It is 9:30 in the morning on a magnificent, sunny day in Southampton in late August. In the St. Andrews Road section of that town, the sounds of a Greek Byzantine chant, the Doxastikon of the Lauds, are softly heard rustling through the trees. The chant, a Glorification of the Trinity, issues from the lawn of the newly completed church, called the Dormition of the Virgin Mary.
As the chant concludes, another begins, and now there is seen a grand procession of Greek Orthodox officials slowly coming down a path toward the church. At the front, in robes, come the altar boys, carrying long staffs aloft, atop which sit the banners, fenaria, acolytos and icons of this ancient religion. Behind, come the chanters, also in their robes, chanting “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.” And behind them are the high priests, the Protopresybter, the Oikonomos, the Efimerios, the Archpriest, the Archdeacon Panteleimon, the Deacon Eleftherios and finally, his Eminence the Archbishop Demetrios of America, the leading figure in this Orthodox religion in this country. He carries a silver cross. He is to be the presiding Celebrant in the ceremony that is about to begin.
The procession, with the church’s congregation following in an orderly manner behind, arrive at the marble terrace in front of the grand Byzantine portico of the new facility. They stop. Shortly, His Eminence will knock on the huge front doors. A question will be asked of him from within. He will answer it. The question will be asked again. After a third time, the doors will be opened. And his Eminence and the others, followed by special friends and the rest of the congregation will be led into this new church for its first services.
This event, “the Opening of the Doors” is perhaps the most elaborate religious ceremony to ever take place in the Hamptons. It is in accordance with the exacting ceremonies of ancient Greek Orthodox teachings from the time when in 1054, the Holy Roman Empire was split in two, an experience called the schism, when the Catholic religion flourished in the west, headquartered at the Vatican in Rome with the Pope as its Grand Eminence, and the Eastern Orthodox Church flourished for a time in the east on the shores of Asia at Constantinople before becoming lost and scattered all over the world during the rise of Islam in 1453.
His eminence Archbishop Demetrios arrives at the front doors. He turns, steps up onto a low platform and offers a prayer to God asking for his abundant blessings of this “work of our hands.”
“May it be a haven and shelter for those in distress, a refuge for those in turmoil, a source of edification and sanctification for all Your people. May our prayers be acceptable to You through the intercessions of our most holy Lady, the Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary. For to You belong all glory, honor and worship to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever and unto to the age of ages,” he says.
His eminence then speaks plainly to those assembled. When these doors open, he says, the church shall be filled not only with the spirit of the congregants, these residents of the Hamptons, but with the presence of the Lord himself. It will be his holy place. You will be able to come here and know you are now in his presence.
His Eminence then turns, steps down from the platform and, bearing his holy cross and a handful of basil leaves dipped in holy water, approaches the doors, with the other officials and several special parishioners, Daisy Moraitis, Toula Bakas, Bobby Gianos, Greta Nikiteas and Coula Johnides behind him. The crowd waits. He knocks on the door.
“Lift up your gates, O princes; and be lifted up everlasting gates and the King of Glory shall enter,” he says.
A muffled voice is heard from inside.
“Who is this King of Glory?”
“The Lord mighty and powerful, the Lord powerful in battle. Lift up your gates, O princes; and be lifted up everlasting gates, and the King of Glory shall enter in.”
His Eminence knocks again. He is asked the same question again. He gives the same answer.
He knocks again. And again it is this same question.
“Who is this King of Glory?”
“The Lord of Hosts,” his eminence says with finality. “He is the King of Glory.”
And with that, the doors swing open, and everyone, the deacons, the altar boys, the high officials and the choir and the congregation, all led by His Eminence, blessing the church with Holy Water as he walks, are welcomed in.
A long, elaborate mass follows.
And this is followed by a celebratory luncheon for his Eminence and other officials for the long way they have come, on the outdoor terrace of Nammos, the beautiful restaurant on North Main Street in the center of downtown Southampton.
In attendance among many others are Congressman Tim Bishop, Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, U.S. Religious Freedom Ambassador Suzan Johnson Cook, Greek Ambassador Constantine Sinellis, Greek Consul General Evangelos Kyriaopoulos, former Supervisor Skip Heaney, Southampton Hospital Director Bob Chaloner, National Commander of the Order of Saint Andrews Dr. Anthony Limberakis, National President of the Ladies Philoptochos Society Aphrodite Skeadas, Judge Andrea Schiavone, Dr. Peter Michalos, special honored guests Beth and David Wittig, and area clergy of all faiths.
It is a fine day. The church has been blessed and consecrated. The doors have opened. The sun shines down on this beautiful August day. It is mid-day. It is all just utterly grand.