Opa!

The 21st Annual Greek Festival at St. George Greek Orthodox Church opens today and continues through Sunday at the church, at Northwest 145th and Penn.

What began two decades ago as a pre-order bake sale to help parishioners raise money for a new church building has gradually, but steadily, evolved into one of north Oklahoma City’s favorite annual festivals, including live entertainment, dancing, a Greek marketplace and of course, lots of Greek food.

Father John Tsaras, who has been at St. George for more than six years, said the annual festival has taken on more of a community outreach focus in recent years, bringing people to the festival to learn a little about Greek culture, but also about the church.

“We want to bring the community a better awareness of Orthodoxy,” Tsaras said this week as volunteers scurried to raise tents, bake pastries and do all the other chores that come with pulling off a three-day public festival.

Tsaras said through the years, the church has gained a few members because of the festival. Nationally, there are about 6 million Orthodox Christians, he said.

St. George has about 150 member families who attend services, which are similar in format to a Catholic Mass though different in some theological aspects, Tsaras said.

About half the families in the church get involved in some way in the festival, he said.

One of those volunteers is Bill Vrentas, who has been helping with the festival since the mid 1980s. In the days leading up to the festival, Vrentas, now retired, worked 12-hour days to make sure everything that was ordered for the festival arrived and was in the right place.

“I make sure the bakers have the ingredients they need to make the pastries, make sure we have the cups for beer, cups for soft drinks, things like that,” Vrentas said.

Planning for the annual festival begins each year in March, Vrentas said. His involvement doesn’t end until a few weeks after the festival in November.

Marianna Wells, who volunteers in the kitchen making delicacies like baklava and kourabiedes, said the pastries are one of the highlights of the festival.

Days before the festival, volunteers baked 125 trays of baklava alone. At 48 servings per tray, that’s 6,000 servings of baklava for the three-day festival.

While everyone likes to eat baklava, few people will make it when they get a recipe and see what goes into it, Wells said.

Tsaras said the church makes anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000 on the festival. Most years, a lot of that money goes into benevolence programs or charitable donations, Tsaras said. This year, the money will be used to help the church pay for about $180,000 in repairs to the building.

Vrentas said while many people volunteer time to make the festival happen, the church is in a transition period with many of the volunteers.

Some who have worked with the festival since the beginning are getting older and aren’t able to do as much as before. And some of the church’s other members are mothers with young children at home.

“They need to be at home with their children rather than spending time at the church,” Vrentas said.

Hours for the festival are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. today and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $2 per person.

Food items can be bought individually, or guests can enjoy a six-course Greek dinner for $12.50.

(David Hartman may be reached via e-mail at dhartman@edmondsun.com.)

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