Two days of food, dancing planned in the Orthodox Church

Festival season brings out the best in Erie, including the party thrown by the Greeks at Assumption Greek Orthodox Church, 4376 West Lake Road.

“We get around 20,000 visitors,” says church member Peter Zohos, who runs the festival. “We depend on this festival to keep the doors open and the lights on.”

The congregation of 80 families always plans for the second weekend in July. This will be the 36th annual Panegyri, the Greek name for the celebration of food, drink, music, dance and church trips that takes place on this occasion.

The year’s planning is over and now the cooks and bakers and dancers and vendors are working to get ready for showtime Friday and Saturday. Dancers practice (with fire!), three generations of families bake and cook, including the 50 chocolate yogurt cookies and thousands of Koulourakia cookies baked on July 6 alone.

The food, oh, the food

“Everybody helped,” Voula Toumarus said, sweating as she cleaned the kitchen at the church last week. “Even Sophia (Agrafiotis), 4, helped crack the eggs.”

Other shifts have assembled mountains of baklava, baklava cheesecakes and other pastries, including: Ergolaovos (candied almond cookies), Melomakarona (honey cake sprinkled with walnuts) and sugar cake with walnuts, flogeres (rolled nuts with honey drink and chocolate). And that’s just the pastries with nuts. Nut-free treats include chocolate yogurt cake, Kourambiedes (butter cake topped with granulated sugar), Koulourakia (shortbread cookies good for dunks), Galaktobouriko (layers of filo filled with sweet custard and topped with honey syrup) and Fruitkoks (light sponge cake topped with fruit and cream) and more.

Savory meals will also be available, including Greek sauce, lamb, fish and chicken dinners, as well as moussaka (baked layers of eggplant and seasoned ground beef, cheese and a rich cream sauce), Pastitsio (Greek lasagna with macaroni, cheese and ground beef), Dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), Spanakopita (tissue thin layers of baked phyllo filled with feta cheese and spinach) and more. At the grill you will find Greek hot dogs and gyros.

Acropolis Bar will serve drinks for adults, including Greek beer and Ouzo (a dry anise-flavored aperitif associated with Greece), as well as soft drinks, White Claw seltzer and wine.

The reality after covid

The festival used to last three days, but after covid, Zoros said, when the Greek feast simply included drive-through food choices, the congregation decided the festival would be just two, the second Friday and Saturday in July, to give members a chance to clean up on Sundays .

“The biggest challenge is coordinating volunteers,” Zohos said, but it’s not too bad. He said the festival “gives us a chance every year to come together around a common purpose. It’s a labor of love.”

“Everyone gets a little taste of Greek culture and a chance to visit and see the church, which is an absolute treasure for this area,” he said. “And (the fundraiser) allows us to do things like help the Emmaus soup kitchen. We’re quietly helping a lot of people in Erie.”

One thing you don’t want to miss this year, he said, is the dance after dark, when the older dancers will perform holding cups of fire. It takes place on Friday and Saturday evenings, starting at 8:00 p.m., but Greek dancing will take place throughout the day, as everyone in the church participates.

“To be Greek you have to have rhythm,” Zohos said with a laugh.

The Erie Hellenic Dancers will perform at 13.00 and 20.00 every day. The Junior Erie Hellenic Dancers are scheduled to perform at 5:00 PM both days, while the Pittsburgh Grecian Odyssey Dancers will perform at 3:00 PM and 6:00 PM on Saturday.

If you go …

Contact Jennie Geisler at [email protected] or at 814-870-1885.

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