Greek Festival returns to John Carroll in Bel Air this weekend

Get a taste for all things Greek this weekend at the 11th annual Harford County Greek Festival at the John Carroll School on Route 22 in Bel Air.

Spanakopita (spinach pie), loukoumades (funnel cake), dolmadakia (stuffed grape leaves), souvlaki (meat and vegetables) in addition to homemade sweets, will be just a few of the items on the menu at the annual festival spnosored by Sts. Mary Magdalene and Markella Greek Orthodox Church.

The festival is the church's biggest fundraiser of the year and runs Friday, 4 to 10 p.m., Saturday, noon to 10 p.m. and Sunday, 12:30 to 6 p.m. at the John Carroll School, where the fesitval has been held for the last three years.

"It's just a lot of fun. It tastes good and it's a good experience to have a good time with the family, enjoy the music and dance and get a taste of what Greek culture is like," the Rev. Gregory Gilbert, pastor of Sts. Mary Magdalene and Markella, said.

But the main draw is still the food, says Chris Babiak, who belongs to the church.

"A lot of people have grown up in the restaurant community and they put on a pretty darn good spread," Babiak, whose wife is Greek, said.

In addition to the great Greek food, several groups will be performing Greek dances.

Vendors with Greek wares as well as others will be set up in the gym, and there will be a kids corner with games and prizes.

The church

Sts. Mary Magdalene and Markella Greek Orthodox Church is a small but growing church of about 100 families. It began in 2004 in Bel Air then moved to Darlington to accommodate the growing memberships.

The goal is eventually to move back to Bel Air, either in town or just outside, Gilbert said.

"We are looking to find a property and build a church from the ground up," he said, but added that would be several years off.

Gilbert emphasized that members don't have to be Greek to be part of the church and pointed out that he is not Greek.

"It's not just an ethnic church, it's open to anyone. A majority of our members do have Greek heritage," he said.

Gilbert said he wanted to find a church that was continuous with and closer to the ancient church of Christianity.

"For the first several centuries of the church, almost entirely, Greek was the language of the church," Gilbert said. "The church has been very slow to change. From an Orthodox standpoint, the Catholic church looks modernist and progressive and has changed greatly in centuries. It's about finding a relic of antiquity."

The pastor said that's a common theme among the church's members.

"We have many, many people who through the study of the church's history have come to the conclusion this is the ancient church preserved," he said.

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