It’s a cold, rainy weekend at the end of May. Must be time for the Greek Festival. Every year, those poor Greeks pick the crumbiest weekend of the year for their baklava, gyros, and souvlaki.
I went tonight, an annual tradition since coming to Long Island. This is my sixth Greek festival. I don’t know why I look forward to this like I do. While I was eating my Greek sausage, with grapes and bread and drinking Greek beer, watching the mist dripping off the blue and white canopy, I thought about that.
The only thing I can come up with is the Greek Festival represents all the good things I had hoped for in moving to Long Island. Coming home to NY and the city, feeling like I was among my own people again finally. Sitting among the Greeks, celebrating the diversity. The world was big here. It was generous. How easily it made room for you, for your few bucks all in a good cause. I could breathe. The Greek music, the raffles, the food and the drink. You would never see anything like this in PA. In PA, they would have the vapors and condemn this as immoral, especially for a church to do.
The first festival 6 years ago was about 4 weeks after we moved here. The boxes unpacked and put away, we were finding our way around and at least the immediate blocks were familiar. The call was still new, and hopeful. I didn’t know the full story of Epiphany yet. There was only promise, and hope and here I was, the newest member of the neighborhood taking part in my community.
Every year the Greek Festival rolls around as a reminder of those times. A little bit of the freshness, the wonder of this new place taken as it presents itself, none of the subtext visible yet, is there for the taking again, served up along with my gyro, an Athonos beer, and the baklava I will carry home in the white Styrofoam container.
They give tours of the cathedral, and the cathedral is absolutely gorgeous. Telly Savalas was a member of that parish, and gave the large narthex window. Just a bit of local color.
Seriously, I could be Greek Orthodox in my next life. I love the richness, all the missing bits of this weird American Bapto/Methodo Protestantism that you can never really completely escape here, filled in and fleshed out, and it’s like hearing a symphony live, after listening to a transistor radio plinging in your ear the rest of the year.
The Orthodox bring the whole cast of heaven along with them on the journey of faith. A rich raucous mob that sweeps you up and wants you to eat, eat. My sense is that the Orthodox are never lonely. There is always some heavenly ne’er do well at your door to be entertained.
Still, I had to smile, overhearing one of the tour guides, a typical lay person from the church, leading a group on a tour through the sanctuary. Very admirable. I stood apart, because I know I am a pain in the neck about this stuff. There I was, standing in the richness of glittering icons, the sacred chanting coming through the speakers, the faint traces of incense from the vespers liturgy, while the woman obviously trained not to assume anything at all about the people who would be coming through on the tours, explained about all the mosaics. They depict scenes and events from Jesus life she explained patiently.
I loved the woman’s explanations. She literally had explanations for everything.
She explained that Jesus didn’t go to school. He worked with his father as a carpenter until he was in his 20’s. We don’t know anything about Jesus from 20 to 30. We know that he was in the desert. Then, he started preaching when he was 30, and the first thing he had to do was prove to the people that he was the Messiah, so he did lots of miracles and things. He healed people, like this woman, who is Peter’s mother in law. Then he had to prove he was the Son of God to the apostles too.
Here is where Jesus walks on the water and Peter says, “I can do that too!” and he does, until he starts to drown and Jesus has to save him and that proves to the apostles that he is really the Son of God.
Ah, the sweet mystery of it all. I lit a candle, left a dollar offering and walked home in the mist. I’ll be back tomorrow for the baklava.