By Stefanos Chen
The service was already running late when the priest asked the choir to join him at the altar. It took close to three minutes for the elderly choir members to walk or wheel their way down the aisle. The priest explained that the Three Hierarchs Greek Orthodox Church of Brooklyn was celebrating the 66th anniversary of two of its most senior choir members. He spoke mainly in English to the mixed group of Greek, Russian and Ukrainian parishioners, most of them well over 40.
The choir members wore matching red robes with plunging gold necklines, which gave the impression of an ancient Greek cabal. The choir leader spoke in long, grandfatherly sentences that tended to trail off. When he struggled for words in English—not for lack of mastery, but from a lapse in memory—he spoke in quick bursts of Greek, as if to reach into the word bank of bygone years.
After the service, the congregation gathered in the basement for cold-cut sandwiches and potato salad. The food was catered and paid for by a local Greek diner. A man in a suit stood by the doorway offering “cawfee” to churchgoers. One of the community board members, a graying woman in orthopedic shoes, announced over the portable PA system that choir members would be the first to be served. The line broke down almost immediately. “That guy isn’t part of the choir,” an overdressed woman complained. She muttered to herself for several minutes before catching a neighbor off guard: “It’s those Russians that cut,” she said, her face turning flush with anger. Others at the table ignored the comment, or, when she persisted, nodded in passing and carried on.
Upstairs, the afternoon service for Russian speaking church members had begun.