Ten random bits revolving around Greek-American families

My novel What’s Left has me thinking about families – especially like Cassia’s Greek-American household in Indiana.

  1. Number of single-parent families in the U.S.: 13.7 million (27 percent).
  2. Number of Greek-Americans: 1.3 million to 3 million of full Greek ancestry estimated. (With her mixed ancestry, Cassia wound not be counted here.)
  3. Number of Greeks in Indianapolis area, 1900: 29.
  4. Number of Greek-Americans (full ancestry) in Indiana: 23,993 (2010).
  5. Number of family businesses in U.S.: 5.5 million.
  6. Greek diners: More than 600 founded in New York area between 1950 and 1970 alone.
  7. Number of diners in New Jersey: about 525 (the leading state).
  8. Greek-menu restaurants in U.S.: 3,100.
  9. First Greek Orthodox church in the U.S.: New Orleans, by 1866
  10. First Greek Orthodox church in Indiana: Holy Trinity, Indianapolis, 1910.
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Xristos anestiek nekron …

As Greek Orthodox Christians everywhere sing joyously while waving candles aloft in the darkness before dawn this morning, the hymn continues:

Thanato thanaton patisas,
ke tis tis mnimasin,
zoin xarisamensos.

And in English-speaking places, they alternate that stanza with a translated version before repeating both over and over:

Christ is risen from the tomb
trampling down death by death!
And on those in the tombs, he has granted life!

XRISTOS ANESTIEK!

Having celebrated the Resurrection in a service that ends around 2:30 a.m., the Greek Orthodox return for a vespers at 11 a.m. One of the traditions here is for the morning’s Gospel reading to be given in every language spoken by those in the room. Here I am, making my public debut in Spanish with the text about Doubting Thomas. (Photo by Maria Faskianos)

Ten popular Greek dishes

In my novel What’s Left, Cassia’s family runs a landmark restaurant but realizes many of the Greek dishes they make at home are just too exotic for their clientele in southern Indiana, at least during most of the timespan of the story.

They do add roasted Greek potatoes as an option, but that’s about it.

Well, by the early ’80s, when they have a vegetarian line going, they might add dolmathes, the stuffed grape leaves, or vegetarian stuffed peppers to their offerings, perhaps along with tzatziki, the distinctive cucumber yogurt sauce distinguished by its dill and lemon.

Oh, but how much are the holding back on? Consider these ten options.

  1. Gyro. It’s a yummy handful, a wrap made of warm pita bread filled with strips of seasoned grilled lamb and beef with tzatziki and sliced tomatoes. (No onions on mine, please. They don’t agree with my system.)
  2. Souvlaki. Around here, it’s usually kabobs of char-broiled marinated pork, ordered by the skewer. “Give me two sticks, please,” is the way to order. Rounded out with things like rice pilaf, beans, and Greek salad on the plate. My favorite came from a wood-fired stove at the Common Ground Fair in Maine.
  3. Spanakopita. Or spinach pie, made of filo dough baked with layers of spinach and cheese.
  4. Loukaniko. Greek sausage made with orange peel, too. Great appetizer.
  5. Kolokythokeftedes. A Cretan vegetarian appetizer ball featuring feta cheese. (Feta is big in our house.)
  6. Lamb shank. This slow-baked, savory hunk o’ meat is one of the glories of our local Greek festival. Or, for those who want something a little less messy to eat, the slices of roast lamb are delightful, assuming you like lamb. If not, go for the lemon-pepper roast chicken. (Admittedly, I’m cheating in trying to keep this a Tendril. Just ten dishes? Oh, my, impossible!)
  7. Pastichio. Layers of baked macaroni with cheese and seasoned beef are a common entrees , as is Moussaka, made of layers of baked eggplant, potatoes, and ground beef.
  8. Keftethes. Meatballs. Bet you can’t eat just one.
  9. Baklava. This honey-infused filo is a heavenly dessert, but be warned, it has to be eaten while fresh. That honey can get sticky.
  10. Let’s not overlook Loukoumades. Bite-sized golden puffs of fried dough often sprinkled with syrup, walnuts, and cinnamon are another celestial way to round out the meal. I have heard some heated discussion, though, about whether the next generation can live up to the standards this one requires. The debate can be quite amusing, especially when the stand is being operated by closely supervised children.

Now, as for your Greek favorites?

 

Coming to the culmination of Great Lent

In his “Note on the Religious Tendencies” published by Liberation magazine in 1959, the Zen Buddhist and poet Gary Snyder remarked, “The statement common in some circles, ‘All religions lead to the same goal,’ is the result of fantastically sloppy thinking and no practice.” His very next sentence is equally startling. “It is good to remember that all religions are nine-tenths fraud and are responsible for numerous social evils.”

Well, the essay is largely a defense of the beat generation, and he was an American studying in monasteries in Kyoto. I wonder if he’d admit today how much social progress and learning have come about through religion, too. That could make for an illuminating debate.

I did hear him once mention that on the Buddhist spectrum, Zen starts at one extreme and Tibetan tradition at the other, but that as followers of each advance in their practice – as he said this, his outstretched arms began to sweep over this head – they eventually approach and then cross places. Just as his arms were doing. Go far enough, of course, and each would land where the other one had set forth.

Without going into detail, I find a lot in common there when it comes to Quakers and Eastern Orthodox on the Christian spectrum.

The one is plain, even austere, and very much centered in the present. The other is visually and tactily rich, accompanied by an accentuated awareness of mortality and death.

As regular readers of this blog are aware, I am a Quaker who’s been fascinated lately with Greek Orthodox life. It doesn’t all spring from questions arising as I drafted and revised my novel What’s Left, either. Besides, Cassia’s family wasn’t all that observant of their native faith, even if members were toying with the Tibetan Buddhism her father practiced.

Admittedly, few Americans know much about either Quakers or Orthodox Christians, despite their impact on the larger society. Ditto for Buddhism.

Today is an especially important day for the Orthodox.

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A taste of this and a taste of that

Hors d’œuvre or appetizers are food items served before the main courses of a meal, but the Greek meze table can also be a place of lingering. Here we mezethes of mozzarella cheese sprinkled with basilic flowers, black Greek olives, sun-dried tomatoes, Italian salami, and Spanish Serrano jamon. In the family in my novel What’s Left, Cassia may have had food like this. Photo by Bdieu via Wikimedia Commons.

 

TEN FACTS ABOUT ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY IN AMERICA

In my novel What’s Left, Cassia is a member of a Greek-American family that lives at a distance for their Greek Orthodox church. While that faith shares practices and teachings with a number of other Eastern Orthodox denominations, some of its customs that she takes for granted do puzzle her classmates.

Here’s some perspective.

  1. Number of Greek Orthodox adherents in the United States: Between 440,000 to two million in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, depending on the counting method being used. They are spread among more than 500 parishes and served by roughly 800 priests. The Antiochian archdiocese has 83,700 adherents and 206 parishes.
  2. Number of followers in the Orthodox Church in America (evolving mainly from the Russian Orthodox): 115,000 estimated, with 456 parishes.
  3. Other Orthodox representation includes two Serbian archdioceses, plus Ukrainian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Albanian, Macedonian, Assyrian, Coptic, and two Armenian organizations.
  4. Date of Christmas: January 7, concluding the 12 days of Christmas.
  5. Date of Easter: Based on the Julian calendar, rather than the Gregorian calendar used in the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, the Orthodox date can fall anywhere between April 4 and May 8 on the Western calendar. (The Greeks call it Pascha, for Passover.)
  6. The highest level of leadership: The Metropolitan, or archbishop. The Roman Catholic Pope was once one of them.
  7. Icons: The interior of the churches, especially, are replete in stylized depictions of Jesus, the Holy Mother, and many saints. Many of these are murals on the ceiling.
  8. The iconostasis: An icon-covered wall runs in front of the altar and has a large central door as well as two smaller doors at the far end of either side. During the service, the priest often passes through these.
  9. The priests are typically married.
  10. Fasting: It’s not a total avoidance of food but rather constrained by intricate limitations. The longest periods of fasting are Advent, before Christmas, and Great Lent.

Orthodox Advent began November 15.