Good Greek Americans everywhere (Spiro Agnew notwithstanding, are there any other kind?) lost the first great trend-setter of American Greek Orthodoxy on January 18th 2007, with the Syracuse community and St. Sophia’s parishioners fortunate enough to have benefited from 55 years of his presence and experience. Father Michael Harmand, an efficiency expert who knew the value of coffee hour. A thespian who didn’t need to say a word to get a standing ovation. A drummer who, in his late 70’s, could bring a Greek Fest drumkit to the verge of rattling apart. The church function wasn’t official until he took his seat, the food wasn’t blessed until he told you to “dig in!”
Of all of the instances I’ve known where non-verbal communication was most obvious and appropriate, the one that will stand out first among all in my mind occurred between my younger brother and I at every service we found ourselves sitting next to each other during Father Harmand’s “retirement” (and we’re talking well into 2006). With Father Harmand’s first utterance, a glance, a smirk, and an affirmative nod would pass between the two of us. I imagine the same reverential exchange occurred as the house lights dimmed between every small-time R+B band that ever spent a gig’s pay to buy tickets to see James Brown in his prime. That exchange was the acknowledgment of being in the presence of a one-man institution. The appreciation of knowing that we were in the presence of the man in charge.