READING, PA – Greek Festival Season, at least in the New York Metropolitan Area, is in the springtime. Usually, churches hold their annual feasts sometime between mid-May and mid-June. One would think then, that any church named after Saints Constantine and Helen – whose Feast Day is celebrated on May 21 – would surely hold its yearly festival on the closest weekend to that date.
But if the Greeks of Reading, PA did that, then the food, wine, and music would have been a distant memory, instead of an enjoyable reality this past weekend.
Having just celebrated its 100th anniversary, the Sts. Constantine and Helen parish in Reading held its 44th annual festival – which it calls the Greek Food and Pastry Bazaar – October 17-19. Sure, the fall weather is a bit too blustery for ouzo, and the outdoor tent has to include portable heaters, but having a glendi this late in the year – during the lull between Labor Day and Thanksgiving Day – is like receiving a belated Christmas gift sometime in mid-February, just when you need it the most.
“We did a few things differently this year” said Mark Dialectos who, along with his cousin Athan Dialectos, Chris Dikos, Dean Kraras, and Anthony and Stav Koumaras served as the Bazaar Chairman. “We decided to make it a team effort,” Dikos added.
One of this year’s particularly notable added attractions, Dialectos pointed out, was the live music and dancing in the outdoor tent. “We had a live band this year,” Dialectos said: “it made a big difference.”
There was still some dancing and live music going on Sunday afternoon as the Bazaar proceeded to wind down, but the peak time was Saturday night. Even so, many Greek festivals, which get started on a Friday and pick up steam through Saturday night, usually fizzle by Sunday afternoon, with only a scarce crowd present in the final hour. Not so at this Bazaar. The live music continued, as did the dancing, and the food lines were pleasantly shorter, making it easy for the hungry attendees to get their food and find a seat without a whole lot of waiting.
Dialectos and Dikos extended their thanks to the entire community, who made all of it possible, and Dialectos added “my uncle [Gust Kraras] is 92 years old, and he’s working in the kitchen.” Kraras organized the very first bazaar, to mark the Church’s new building, in 1970.
The welcome letter by the Church’s head priest, Father Tom Pappalas, which appeared in the Bazaar’s commemorative program, noted that “the success of our Bazaar is strongly connected to our faith as Orthodox Christians where we find great inspiration to work in the name of Our Lord Jesus, and on behalf of our Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church. Although some of the monies raised at the Bazaar go to the Church’s operating budget, a lot goes into the various philanthropic ministries that we support, both locally and around the world.”
Father Pappalas’ message is emblematic of the philosophy at Sts. Constantine and Helen. There is no set amount of church membership. It is a stewardship and parishioners give what is commensurate with what they believe is reasonable within their capability. Also, when a second collection tray is passed during Sunday Service, Pappalas usually announces the specific purpose of the second tray. In that spirit, the Church indeed feels like a church, and not a business – and yet it is able to meet its financial obligations.