence in other strong cultures. While her husband is not Greek, she is quick to say that he is “incredibly respectful of my culture and religion so we did get married in a Greek church and have a traditional Greek ceremony, complete with classic dances at the wedding reception!” She adds, “If we’re fortunate enough to have a family, we would love to baptize the baby in our village.”

Dr. Xenos, a first-generation Greek-American who considers himself more Greek than American, says it’s very important for him to marry someone who is Greek as well and raise his children “close to, if not exactly the same.” While this may be a struggle for some Greek-Americans who are multiple generations removed from an immigrant upbringing, the Greek-Americans that grew up in immigrant homes tend to find it easier to pass along the Hellenic traditions, including the language. Is “melting pot” the accurate term to describe the immigrant assimilation into what we call American culture? – As Xenos points out, “I don’t see what American culture actually is. As a young nation in comparison [to Greece], it is still developing culture.”

That’s where Dr. Jared Miracle steps in to explain. He’s a leading global authority on transnational and cross-cultural transmission of ideas, practices and traditions. Miracle holds a PhD in anthropology from Texas A&M University.

MELTING OR DISTINCT? “It’s important to note that the United States is not really a ‘melting pot’ so much as a ‘tossed salad.’ Hundreds of years after the fact, distinct cultures are still alive and well all over, even in remote places like Locketown, CA, where the Chinese-American community is still going strong in a rural location over a century later…cultures can live on for thousands of years in far-flung places.” Is this why the Hellenic culture has been able to survive thousands of years through good times and bad times?

For a deeper analysis into the reasoning behind this monumental accomplishment, expat career coach and author Lisa La Valle-Finan takes a look at the psychological mindset of the Hellenic culture in recent years. “Through no fault of their own,” she says, “Greeks suffer from cultural inferiority complex rooted in a series of historical events. Their ancestors managed to come through the 400 years of Turkish occupation with their identity, religion, customs and language intact, but they’re still perpetually trying to catch up. The most recent example was nearly being rejected from admission to the European Union. As a result of the Turkish occupation (and the ancient Roman conquest) Greeks missed the benefits of the Renaissance, which then kept them from participating in the Age of Exploration, The Enlightenment, and the Social Industrial Revolution. When they finally threw off the Turkish yoke in 1827, they lost most of their country, completely unprepared for the Industrial Age, and they’ve been trying to catch up ever since.”

Finan has over 20 years of international work-life experience and a background in cultural anthropology. She helps executives and their families in global transition cope with the cultural shock and adapt to unfamiliar surroundings. “The transition was traumatic for the Greek psyche. They not only carry a sense of inadequacy compared to the Ancient Greeks because they failed to recreate (or improve and progress beyond) Ancient ‘Great Greece,’ but they carry a resentment toward the Western world they see as one they established. It’s a state of mind that’s left them feeling robbed and resentful of Western achievements that have exploited a glorious Greek heritage. The result is a bizarre inferiority/superiority complex that takes credit for illuminating Western civilization with the light of knowledge, but feeling underwhelmed because, in a sense, all they have to show for it is ‘this lousy t-shirt.’ Greeks are therefore Alexander the Great or some poor captive schmuck of the Turks who dreams of being the former. You can take the Greeks out of history, but you can’t take history out of the Greeks.”

Regarding the recent Hellenic assimilation into the United States, Finan notes “whether a Greek feels more American or Hellenic or somewhere in between depends on shifting his mindset about a few cultural values and tendencies. Culture is learned behavior so it can be unlearned with practice.” Or just not “used” enough, in the same way that the language not being used enough tends to die more and more with each generation. “Cultural adaptation means letting go to make the foreign more familiar and there’s an old Greek song that captures that conflicted feelings toward foreigners and guests (xenomania means both) by Kostas Kofiniotis that says “manners have changed, and now we are in Europe.” They have a love/hate relationship whether receiving foreigners (bombarded by tourists), being the foreigner (of the United States) and at the same time being enthusiastically attracted to all things foreign (usually, American.) So, even while they may be at times attracted to and at times appalled by “American culture,” the Greeks pride themselves on being different…with their language, religion and culture, even celebrating the Easter Christian Pascha rather than the Western Christian Easter.

O’Boyle, who has experience in culture and cross-cultural behavior, sums it up this way. “It makes them unique, and that is considered a virtue in American culture. You celebrate the differences that make you unique.” Ress agrees. “I consider myself definitely a Greek-American. I think Greeks with my background are such a unique class of people. I feel we are the success stories of how wonderful it is to be an immigrant in America…assimilating successfully in America while still holding onto our traditions and culture. I along with many others have proven that you can love the country you live in and love your culture. I think Greek-Americans appreciate and respect their Hellenic roots. We show it through our Churches, our Greek schools, our parades, our celebrations and we do an amazing job of passing our love for Greece to our children.”

Kokolis sums it all up in nine words. “I never want to forget where I came from.”

Once a Marine (Sister), Always a Marine (Sister)

It’s 4 something in the morning and I shoot straight out of bed to the sound of machine guns and explosions going off in the background.

I slowly adjust through the sleepy haze amid the blistering noise to register that I’m back in NY for Memorial Day weekend crashing on the top bunk in my baby brother’s bedroom- finally it dawns on me that the noise is my brother’s alarm going off on his cell phone.


I sleepily scream before rolling over and burying my head in the pillow to drown out the awful noise.

Next thing I know he is in the garden right outside the window…WITH. THE. ROTOTILLER.

It’s a little past 4 in the freaking morning on Memorial Day weekend, for crying out loud!

After slamming the window shut, I promptly go back to sleep.

But he doesn’t. He stays outside working…working…working…all day long like he’s been doing the past several months. He doesn’t want to leave anything undone at the house before he joins the United States Marine Corps.

And that’s what he did Monday June 16, 2014 around 9:45 in the morning.

USMC swearing-in

I’ll be honest- it really wasn’t an emotional time at the swearing-in…my brother has wanted to be a Marine since he was in the womb. And I’m not really sure the Marines can make him a Marine because mentally he already is one and has been one- yes, they can shape and mold him and polish that new title for him but he’s been ready since Day One.

If anything, I feel bad for the DI’s on Parris Island– they don’t know how tough a Greek can be especially since our dad was in the Marines, loved every second of it and passed that fiery toughness to us kids.

It didn’t get emotional when my Greek mother saw that one of the young kids newly sworn-in Marines didn’t have any family there and sweetly pressured forced cajoled asked him to let her take pictures of him and text them to his mom who, turns out, was ecstatic to get the pictures since she couldn’t make the trip… (hmmm wonder where I get my loving persistence from?! thanks Mom!)

johnusmc3It wasn’t even emotional when my nieces were saying their goodbyes- the 2 year old saying repeatedly,

“Are you going in the reeeeens?”


“I go with you!”

while the 3 year old was clinging to his legs saying he couldn’t go.

That’s just what cute kids do, right?

So the time came. We all piled in the elevator- him last carrying the 3 year old still clinging to his one leg and just as the doors were closing, he unclasped her tight little grasp as my sister took her and he stepped out of the elevator and back into the hallway as she let out a piercing scream of


The only sound in the elevator as we went down to the ground floor of the federal building and walked past the security officers and metal detectors was the muffled sobbing and crying of a little three year old girl who would terribly miss her uncle.

And while we adults couldn’t publicly scream and cry along with her… that’s when I would say the day became emotional for all of us.

Semper fi, baby bro.

Got my radio face on!

Tables are turned as I’m being interviewed by Thom Fox, host of The Engine on WHYN NewsTalk 560!

“My core philosophy is ‘it takes a community to build an economy.’ To me, Western Massachusetts is a perfect testing ground for that logic. We have a tremendous amount of potential, yet we struggle to celebrate the individuals who are moving our region ahead each and every day. So, you can imagine my delight when I connected with Aliz Koletas of WGBY’s Connecting Point, which is a television show dedicated to connecting people, places, and ideas. Aliz is a breath of fresh air whose personality, and dedication to the people of our community, is unparalleled. Along with being a top-notch TV personality, Aliz is an entrepreneur who has experienced her fair share of ups and downs. In our interview, we discuss the importance of people moving together toward the same direction in order to bring about change, as well as her experiences as an entrepreneur. If you’re a fan of Western Massachusetts, or interested in learning from a business owner that has ‘been there and got the T-shirt’ you will not want to miss her Engine interview.” –Thom Fox.

Such kind words from Thom…to listen to my radio interview with him, head here!




You know you’re from a big Greek family when…

You know you’re Greek when…

you color code your outfit to the country’s flag on Independence Day…

you’ve ever dated a Greek guy named Adonis…

you follow politicians on Twitter simply because they’re Greek…

if someone’s last name ends with “S”, you ask where they’re from in Greece…

you’re shocked when a person’s last name ends in “S’ and they aren’t Greek…

you eat 5 pieces of baklava first thing in the morning and still eat 5 eggs and a banana for breakfast…

you love food more than people sometimes…

you argue/disagree/fight with your family but God help the person who messes with them…

there are almost 20 people in your immediate family alone…

when group text messaging your family turns into 100 text messages in one hour…

people asked your parents growing up, “are they ALL yours?!”…

you have to split up to be seated at restaurants…

it’s cheaper to get a group discount than pay individually…

you expect a new niece or nephew (sometimes two!) every year…

only 2 of 6 siblings are married and your parents already have 8 grandchildren with more on the way…

your family has to take three vehicles to drive an hour away to a portrait studio big enough to hold you all…

you forget birthdays and middle names…

your boyfriend, dad, brother, and ten different cousins and uncles all have the same first name…

you answer any argument you’re losing with ‘because I’m a Greek woman, that’s why I’m right’…

and lastly, you know you’re Greek when…

you don’t need to find a “YOU KNOW YOU’RE GREEK” list because all of these personally apply to you!



Putting a spin on Valentine’s Day and mentoring!

“Valentines…the only day a baby gets violent and shoot arrows at innocent bystanders and we think it’s cute.”

I’m attempting to write a witty intro for an interview I’m about to tape on Connecting Point, the WGBY show I host & produce…and this is the only one I can think of at the moment.

I don’t get the point of the holiday and refuse to celebrate it. Never have, never will– although admittedly, that’s been harder to live by recently as I’ve gotten older, less of a rebel and found someone that I actually care about. I kinda broke the rules last year though- and no, it didn’t involve a tall handsome Greek man. Just a handful of tween girls and some junk food.

Sadly, most girls think that Valentine’s Day must include a boy in some shape or form…and I’m talking girls that aren’t even old enough for high school or can even drive yet. The last thing they should be worried about is being with a boy. Last year I set about to change that mindset with some pre-teen girls I had been mentoring in my hometown back in NY.

We set up a spa night at a local church’s basement. We ate pizza. We wore mud masks and did our nails. My 2 year old niece was the makeup artist of the night.


I may have thought I was teaching them how to stand apart from the “norm” or how to look past skin color and ethnicity and be friends with “that girl across the room” but instead they were teaching me. Everything silly from rap lyrics (they threw in the word ‘Greek’ as a nod to my ethnicity) to serious stuff like how prevalent peer pressure is nowadays especially on social media.

photo 1

Although I now live further west in the Pioneer Valley, I still look back at last year and relish that night not just as a way I could teach younger girls but also what they taught me. Sometimes when mentoring, you may think the child is receiving the benefit of the relationship and while you hope they grow and learn from it…you may be surprised to learn that we adults can benefit just as much.

photo 4

Mentoring is so important because if a child doesn’t believe that someone cares about them, they will in turn not care for themselves or the people around them and a general dislike for life puts them in a very bad place that can negatively impact them and those around. If, however, that child or tween or young adult has someone who believes in them, they are more likely to turn around one day and not just be a better member of society but also a mentor themselves.

photo 2

Like most other mentors, I could rattle off a list of people that touched and helped form my life: my dad, my mom, my grandparents, my teachers, my church, even my neighbors…but without all of their help, I would’ve never been able to reach out to a younger generation and “pay it forward.”

photo 3

So this year, whether you celebrate Valentine’s Day or the ridiculousness behind it, find a way to be a mentor and impact someone’s life.

Just stay away from babies with arrows.

They might turn into pre-adolescent girls that’ll change your perspective on Valentine’s Day!


*as originally seen here: