It’s all Greek at Greek Festival

Jun. 01, 2014 @ 03:48 PM

Everything was Greek at Saint Barbara Greek Orthodox Church this weekend as the congregation opened their doors and their arms to the public for their annual Greek Festival.

The two-day event was a celebration of Greek culture, heritage and traditions as well as a fundraiser for the church’s building fund and the local American Red Cross.

Demetra Vlachos, co-chair of the Greek Festival, said that last year’s festival drew a couple thousand people. This year, they were anticipating “about a thousand more.”

The festival “is to share our culture, our heritage, our traditions and our faith with the community around us,” Vlachos said. “Greeks are known for their hospitality and that’s what we’re all about.”

That hospitality included handmade foods including baklava and spanakopita, Greek music and folk dance performances, cultural exhibits and tours of the Byzantine-style domed church.

The smell of herbs and spices coupled with the sounds of Greek music and discussions of Greek culture completed the scene.

“People are open-minded and they want to have new experiences, so they go to a Greek Festival,” said Vlachos. “Once they go to one Greek Festival, they go back year after year. We benefit from the reputations of other Greek Festivals.”

Angela Papadatos was at Saint Barbara Greek Orthodox Church with her three children Sunday afternoon waiting in line for face painting.

“This is our church,” Papadatos said. “My daughter is dancing and my husband is working, so we’re all here.”

Papadatos said she is no stranger to Greek Festivals and attended them with her family when they lived in New York.

“I love everything about them. The food, the dancing …everything.” she said.

Alexis Arzuaga is a Duke Divinity student and member of Saint Barbara. He said that he was introduced to the church through his studies at Duke and has since found a new home.

“After attending a service, my wife and I looked at each other and we said ‘this is home’ and we saw it as such a gift from God,” he said. “We just fell in love with the service and the people.”

Since then, Arzuaga said, he volunteers as much as he can. Arzuaga’s wife, Gina Barrantes, displayed some of her artwork for the first time at the Greek Festival and described it as “awesome” with “a lot of ambiance and happy people.”

Julia Kalaitzoglou said that she has been with Saint Barbara Greek Orthodox Church for 31 years. She spent the weekend volunteering for the festival and enjoying the longstanding tradition.

“I love the food and the people,” she said. “Everybody helps. The money goes right back out into the community. It’s not just staying here in the building.”