July 22, 2010

WWII Orphan Helps to Honor Cleric Who Saved Him

By Charita Goshay
July 20, 2010
Dover Post

Spyros Kalaitsides of Canton talks about his experiences as a war orphan in Greece during World War II, and the blind monk who took him in. Next week, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church will host a fundraiser to benefit that monk, the Rev. Meletios Aibazides, now 95. Looking on is Kalaitsides’ wife, Michalena.

CANTON, Ohio —It’s been 67 years for Spyro Kalaitsides, but the mere memory of a single act of kindness is enough to bring him to tears.

In 1943, Kalaitsides was one of eight orphaned siblings scrambling for survival in war-torn Greece. His father, a butcher, had been killed by communists. His mother died in childbirth.

One Sunday morning, the 10-year-old Kalaitsides was attending a church service in his village of Kria Vrissi, when he met the man who would change his life by saving it.

The Rev. Meletios Aibazides, a blind monk, was visiting the parish and encountered Kalaitsides, who was an altar boy. As the parish priest gave Kalaitsides a chunk of blessed bread, the boy caught the monk’s attention.

“He said ‘Who’s that kid?’” Kalaitsides recalled. “He asked who was responsible for me, and if I wanted to go with him.”

During the war, Aibazides saved 1,000 Greek orphans, 300 of whom became priests. Kalaitsides was part of the first group of boys saved by the monk, and lived in the orphanage until 1949.

“We did house-cleaning, and attended school and learned to sing church songs,” Kalaitsides recalled, adding that he often led the blind cleric around by the hand when he went out to seek donations for the orphanage.

In gratitude, Kalaitsides, now of Canton, Ohio, has helped to organize a dinner buffet at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church to benefit Aibazides, now 95.

Proceeds will be used to furnish and properly decorate the interior of Seven Graces, a chapel built in Aibazides’ honor in Giannitsa Makedonia, Greece.


Kalaitsides said Aibazides is a devout and dedicated man who deserves someday to be made a saint.

“When he opened his mouth, every word was good,” he said. “He never said anything bad about anyone. He never took any pay for what he did. They are going to declare him a saint.”

Upon leaving the orphanage at 17, Kalaitsides joined the Greek Army but resigned when President Dwight Eisenhower increased the immigration quota for Greek war orphans.

Sponsored by a pair of Greek American brothers, Kalaitsides immigrated to Baltimore, Md., where he worked as a bellhop.

New life

In 1957, at the invitation of a friend, the 24-year-old moved to Canton from Buffalo, N.Y., and he met his Canton-born wife, Michalena. Though he initially couldn’t speak English and she couldn’t speak Greek, they married in 1958. They’ll celebrate their 52nd anniversary in September. The couple has three children and five grandchildren.

Kalaitsides, who worked at Sugardale Meats for 32 years before retiring in 1989, also assisted two of his sisters and a brother in emigrating from Greece.

Kalaitsides has returned to Greece four times to see Aibazides, and the two still regularly keep in touch by phone.

The Very Rev. Dan Rogich, pastor at Holy Trinity, said he admires Kalaitsides, a former parish cantor, for his dedication in ensuring that his family is aware of their heritage and history.

Kalaitsides’ family originated from Pontos, a Black Sea region that became Turkey. After being nearly exterminated and driven out by the Ottoman authorities (now the Republic of Turkey) in 1917, his was the first generation born in Greece.

“They’re a wonderful church family,” Rogich said. “This family has a great appreciation for their history, not just their Greek past, but also for their Orthodox faith.

“They have their priorities in a different place. They haven’t forgotten their legacy. They haven’t forgotten where they came from; its always in the forefront.”