When Jan Gallas, President of the St. Sophia Chapter, received the assignment she immediately hit the ground running and invited her fellow Philoptochos sisters from Troy and Schenectady to join her. It wasn’t long before this challenge became less a challenge and more a time to bond, laugh, and grow. They have since worked together on other projects and have even started a knitting club.
In the following post, the three Chapter Presidents offer their perspective of the close relationship that they’ve developed:
The Ladies Philoptochos Society Chapters of St. Sophia, St. George and St. Basil
embarked on a remarkable new journey during this past year which began and ended with a social event open to all three chapters. During the year, common goals were established and new friendships were forged. Sharing ideas brought forth new energy and vitality while solutions were sought for common challenges. Perhaps most important we discovered we are not islands unto ourselves – we are not alone.
The Capital District area of upstate New York is blessed to have three Greek Orthodox parishes less than 30 minutes apart. As soon as the April showers pass and the tulips bloom in Albany’s Washington Park all thoughts turn to Greek festivals. St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church in Albany leads the way in May when the parishioners welcome thousands through their doors for the largest of the three festival events located in the tri-city area. It’s a busy time in the St. Sophia parish as festival preparations must take place during Holy Week and Pascha. Kourambiethes and finikia are baked and packed along with hundreds, if not thousands, of other delicious pastries. No sooner does the aroma from the souvlaki grill disappear and the music is a distant echo in the wind, when it becomes time to travel a few miles north along the Hudson River and across the Collar City Bridge. St. Basil Greek Orthodox Church in Troy holds its annual festival the first weekend in June. Now everyone is starting to get in the mood for delicious Greek cuisine. This is another opportunity to fill up on moussaka, pastitsio and lamb followed by homemade baklava and washed down with strong Greek coffee and to enjoy more Greek music and watch youngsters wearing colorful costumes perform the intricate steps of traditional folk dances from the various regions of Greece. Festival goers who were too shy to get up and dance in Albany are now more willing to take a chance to try the dances. Opa! As the lazy days of summer approach, it’s time for everyone to relax and enjoy the long awaited sunshine and warm weather which seems all too fleeting following the long and dreary winter. Well, almost. Crossing back over the Hudson River and heading west the women of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Schenectady are busy scouring the parks and roadsides looking to pick the perfect grape leaves before they get too large and tough. You can hear the women say, “Get the ones underneath where they don’t get burned by the sun!” They will pick 5,000 before the end of June as they begin
preparations for the last of the tri-city Greek festivals which takes place in September on the weekend following Labor Day. By then, three months will have passed since the St. Sophia and St. Basil festivals. Everyone is eager to get one final taste of a delicious gyro or a piece of mouth-watering spanakopita because soon it will be time to fold up the tents and wait for the spectacular colors of autumn leaves. Friends from the three parishes have helped each other with preparations, volunteered to work on festival days and simply enjoyed being together as they share a meal and rest their tired feet!
As members of our home parishes it is easy to describe how “we” view our festivals
and what they mean to “us”. It brings our individual parishes and the entire Greek-American community together. We feel great satisfaction as we all work toward a common goal while celebrating our Greek heritage and Orthodox faith. We greet friends from near and far. Quite often, distant family members return “home” to revisit fond memories of the past and childhoods gone by. Our children watch us and learn what it means to be Greek. They are taught to take pride in their ethnicity.
However, it is a bit more elusive to understand what our Greek festivals mean to the community – to the outsiders, if you will. In late August and early September of 2011, many upstate communities were devastated by two natural disasters – Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. Following months of preparation, the parishioners of St. George proceeded with festival plans unsure of what to expect. Perhaps the festival would provide a brief respite to our neighbors who were dealing with devastating loss. As a community coming together, perhaps it would be a reminder to hold near and dear everything that is most precious to us – our family, our friends, and our faith.
The day after the St. George festival closed, an unsolicited e-mail was received in the church office. The sender was unknown to anyone in the parish. The subject line was “Thank You All So Very Much”. The message was filled with observations that most of us take for granted. Through the eyes of a stranger – a very astute one at that – it was like seeing ourselves for the very first time.
A brief excerpt which says it all:
Fortunately the recent weather related destruction did not interfere with your Greek Festival, a wonderful gift to the entire community.
... You create joy, and you share it with whoever crosses your threshold. These are wonderful gifts, things that seemed to have disappeared from the America in which I grew up. It makes me very glad that I chose to move to Schenectady recently. I am very grateful to you, my new neighbors, for the magic of last Saturday. I wish we could bottle your spirit and distribute it to the rest of our soul sick country, but it is enough that you keep it alive.
You can substitute the city of Schenectady with Albany or Troy or Syracuse – or any city across the United States where there is a Greek Orthodox Church. The spirit of the Greek culture is alive and well. So I ask are we three, or are we one?
-Olga A. Delorey, Chapter President
St. George Church
At St. Basil Greek Orthodox Church, the Greek festival is a united effort. Being a small church community, we welcome friends to assist us in making the festival a success and it has been.
Members from neighbor Greek Churches, notably St. George Church in Schenectady and St. Sophia Church in Albany, have volunteered their services to help. Many of them have been Philoptochos members who have become our close friends.
The festival has a happy, festive air with Greek music, periodic Greek dancing, and cheerful volunteers who are eager to greet and assist visitors. To better acquaint visitors with our religion and our customs we offer church tours. From what we hear, our food is especially appealing. Almost all of the food is prepared by our parishioners, homemade Greek food. We often receive requests for the recipes.
My personal involvement has been in preparation of some of the pastries and volunteering at the craft sale. I am happy to meet new people and explain our heritage, bringing our Greek community closer to our larger community.
-Christine Dalapas, Chapter President
St. Basil Greek Orthodox Church
Our St. Sophia Greek Festival in Albany, NY celebrates over 40 years of
camaraderie this year both amongst ourselves and those who attend religiously year after year. We have made a name for ourselves over time- people call weeks in advance requesting information. This year we added an extra day, the festival ran for four days with increased attendance.
Our ladies make much of the pastries and most meal items are homemade. It's delightful to work for weeks on end with friends preparing for our weekend events.
We have three Greek Orthodox churches in the Capital Area (Albany, Schenectady and Troy). Each Festival is different in its own way with specialty items on the menu. We all enjoy supporting each other in our endeavors. It is always nice to go to a Greek festival where you can truly enjoy friends. It is a special time.
On Sunday of our festival this year, we had Philoptochos members present from all three churches along with a National Philoptochos Board member. You can be sure we took the opportunity for a photo op.
Greek Festivals are a wonderful way of reliving our Greek heritage and sharing it with others. Working together is rewarding to all of us.
-Jan Gallas, Chapter President
St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church