By Evagelos Sotiropoulos, Archon Ostiarios

March 25th is a special – and sacred – day for Greek Orthodox people around the world.

It’s one of my favourite days of the year: we commemorate the Annunciation (Ευαγγελισμός) of the Theotokos, which marks the crowning of our salvation and the revelation of the mystery before all ages (Apolytikion); it’s also, of course, the celebration of Greek Independence.

This year, for Greek-Canadians, particularly those in the Greater Toronto Area, the day took on added significance as the Prime Minister of the Hellenic Republic, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, observed this holy day for Orthodoxy and hallowed day for the Greek nation in Canada’s largest city.

The day began for me, as it always does on my Name Day, by participating in the Divine Liturgy. I then hurried from my home parish to attend a luncheon organized by the Economic Club of Canada. There, with three hundred or so dignitaries and prominent Greek-Canadians, Prime Minister Mitsotakis offered his perspective on Greek-Canadian bilateral relations, as well as his vision for the Greek economy, making a persuasive case that Greece is ready, willing, and able to open its doors for mutually beneficial investment and trade opportunities.

In the evening, I traveled with His Eminence Archbishop Sotirios of Canada to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. There, in the presence of 1,500 proud Greeks, and equally proud Canadians, His Eminence joined Prime Minister Mitsotakis, as well as the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, for a historic day for the Greek Diaspora in Canada.

I had the privilege to be backstage with His Eminence and both prime ministers – a circumstance that can be aptly characterized by the proverb: Because of the basil the pot is watered. I had the joy of listening to my friend and leading political journalist Vassy Kapelos emcee the evening – a proud Greek-Canadian who, in the words of Prime Minister Trudeau, is “excelling at the highest levels of media and journalism.” I had the pleasure of being a few feet away from Greek-Canadian opera singer, Ariana Chris, as she rendered the national anthems of both countries in a masterful performance that touched your soul.

Archbishop Sotirios began his remarks by chanting – together with all people in attendance – the timeless Lenten liturgical hymn, Ti Ipermaho Stratigo, that harkens Greek Orthodox faithful back to the Byzantine Empire, which despite trials and tribulations, lasted one-thousand years and offered the world so much in so many sectors of society.

While His Eminence opened his remarks with a Byzantine connection, he closed them by conveying the blessing of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. Constantinople, which is the Queen of Cities, may have fallen on that fateful day of May 29, 1453, but for both Greeks and Orthodox, its unparalleled history and eternal spirit continues in the person of His All-Holiness and the inextinguishable light emanating from the venerable Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Both prime ministers spoke extraordinarily well, as if at home in a massive auditorium. They spoke, not only about the strength of Canada-Greece bilateral relations, but about the values of democracy and freedom birthed in ancient Athens.

For the Greek Diaspora in Canada – particularly for those who immigrated to Canada decades ago – these and other timeless values and traditions such as hard work and the importance of family, service and selflessness, and respect for the rules and customs of their adopted country, enabled countless accomplishments, but also cemented the foundation for the success of their children and grandchildren.

The question now is: where to from here?

How do we as a community maintain the momentum ignited by the Prime Minister’s visit?

How do we deepen people-to-people and business-to-business ties between the two countries?

How do we uphold and preserve our Orthodox faith and Hellenic traditions, especially in our youth and young adults?

We should never forget that just as the Annunciation marked the crowning of our salvation, the heroes of 1821 marked the salvation of the Greek Nation.

We must always remember that it was the Church that sustained the Greek people through four-centuries of enslavement. That it was the Bishop of Old Patras, Germanos, who famously blessed the flag of the Revolution and its fighters. That it was the ever-memorable St. Gregory V, Patriarch of Constantinople, who was martyred on the Sunday of Pascha at the Patriarchal gates (which have remained closed in his honour ever since), to safeguard the Greeks of The City. That it was poet Aristotle Valaoritis, in a tribute to St. Gregory, who wrote the powerful words: “Children, do not neglect the noose of the Patriarch!”

Kyriakos Mitsotakis was the first sitting Greek prime minister to visit Canada in four decades; four decades from now, in what state will the Greek-Canadian community find itself? March 25th will remain sacred, but will it still be special in Canada? Will the church pews be filled with faithful and the streets lined with people on the parade route?

St. James writes that faith without works is dead (cf. Jam 2:17); in this same spirit, our love and longing for Greece must be accompanied by action. By visiting and voting; by speaking the language and teaching its history.

Greeks of my parents’ generation came to Canada for a better life for their children; it is incumbent upon my and future generations to honour and respect this sacrifice. To not rest on our laurels, but to have the same drive and work ethic of our parents and grandparents.

The visit of Prime Minister Mitsotakis can be seen as commencing a new chapter in Greek-Canadian history; of passing the baton from one generation to the next. With love for God and country – both Greece and Canada – I am confident that the Greek Orthodox phronema will endure the test of time, as it always has.