By Catherine Tsounis
A festival inspires happy folks. Food, music, shopping for treasures is part of the fun. The 51st St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Shrine Church brought life back to Flushing streets. The festival was held May 18th-21st, 2023 at the church’s site on 196-10 Northern Blvd Flushing. Greek and Cypriot food, a fabulous flea market, Loucoumades stand, rides and games for children, vendors, church and preschool tours, Greek music, and a fabulous raffle were offered. Community donors gave generously.
The school children performed Greek folk dances. The Festival chairpersons were Michael Haralambous, Larry Hatzoglou and Michael Giannakos. President of the Parish Council is Peter Valasiadis. The clergy is Rev. Protopresbyter Paul C. Palesty. Rev. Presbyter Aristidis Garinis. Prominent people from the political, business and education communities attended. The 111th precinct under Commanding Officer Captain Richard A. Porto provided extraordinary safety. Admission was free. For a detailed list of all who donated and attended, please contact the church office at 7183574200.
The community has four schools: Church School; The St. Nicholas Stephen and Areti Cherpelis Hellenic School, Principal: Panagiota Lilikakis; William Spyropoulos Day School, Principal Mrs. Mary Tzallas and the Saint Nicholas George & Evlavia Doulaveris Preschool, Director Elaine Meskouris. “Our neighbors are wonderful,” said Protopresbyter Paul Palesty. “They are faithful and share family values with us.” Chairperson Michael Giannakos believes “our Festival brings neighbors together, promoting pride in our Queens community. We laugh, eat together, and enjoy music. Our festival makes New York City a better place to live.”
Parish Council President Peter Valasiadis shared with us his goal “to stabilize our position in Flushing with strong schools and a vibrant Greek Orthodox church.” His late father Rev. Joakim D. Valasiadis passed away on April 6th, 2020. He was a thoughtful, dedicated priest, loved by all. Rev Joakim’s father was a merchant and mother an educator from Constantinople. I noticed President Valasiadis root name is from the Greek Pontos community. We all have roots in Western Anatolia and the Black Sea coast of Pontos.
“I am happy to be at the St. Nicholas Shrine Church Festival,” said Mrs. Athena Kromidas, President of the High Council for Greek Education in the U.S. “I congratulate all.” Mrs. Kromidas was principal of the William Spyropoulos School and the Stephen and Areti Cherpelis Greek Afternoon School. She has dedicated over 30 years of service to the education system.
“We have personalized services that match your needs,” said Maria Folios, manager of the Atlantic Bank branch at 196-21 Northern Blvd. “The Atlantic Bank, a division of New York Community Bank, has been serving the Greek community for over 50 years! We are proud to help members of the Greek American community of St. Nicholas Church.” Manager Folios has been working at the Atlantic Bank for over 38 years. Her unique staff with Heidi Moustakas and others help in overseas and domestic transactions.
Vendors attract people to come. Amalia Bollanos has been serving the festival community for 10 years. “I am grateful for the opportunity to come,” she said. “ I look forward to coming again next year.” Her jewelry is exceptional. Visit her on Facebook Amalia Bollanos for more information.
Assemblyman Edward Braunstein, of the Assembly District 26, that encompasses St. Nicholas Shrine Church, attended with his wife and three children. “Every year, the Queens community looks forward to the return of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church’s Annual Festival, where we gather to celebrate Greek culture and heritage with food, fellowship and fun,” said Assemblyman Edward Braunstein. “My family and I always have a great time at the festival. I sincerely want to thank all of the hardworking volunteers who make the continuation of this local tradition possible.”
Judge George Grasso attended. He Grasso (Democratic Party) is running for election for Queens County District Attorney in New York. He is on the ballot in the Democratic primary on June 27, 2023. All were warmly greeted. Many political leaders attended. Contact St. Nicholas Church on Facebook for more information.
The basis of folk festivals is a large number of enthusiasts, who actively shape and construct the festival, They give it direction, vitality, making it a significant part of their lives. Frederika and Tom Pappas, who are retired, remember their days frying Loucoumades. and donating their services to the Greek Afternoon School.
Vera Efstathiou-Lerudis, school guidance counselor, is a dedicated supporter of the William Spyropoulos School. Her two children attend, with her daughter performing in the Greek folk dancing performances. “It is an amazing school. Our children are enriched with language, culture, and history.” Her late father, Giorgos Efstathiou, was a genuine American hero: a disabled hero of the Vietnam War who became an aeronautical engineer.
Tasos Tzallas has been working at the raffle stand for 20 years. “ This is the greatest community,” he said. “We are a member of the community for 40 years.” Andrew Tsiolas, an Edward Jones Financial Advisor serving Bayside, NY, has been a parish council president four times. Three generations of his family have been organizing the festival. He is being honored in June by the Greek Orthodox archdiocese in Roslyn. Sotirios Georgiou, served as festival chairman for 13 years and as a parish council president. Nick Tavantzes, Vice President, Regional Lending Manager at First Central Savings Bank, has been donating his time with his family year after year at the festival. Former parish council president Nicholas Karacostas, said “the 2023 Festival was wonderful with everyone from our diverse community supporting us.” There are many unsung heroes. They work for one purpose: the greatness of their culture and way of life at their festival.
The ladies of the loucoumades stand are unique in cooking fried loucoumades, dipped in honey, for many years. Our neighbor Chrissy Douroudakis energetically said, “everyone must come and eat our loucoumades.” Kiki Preponis, Vasso Dinas, Maria Zolotas and their families with friends, work with enthusiasm. Theodore Perdik has donated his services for many years, selling raffles and cooking. For the names of the many people who work at the loucoumades, souvlaki and coffee stands, visit Maria Zolotas on Facebook.
How did the Holy Relics of St. Nicholas come here? On December 5, 1972, some of St. Nicholas relics, which symbolizes the migration of the saint from Anatolia and Europe to the New World New York, were enshrined during an elaborate ceremony at St. Nicholas Church in Flushing. Bishop Francis Mugavero of the Catholic Archdiocese as a representative of Pope Paul VI, took part in the official transfer of Holy Relics. It represents the largest Greek Orthodox community church in New York and in America. The existence of St. Nicholas is explained in “In The Footsteps of Saint Nicholas.” It is a masterpiece on the Saint and the East Flushing Church by Andreas C. George. It can be purchased at Amazon.1
St. Nichola stands apart from Christian saints. His fame spread across empires and generations to make him one of the most recognizable saints in history. But the popular perception of Saint Nicholas today diverges greatly from his original veneration as a compassionate almsgiver and defender of the poor. Saint Nicholas has been reduced to the pop culture figure of Santa Claus, a jolly old man who brings presents to good little boys and girls. Nicholas, a man who found greatness not simply in spreading “good cheer,” but in being a true icon of Jesus Christ in word and deed.
He was born in Patara, Asia Minor, in 270 AD. He died on December 6, 343 A.D. at Myra, the southern coast of present-day Turkey. In Nicholas’ time, the region was part of the Greek- speaking, wealthy cosmopolitan world known as Lycia. He was an orphan raised by his uncle, Bishop Nicholas of Patara. As no biography of Nicholas was written until centuries after he died, much of Nicholas’ life is known more from legend than from contemporary sources.
What is certain is that he became Bishop of Myra and that, after his death, he was recognized as a saint. Thousands of churches have been named in his memory. He is seen as a model of gift giving and pastoral care. Culture, food, music, and shopping was enjoyed by all at the 2023 St. Nicholas Festival.