Lured by the baklava, festival-goers find much more at 'Athenian Agora'

November 09, 1992|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff Writer

Lloyd and Charlotte Grove came looking for Greek food.

But when the York, Pa., couple walked through the doors of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation in Baltimore yesterday, they found much more than baklava and gyros.

"There's such a sense of ancestry here," said Mrs. Grove, sitting in a pew in the church's basement, where she had just finished a gyro. "The people here are so friendly. This is a very family-oriented festival."

One of the purposes behind the annual "Athenian Agora" is to bring together the 1,650 families of the 86-year-old Baltimore church at Preston Street and Maryland Avenue, said the Very Rev. Constantine M. Monios, dean of the church.

Some 200 volunteers spent weeks making crafts, preparing Greek dishes and baking bread and pastries, he said.

"We're a close-knit community," Father Monios said. "Another reason for the festival is hospitality. Hospitality is a big part of Greek life."

The church, the "mother" of Baltimore's three Greek Orthodox churches, extended its hospitality over four days to more than 15,000 visitors, including 700 schoolchildren from Baltimore who visited Thursday to learn about Greek culture.

The 21st festival, organizers said, was just as successful as its predecessors. Baklava was sold out Saturday, and other bread and pastries were selling quickly yesterday.

"The food and the pastries are the main drawing card," said Judy Klicos, a lifelong church member who oversaw baking efforts. "People are familiar with baklava -- that's why it goes so fast. People who work in the offices around here wait for it and other food, and on Friday they're over here in line."

Mrs. Klicos, 69, said church members rolled some 10,000 dolmades, or stuffed grape leaves.

Along with the food, the festival featured Greek dancers, a grocery store selling Greek bread, olives and feta cheese.

Fair-goers also could buy crafts, jewelry, religious items and Greek books and records.

"It's busier than last year," said John Frank, a retired restaurant owner who dished up olives and feta cheese to grocery customers. "People appreciate good value and quality food. Word of mouth has been building business up for us."

Father Monios attributed the growing crowds to more than just food, however.

He said the public has been fascinated by Orthodox religions since the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. He said recent exhibits on religious icons at the Walters Art Gallery also have spurred interest.

"Baltimore is really becoming interested in icons," he said. "The Orthodox Church here is a real treasure. We want people to become aware of it and enrich their knowledge of the church."

Festival-goers could view Byzantine iconography in the church's Chapel of Holy Wisdom, where the works of Father Gregory Hieromonk, an Orthodox monk who lives in the hills of Colorado, adorn the walls.

The festival also serves to educate the non-Greek.

Visitors were free to roam the church's school and to visit its 10,000-volume library, where Greek books, records and related materials, such as biographies of former presidential candidate Michael S. Dukakis, were on sale.

"The church is beautiful," said Howard Woolf, a Baltimore optometrist who has visited the festival before.

"It's a warm, friendly place. The foods are great. This shows that the city is all these different things -- not just a place of crime."

Though the festival is a fund-raiser for the church, its role in retaining the church's heritage is equally important, said the Rev. Louis J. Noplos, an assistant priest.

"Being Greek is an important aspect of our lives," he said. "This is a very ethnic-oriented church. It's important to have roots. It's important to keep ethnicity alive."

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