MERRILLVILLE (NWI) - Their Sunday finest wasn’t what one would typically see outside a Greek Orthodox cathedral.
Instead of suits and dresses, the men and women who revved their engines at St. Constantine and Helen in Merrillville were more likely to sport leather vests, bandanas or Harley-Davidson T-shirts.
Yet, members of a religious culture steeped in tradition welcomed them warmly Sunday morning for its first annual Bike Blessing and Memorial Ride.
Just as about 50 motorcycles geared up for a 45-minute ride, they received an extra boost from a higher power – with an ethnic twist.
Still handing out Communion bread to regular parishioners after service in the parking lot, the church’s two priests sprinkled holy water and recited prayers in two languages before and as bikers who waited in the parking lot hit the road. We can hope he wasn't dishing out the Eucharist in a parking lot. I'm betting on antidoron.
“God bless you. May you ride with the wind in your hair,” the Rev. Ted Poteres told the crowd.
The ride and the blessing itself – with tickets costing $25 for riders and $10 per passenger – was a church fundraiser, said organizer Tommy Papadopoulos.
Proceeds will fund the purchase of a new sign and assist its Greek school – semi-formal classes that teach the Greek language and culture to descendants of immigrants now well assimilated in the United States.
Papadopoulos estimated it raised about $4,000. They hope to make it a yearly event, he said.
The ride is also in memory of parishioner Larry Papadakis – a mechanic who died suddenly at 66 in January.
His son, Emanuel, 41, said his father emigrated from Greece with very limited English proficiency and eventually opened his Hobart shop in 1974.
The event was a fitting tribute for a man who loved fixing “anything with moving parts,” he said.
Although the blessing was well taken as a way to support a charitable cause, many bikers said they were generally not superstitious when it came to road safety.
“I’ve seen plenty of the results of motorcycle accidents and if I was (sic) superstitious, I would never get near a motorcycle,” said Dan Grzemski, 59, a retired Chicago police officer.
Proper maintenance – keeping the tires properly inflated, lights working, oil changed, wearing proper gear and watching out for road hazards – were the main thing, said Don Hewitt, 62, region director for ABATE of Indiana, a motorcycle safety organization.
Motorcycle blessings like this are fairly common custom for some riders, he said.
Catholic Pope Francis blessed thousands of bikers in St. Peter’s Square to commemorate Harley-Davidson’s 110th anniversary in 2013, according to the Associated Press.
Following the example of other Greek churches in Chicago who have similar blessings, Poteres said their welcoming was no different than for any of their own members.
“It brings that feeling that you are not alone, that Christ is always with them,” he said.
It goes back to a Greek word – Philoxenia – befriending strangers, Poteres said, “that’s what we have here.”