By David Bjorkgren
The overflow crowd Friday night, June 2, indicated it was going to be a good year for St. Sophia’s Spring Grecian Festival.
Late visitors to the 21st annual festival at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church in Jeffersonville had to settle for street parking and a bit of walking just to reach the church property and festival grounds on Trooper Road.
“This year, the weather’s been great. This is probably the biggest Friday night we’ve ever had. It bodes really well for tomorrow. By tomorrow night, the indoor restaurant will have a line all the way out the back door,” said Tom Cox, who wears several hats as a member of the Parish board, as stewardship chairman, as a festival manager for 17 years and as organist for the church. “We’ll have several thousand people come through tomorrow.”
They are expecting about 7,000 to 8,000 visitors in to total to this year’s Festival.
The popular Festival delivered on its promise of a good time and a Greek experience May 31 to June 4, with amusement rides, the vital sampling of Greek food, dancers to entertain, a beautiful church to tour and an opportunity to buy products and services from local businesses and importers alike.
In the business tent, festival visitors could grab food on the go—calamari, gyros, hot dogs, souvlaki, pita pizza and Greek coffee, while dancers of different ages entertained the crowd with traditional Greek dance. Nearby, business, including the Hellenic News of America invited people to try their products and services.
Moving deeper into the festival, the crowds walked past tables selling chances for a 50/50 raffle, or maybe a gift basket, before entering St. Sophia’s social hall for some serious Greek dining. Lines wove around the outer perimeter of the room happily anticipating a Greek feast. While they waited, they had a chance to check out various items for sale, from jewelry, to T-shirts featuring the Greek flag, to imported Greek foods.
Volunteers offered up fish platters, Spanakopita, chicken Riganati, Souvlaki, lamb shank, Pastitsio and Mousakka.
For those still not full, back tables were filled with an expanded selection of Greek pastries and cookies, including Paximádia, Tsoureki, Galaktoboureko, Baklavá, Finikia, and Kourambiédes.
A post-dinner stroll eventually takes you to the beautiful interior of the most authentic and beautiful Byzantine churches in the area. The $4.3 million church opened its doors in April 2012 to the 220-family parish. The first thing visitors notice is the Byzantine-style iconography covering the walls and ceiling, depicting saints, prophets, the Christ figure, Mary and Biblical scenes.
The iconography has been a work in progress. Iconographer Dr. George Kordis, a retired assistant professor of iconography at the University of Athens in Athens, Greece, was hired to do the work and most of the ceiling and walls were covered between January and March 2012.
He returned in September 2016 to create images of saints and scenes from the wedding at Cana and is scheduled to return around Sept. 18 this year to do some corner walls and the entryway, finishing the iconography program.
“He will be here for about 3 or 4 weeks and after that the entire church will be decorated,” said Dean Lasarkis, chairman of the building committee and a member of parish council.
Festival funds will cover church operations and help pay down the remaining $1.2 million owed on the church building mortgage. The Spring Festival can net the church between $100,000 and $110,000 to help with those costs.
Other than the head chef and a few of his helpers, everyone working at the festival is a volunteer. “it’s the raw ingredients we have to pay for. We don’t have to pay for the labor,” Cox said. “In our faith, God asks us to give of our time, our talents and our treasure.”
That’s how, with just 200 families, they were able to build a new church. “It’s not that our parish is rich by any means… but we’ve got a lot of people that made sacrificial giving,” Cox said.
He recalls one woman who lived modestly, yet she gave the church $2,000 toward the church building project.
“It was all the money she had,” Cox said. “She said, ‘I’ve been saving this for years.’” That’s the sacrifice that so many people gave to build the church.”
In the long term, St. Sophia’s hopes to pay off the mortgage for the new church, than turn its sights toward renovating the social hall. “What we want to do is make the building a little more functional for weddings and banquets and also accommodate classrooms for Sunday school,” Lasarkis said. The new space would include meeting rooms, a fireside library and new offices for the pastor and his secretary. Once the building is ready, the hope is to connect the building to the church.