“We feel this festival is another way to help enrich the culture of life in Baton Rouge, just as we hope our faith enriches the spiritual life of Baton Rouge.” Anthony Monteleone, pastor of The Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church of Baton Rouge
Huddled with others under an overhang of the downtown branch of the East Baton Rouge Parish Library on Saturday, Anthony Monteleone watched as rain fell on the inaugural Baton Rouge Greek Festival.
“Many people see rain as cleansing,” offered Monteleone, pastor of The Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church of Baton Rouge. “It makes things new. It will be a good day.”
Monteleone’s optimism proved correct, as the rains ended after about an hour and festival volunteers uncovered their wares and resumed operations of the day-long event at Town Square on North Boulevard.
While the midday rain may have slightly dampened the start of festivities, many waited out the inclement weather to partake in food, music, arts, crafts and other events celebrating Greek culture.
Festivalgoers had the opportunity to dine on traditional Mediterranean dishes such as gyros and chicken shawarma pita sandwiches, grilled souvlaki and grilled lamb burgers, among others. Homemade Greek pastries, breads and desserts such as baklava ice cream sundaes were also available, as well as Greek wines.
“Many people are standing in line with umbrellas to get their food,” said Herodotos Pentas, a member of the festival’s board of directors. “That’s a testament as to the love of Greek food here and to the excellent cooks we have in our church.”
Atlanta-based Greek band Alpha Omega Sound provided the day’s musical background, with performances by the Holy Trinity Dancers of New Orleans and local belly dancers.
The public was also invited to take part in Greek dance lessons to learn traditional dances of the culture.
Numerous booths at the festival offered pieces of Greek art and merchandise for sale, as well as displays documenting the history of the church and of the Orthodox faith.
Jimmy Burland, president of the organization’s board of directors and festival chairman, said that other planned events for this year’s festival, such as a special area for children and “toga run” races, were nixed because of weather concerns.
“We hated having to cancel planned parts of the festival, but they’re something that we can always bring back next year,” he said.
Clad in Greek evzone soldier attire, Mayor-President Kip Holden was recognized during the event for the city-parish government’s contribution to the festival.
“Mayor Holden and local government have been great partners with us on this festival,” Burland said.
The festival is produced by Baton Rouge Greek Festival Inc., a nonprofit organization affiliated with the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church of Baton Rouge.
Founded in 1976, the church dedicated its current building on North Stevendale Road in 1987 and has worked in the community to benefit local charities.
Board member Steven Booras said that part of the proceeds from the festival would go to help fund the church’s construction of a community hall.
“We’re a small community that’s come together over the past few years,” he said. “This festival is a way for us to get the word out about not only what we do in our church community, but to let the people of Baton Rouge know more about the Greek culture, its history and what it means to us and to the community at large.”
Additional proceeds from the festival will go toward local charities such as the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Booras said.
Pentas, who became involved in the church after arriving in Baton Rouge in 1986, said that the idea for the festival came from visits to the renowned Greek Festival in New Orleans.
“There’s a big Greek community there,” he said. “We saw what they were doing, and felt it would be something we could offer to Baton Rouge as a fun event that also helps us to raise funds for our church and local charities.”
Monteleone, a New Orleans native and former Catholic priest who converted to the Orthodox faith, said that many people mistakenly believe that the Orthodox faith is solely a Greek religion.
“It’s very multicultural,” he said. “In addition to English and Greek, we have members who are Russian, Bulgarian, Serbo-Croatian, Macedonian, Romanian, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic and French.”
Monteleone said he believes the festival can be an event that showcases the rich variety of the local community.
“Baton Rouge has been so receptive to us, and we are very appreciative for that,” he said. “We feel this festival is another way to help enrich the culture of life in Baton Rouge, just as we hope our faith enriches the spiritual life of Baton Rouge.”