Park-Ex celebrates the Dormition of the Virgin Mary

Followers of the Greek Orthodox faith gathered last weekend to celebrate the Dormition of the Virgin Mary at Koimisis Tis Theotokou Church.

The queue to enter the Orthodox church—which caught fire in 2015 and reopened its doors two years later—snaked down St-Roch several blocks. The mass was aired on loudspeakers as dozens of masked adherents tuned in from the street.

Greek Orthodox faith

“We’re here to honour the Virgin Mary,” said Maria Katrakaza who queued with her husband, John Rentopoulos.

“This is one of the biggest holidays in Greek culture,” said Rentopoulos.

John Vongas also waited for his chance to venerate the Virgin Mary.

“The Virgin Mary, for us, is the mother of all mothers,” said Vongas. “For us, coming here every August, it’s the summer Easter.”

Bill Angelis stood in line with his family as well. Though a Laval resident, Angelis made the journey to Park-Extension to commemorate the Dormition of the Virgin Mary.

“To put it simply, it’s the end of the suffering and the end of what Mary had to endure to go back to where she was with her son,” said Angelis. “And we celebrate it as, yes, the time that she passed away [as well as the] beginning of her life in heaven.

“At the end of the day, we have our faith,” said Angelis. “That’s all we have. That’s all were left with. More things hang on the fringes of faith and our religion than anything else in my life.”

In fact, devout adherents of the Greek Orthodox faith like Marianne Ioannou believe that the Virgin Mary has performed life-saving miracles. The Virgin healed her severely ill mother, Ioannou said.

While churchgoers paid their respects, altar boys Nick Zaharakis and Peter Lainis were busy giving a helping hand for the evening mass and were involved in the procession.

Being an altar boy brings Lainis closer to his faith, he said. He also finds joy in helping the priest.

“Today’s that day of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, the day she fell asleep,” Zaharakis explained. “In our religion, there’s no death.”

But the pandemic has altered the festivities, limiting the size and scope of the celebration and crowd.

“It’s different now with COVID,” said Vongas. “Last year, there was no festival. I hope things get back to what they used to be.”

Rentopoulos is also hoping for a return to normalcy. “Everything has changed because of COVID,” he said.

Family, community

For Angelis, faith itself is crucial to cultivating family and community life. “At the end of the day, you try to pass it on to your children,” said Angelis. “You try to pass on a sense of family, a sense of religion, a sense of belonging, a sense of love. Once these things fragment, there is no family. There’s no love. There’s no helping your fellow human being.”

To Vongas and his wife, both of whom grew up in Park-Extension, the church represents more than religious faith. It is integral to their sense of community. 

“This church has been here a while,” said Vongas. “Especially after it burned, you could see the attachment the community had to it. You meet family and friends from all over the city. I see friends that I went to high school with that we see here every year.”

Katrakaza agreed. “It brings families together and friends that we haven’t seen for years sometimes,” she said.

Souvlaki Fundraiser

The annual feast on the grounds of Evangelismos Tis Theotokou Church also looked a bit different this year. It featured a smaller menu than in previous years, and it was set up to accommodate take-out patrons. In addition, the event organizers said they would be sending the proceeds to the victims of the recent wildfires ravaging Greece.

“We felt it was appropriate and necessary for us to do something to give back to our compatriots in Greece who are suffering,” said Constance Karvelas, executive vice president of the Hellenic Community of Greater Montreal.

“You see all the news stories about people who have lost literally everything,” said Karvelas. “Giving back to Greece seemed like the worthiest cause of all at this particular time when we’re celebrating this big holiday.”

Although the Hellenic Community of Greater Montreal has not yet decided which Greek organizations will receive the proceeds, Karvelas said that the goal was to give to frontline organizations serving those with the greatest needs.