Good Friday for me is one of the most special days of the year. I have fond memories as a child of taking a special note from Fr. Michael to school, explaining to my teachers in my largely white upper middle class suburban Pittsburgh school that “Today is Good Friday in the Greek Orthodox Church and Gregory should be excused from school at noon so he may attend services.”
I grew up in a tight knit community called Holy Trinity on the North Side of Pittsburgh. Fr. Michael Sfanos (God rest his soul) was the most amazing priest anyone could ever ask for because he was a “real person” who spoke more about real life scenarios of how we should incorporate our faith into our every day lives, and less about saints and scripture.
Some ultra-religious folk may not have appreciated his un-Orthodox approach to Greek Orthodoxy, but today the fruits of his labors are popping up on the side of a busy road in the North Hills of Pittsburgh, where the new Holy Trinity is officially opening its doors in late June.
This is by no means a slight against the hard work of the current spiritual father of the community who himself has done a miraculous job of building this community to where it is today. Fr. John Touloumes is just as much a builder as Fr. Michael was, and he should be commended for his hard work in shepherding this community to new heights.
I remember Fr. Michael’s piercing voice singing the Hymns of the Lamentations every Good Friday night and the excitement of taking the Epitaphio outside and around the block. I walked proudly, holding my lit candle as the “Americans” peeked out their windows and looked below as a sea of flickering lights passed. My dad sang from the top of his lungs too. When he wasn’t at the restaurant, it was his favorite night of the year in church. (The photo is my dad and Fr. Mike– both long departed but still often praised and remembered)
It was kind of cool to me, as well, that the police would close all of W. North Avenue for the hundreds of us to pass by, as dozens of cars waited.
I especially remember him belting from the top of his lungs:
Έρραναν τον τάφο, οι μυροφόροι μύρα, λίαν πρωί ελθούσαι
as he showered the flower covered kouvouklion with holy water, before turning to the faithful.
My brother and I always jockeyed for a position to be hit by the holy water. We would actually nudge one another out of the way so we could get wet. Of course, there was the annual ritual of watching, waiting for the hair to catch fire.
Today, I had every intention of being at Holy Trinity again, singing, lamenting and preparing for the great celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, delays on the ground due to weather delayed my flight and I didn’t make it home until just before midnight.
This very well be the first-ever Good Friday that I missed at Holy Trinity in all my 45 years.
I made the best of my time waiting for my flight recalling all of the great memories of Good Fridays past and realizing that although I may not be that connected to my Church like I was when I was younger, the cultural continuity and the connection to my heritage that my Church provides me is priceless.
And it’s because of people like Fr. Michael, Fr. John and so many others before them that “generations will sing his praises” just like my mother and father did, and theirs before them, and several generations that will follow, hopefully.
Αι γενεαί πάσαι, ύμνον τη ταφή σου, προσφέρουσι, Χριστέ μου.