By Revekka Papadopoulos
For Rockland County residents, it is not just one more festival. It is the festival. A great opportunity to participate annually in a journey into the sounds and tastes of Greece. And they look forward to participating in this real Greek panegyri that the SS Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox community organizes every June. This year’s 32nd Greek festival held on June 5-8 drew more than 10,000 visitors from New York and New Jersey.
The first festival was organized back in 1971. “It became our main source of annual fundraising for our new Church. Despite the tremendous hard work, it has united all our parishioners in our goal not only to raise funds for our Church but to share our Orthodox Faith and Greek Heritage with our community at large,” stressed Parish Council President Nikolaos Anagnostopoulos.
“It is a real greek panegyri, as in our horio in Greece. We work hard altogether but we enjoy altogether,” he added.
“The festival becomes a success because of all the people that work together as a team. There are about 20 co-chairs, a different one for the food, the pastries, the souvlaki and gyro, the barbeque and the list goes on.. Everybody is responsible for something and all as a team make the difference. It is not a one-person show. It is about 100 people that put in all this time and effort that makes it a success,” said co-chairman Kelly Maris.
“All our food is home-made. Visitors know it and love it. The traditional moussaka, the pastichio, the dolmades, we prepare the souvlaki. People are looking forward to the Greek bazaar, knowing that they will taste again delicious Greek food and they’ll enjoy listening to the Greek folk or contemporary music,” noted co-chairman Rita Sfaellos.
This organizing effort takes months of preparation and, nearing the days of the Greek Festival, many more volunteers are mobilized. Growing attendance over the years continues to create excitement as word gets around.
“The work begins three months ago. During this period of time, a different team is every day here at the Church to work preparing all these things,” said Philoptochos Society President Effie Traitsis. Today, SS Constantine & Helen Philoptochos has 82 active members.
As in every parish’s festival, the majority of visitors here are not Greek-Americans. “Around 10,000-12,000 people from Rockland County and the New Jersey and New York area come to our festival, rain or shine” said co-chairman Steve Lambos.
“Our festival is a big event for the area,” noted Violeta Kontes, who helped prepare the pastries. “For us, it is a big fundraiser.”
Pol Mallias who has been present at the festival for nearly 30 years agreed. “It gets better year after year, and we need the funds for the community’s operational needs,” he added.
“We all work each year to help our parish, to achieve our goals. It’s a good chance for the families and especially the young people to get together,” said parishioner Michael Dolianitis. He has been working at the festival for almost 18 years.
A highlight of the 4-day festival is no doubt the Greek dancers’ performance given every year by JOY and GOYA kids under the guidance of their Greek school and dance group teacher, Gloria Pironis.
“It is through the folk dance that we keep our traditions alive, and the young people love these traditions,” noted Mrs. Pironis.
It is parish with a history of nearly 40 years. SS Constantine & Helen Church was consecrated in October 1999 [briefly explain the 40-year history since it was consecrated only 4 years ago] by Archbishop Demetrios, his first consecration as the head of the Greek -Orthodox church in America. As both president Anagnostopoulos and the Fr. Theodore Sideris said, the next big project is the parking lot and the new community center that the parish plans for the near future.
“It will be a new community center, including a gym, Greek School classrooms, Philoptochos offices, and a large community hall,” added Rita Sfaellos. The parish needs nearly $1.5 million just for the beginning. And the festival is its main source of fundraising.