By Revekka Papadopoulou
The Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Theologian in Tenafly, N.J. offered its parishioners and visitors a real “Taste of Greece” inviting them to participate in the community’s 33rd annual Greek festival held on May 29 through June 1.
Organizers turned the church’s property into a colorful tent city. In addition to an outdoor grill menu featuring gyro and souvlaki on pita, there was live Greek music and folk dancing provided by The Hellenic Dancers of Tenafly. Inside, volunteers set up a Greek taverna, a kafeneio, and a Greek Bazaar featuring elegant crafts and gift items. In addition, through guided tours of the Cathedral visitors saw the distinctive Byzantine mosaics, and the newly completed chapel with its beautiful iconography.
Attending the festival has become a tradition for many residents of the neighboring counties, the majority of which are not Greek-Americans.
“The festival started along with the institution of the community nearly 34 years ago,” said Gus Kramis, Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and founding member. Having long served on the parish council, he remembers the beginnings that evolved to a live and joyful Greek panegiri with more than 10,000 visitors. “It is a regional festival.”
For months in advance of the Festival, parishioners work together baking, cooking and organizing for the church’s largest fundraiser of the year. Ladies of St. Philothea Philoptochos spent hours preparing the traditional moussaka and pasticho, along with baklava, kataifi and other delicious Greek pastries.
“The festival gives us the opportunity to work together and to share our Orthodox Christian faith and Hellenic culture with the community at large. It is more than food. We try not to get known just by the souvlaki and gyro,” said festival chairman John Lignos. “People are looking forward to it and we thank them,” co-chairman Nikos Katsapis added. “Greek Fest is our parish’s main fundraiser of the year and needs everyone’s help and support,” said Andreas Zigouras, parish council president.
“The people’s response is satisfying. We get better every year. The festival is a challenge for all, demanding long hours and hard work,” dean of the Cathedral, Fr. John Alexandrou noted. Next year, the Cathedral parish will celebrate its 35th anniversary. A number of festivities will get underway this year including the annual dinner dance in October. As Fr. John noted, special fundraisers are scheduled for September due to the Church’s operational needs, as the dome, the beautification of the community center and the landscaping projects.
Last year, the parish dedicated the Peace Memorial Gymnasium honoring Alexia Tsairis, a victim of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, and the Construction Committee members. It is adorned with 63 gold plaques etched with well-known words of peace expressed by figures from the religious and secular worlds. The community also formed the World Peace Institute to keep the issue of world peace alive, by sponsoring conferences and lectures on the subject.
“Our first guest speaker will be Archbishop Demetrios,” Fr. John said.
A few months ago, another great accomplishment for the community became a reality with the help of great benefactor Ourania Booth and a large number of parishioners. The completion of the library with a state of the art media center.
St. John the Theologian Cathedral serves over 800 families and is the Cathedral seat for the Diocese of New Jersey.