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Wheeling Grecian Festival About Food, Culture And Faith

File photo - The Agape Dancers from St. John the Divine Greek Orthodox Church will perform each evening during the Wheeling Grecian Festival, set July 27-30 at the church in Center Wheeling.

WHEELING — The time for gyros and grape leaves in Center Wheeling is fast approaching.

The Wheeling Grecian Festival is set for July 27-30 at St. John the Divine Greek Orthodox Church at 2215 Chapline St. in Wheeling.

Patrons can partake in Greek food and culture, while also taking tours of the church and learning about the Greek Orthodox faith, explained Annette Vidis, a festival organizer.

“It’s a way to share our culture — not only our culture, but our faith,” she said.

And there is nothing about the festival that doesn’t draw upon Greek heritage or the Greek Orthodox religion, Vidis continued.

“Our festival is strictly Greek food. There is nothing that is not within our ethnic boundary,” she said. “This is a way to share culture. It is good, and it brings community together for a common goal. It helps us to share our faith and culture.”

Church tours are scheduled each day during the festival. Orthodox iconography is the focus at 12:30 pm; Orthodox church architecture at 3:30 pm; and Orthodox Christianity at 5 p.m.

The St. John the Divine Youth Choir performs Byzantine Chant Liturgical Hymns each day at 4:45 p.m.

File photo – No Greek festival would be complete without gyros, which will be available at the event’s “Outdoor Taverna.” Festival organziers said all food items are prepared by the church, with no outside vendors.

The “Outdoor Taverna and Grille” at the festival is where one finds the gyro sandwiches for which the festival is noted. Other food items available include Chicken Wings of Ikaros, tavern fries, calamari, chicken souvlaki and saganaki.

The nearby youth tent offers baklava sundaes, loukoumades — fried puffs sprinkled with honey, nuts and cinnamon, and lemonade.

There are also Greek pastries available, as well as beer and wine.

Often visitors don’t realize there are even more food offerings upstairs in the church, organizers explained. There are meals and many a la carte items ready for take out. Among these are tiropita (cheese pie), spanakopita (spinach pie), Keftethes (meatballs) and dolmathes (grape leaves).

All food items are prepared by the church, and there are no outside vendors.

There is no seating upstairs in the church, but an extra tent will be set up outside to provide outside seating for everyone eating at the festival.

“Last year, guests were quite happy eating outside,” said Gus Kayafas, who has served as director of the festival for each of its 22 years. “There’s music and dancers there, and it’s a lot more festive outside.”

The Greek Company Orchestra and The Meraklides Band will perform traditional Greek Music. In addition, the junior and senior Agape Dancers from the church will perform in traditional dress each evening starting at 6 p.m. 7:30 p.m. and 8:15 p.m.

The dance troop is under the direction of Kayafas’ wife, Maria Kayafas — who will also host a cooking show at 2 p.m. each day.

The festival represents “a wonderful spectacle of a live and thriving Greek Orthodox community,” Gus Kayafas said.

“It’s a phenomenon of the country,” he said. “Most Greek parishes have festivals and share their faith and culture with the community. It connects us with our neighbors and shows we’re engaged, and that we are examples of Christian faith and stewards of our culture.”

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