What do spanakopita, baklava, and “Opa!” have in common? They are all facets of Greek culture. There were plenty of all three and much more at the Greek Festival, held at Christ the Savior Greek Orthodox Church in Spring Hill Saturday, February 26. The festivities lasted from 11:00 am to 8:00 pm. Due to the pandemic, this is just the second time the church has celebrated this event since 2019; but if the success of this year’s festival is any indication, it will be an annual celebration.
The relatively small congregation of just sixty families went all out to bring a little bit of Greece to our community. There was an abundance of Greek food, such as spanakopita, baklava, gyro sandwiches and Greek salad, served by volunteers. Church members prepared much of the food, while some was purchased from commercial bakeries.
Father John Lazarek, temporary pastor of the church, welcomed everyone with a prayer. A color guard made up of Springstead High School Junior ROTC members presented the flags, and Father Lazarek led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem.
The entertainment consisted of a Greek musical trio called The Omega Project headed by John Demas playing the bouzouki, a stringed instrument that resembles a lute. His son, Andrew, playing the electric guitar, and Mike Passavanti on drums rounded out the group. The band has been appearing at weddings, festivals and parties since 1984. Students at Stir up the Gift Talent also performed, along with Elvis impersonator Kenny Grube.
Young people from the church performed the traditional Greek dances and even gave dance lessons to members of the audience. Of course, most of the dancers were dressed in traditional Greek attire.
The event also featured a gyro eating contest and a saganaki demonstration. No, that’s not a protest rally. It’s a demonstration of the art of preparing a Greek appetizer consisting of various cheeses fried in a skillet and then flambéed. The little ones were kept busy at a tent with all types of children’s activities, from coloring to a limbo stick set-up to test their dexterity.
Always popular at these sorts of events is the Silent Auction. There was a wide variety of gift baskets for which people could purchase tickets for a chance to win. These included auto care products, a family entertainment basket and an international foods basket.
Emily Thomas, Dawn Triconi and their committee spent three months planning the festival. They were able to find sponsors to help pay for the event. There were also a number of vendors, including political candidates and artisans selling handmade jewelry and other items.
The following companies were sponsors: Lead Foot City; 4 Corners Pharmacy; the Law firm of Lucas, Macyszyn & Dyer; Capital City Bank; Gulf Coast Marina; O’Sullivan, DeLuca & Ressel Dental Care; Sam’s Club; Whiting Insurance; Amen Air, Inc.; Greek City Café; Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative; Cemex; Hernando County Florida, Hernando County Recycling; United Way of Hernando County; Radio Station Hits 106 and The Hernando Sun.
Father Lazarek has served in the priesthood for forty-nine years. He and his wife, Diana, who goes by the title of Presbytera, came to Christ the Savior Greek Orthodox Church four years ago after he retired here from Pittsburgh.
The congregation purchased the property, formerly the site of another church, in 2018. It included the house on the adjoining property which serves as the couple’s residence. The interior and exterior of the church were renovated to match the Greek Orthodox style, including the icons on the wall and the distinctive cross on the steeple.
As in the Roman Catholic Church, the Greek Orthodox celebrate their mass in the language of the local population. Sunday services are held at 10:00 am.
By the way, if you’re wondering as to the meaning of spanakopita, baklava, and “Opa!”. The first two are well-known Greek delicacies and “Opa!” is an exclamation that can express anything from enthusiasm to shock.
More than 1000 people attended the day-long festival, and the event fulfilled the goals of its organizers.
As, Emily Thomas commented, “The important focus was to get people together again in Faith, Hope and Love and make great memories!”