Source: The National Herald
LOS ANGELES, CA – The anniversary dinner to honor Fr. John Bakas, the Dean of St. Sophia Cathedral in Los Angeles, for his 20 years of service was attended by more than 550 guests, including Hollywood dignitaries from the Greek-American community.
Academy Award-winning actor Tom Hanks served as the evening’s Emcee and shared stories about Fr. Bakas. His speech was both affectionate and entertaining as he highlighted Bakas’ many accomplishments.
Bakas told TNH that he attributed his success to ”the principles and values of his Greek heritage that his parents taught him.”
Hanks, who has become a member of St. Sophia since his marriage to Greek-American actress Rita Wilson, said Bakas is a ”gift to our community and a privilege to have him as the Dean of our Cathedral,” and thanked him for his service. In sharing his experiences been married to a Greek, Hanks encouraged ”all the non-Greeks who are married to a Greek to form a club and share their personal stories.”
He shared his own experience of how the structure of hierarchy works when someone is married to a Greek-American woman: “Tom you are the head of the family,” his wife said, “but I am the neck that turns it around,” he described, laughingly.
More and more Greeks are marrying non Greeks these days, a topic that was illustrated in the smash hit romantic comedy ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding,’ in 2002 when Toula (Nia Vardalos) surprised her tight knit Greek-American family by marrying Ian (John Corbett), a non-Greek. The sequel, My Greek Fat Greek Wedding 2, will be in theaters soon.
Vardalos, who attended the dinner with her husband, actor Ian Gomez, was introduced by Tom Hanks to thunderous applause. Hanks and Wilson are the film’s producers.
Fox Studios Chairman Jim Gianopoulos was on hand, as was actress Melina Kanakaredes.
Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco conducted the invocation and praised Fr. Bakas for his contributions to the community, and wished him continued success.
Bakas received a standing ovation as he walked on the stage after a loving tribute from his four children. In an emotional speech, he remembered his parents, who as immigrants worked very hard to support their family. He brought to the stage a milk can and explained that his father’s first job was to clean milk cans in the factory. He also brought an apron, as his mother worked for many years as a waitress.
Bakas recounted his long journey until his arrival at St. Sophia. He served in many parishes and was the co-Founder and the first Director of the St. Nicholas Ranch and Retreat Center in 1979. He calls his parishioners ”angels with one wing, who can only fly by embracing one another.” And he surely began embracing his parishioners and the surrounding community as soon as he became the priest of St. Sophia.
In a predominately Latino community, only few Greeks still remain in the area, he immediately reached out to the local churches, businesses and community organizations. He did not want St. Sophia to be isolated but a vital partner in the area. He was instrumental in revitalizing the neighborhood by establishing the Byzantine- Latino Quarter. When it became apparent that the Cathedral’s aging administration building was beyond repair he spearheaded the drive for a new facility and the result is the impressive Huffington Center that includes a library, classrooms for the Greek school, a dining hall and a basketball court! And yet his contributions extend far beyond that. He founded the Kids ‘n Cancer program and Camp AGAPE that offers camping programs for children suffering with cancer in California, Oregon and the state of Washington. He also founded Camp Axios for inner city youth at risk. He teaches Greek Orthodox Theology at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. After he appeared on the PBS program ”Visiting with Huell Howser” the increased interest has generated daily tours to the Cathedral. He has served as a consultant for the Orthodox perspective on Steven Spielberg’s production, Prince of Egypt, and Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.
A former tenor for the Albuquerque Light Opera, Fr. Bakas entertains the audience with his singing at the Los Angeles Greek festival every September.
Hanks told the crowd that preparations to celebrate Bakas’ 30thanniversary at St. Sophia are already underway.