If you cook it, they will come, and come they did to St. Mary’s Antiochian Orthodox Church’s first food festival. The Bay Ridge community poured into the intersection of 81st Street and Ridge Boulevard on Sunday, May 19 for an afternoon of great food, friendship and cultural activities.
There was music, dancing in the street and entertainment for the kids including games, face painting and a bouncy house. The Very Rev. Father Michael Ellias offered tours of the newly renovated Antiochian church that has been at its current location since 1950. Two years ago, its church hall was refurbished and this past year the church itself was completely renovated.
The event was spearheaded by parishioner Chris Athineos, along with Parish Council President Daria Mayrose. The food was prepared by Majdeline Elkoury, Nahla Fattouh and dozens of cooks and volunteers who worked for an entire week in anticipation of the event.
The traditional Middle Eastern food included abundant amounts of grape leaves, kafta, kibbe, falafel, hummus and babaganoush, and a dessert table overflowing with delicacies such as baklava, babousa and maamoul. They even served Lebanese wine and beer if anyone was thirsty.
“I think the festival was a huge success,” said Athineos. “It was a day for everyone to celebrate Middle Eastern culture which included our faith, our cuisine, music and some great dance moves.”
St. Mary’s roots reach back to 1917 when the Assumption of the Theotokos Cathedral, now known as St. Mary’s Church, came into existence in Downtown Brooklyn. Ellias is only the second pastor of the church at its current location, following the Very Rev. Paul Schneirla, who served from the church’s inception to 2002 when Ellias took over.
“Fresh off a spectacular restoration, it was a day for our parish to share St. Mary’s with the rest of the community,” explained Athineos.
Major sponsors for the event included Vincent Rohan and the Mae Ellen & Gerald Ritter Foundation, Bob Sabbagh, Charlie, Audrey and Bob Sahadi, and John Abi Habib.
Among those stopping by were state Sen. Andrew Gounardes, City Councilmember Justin Brannan, former Councilmember Vincent Gentile and former Salaam Club President Pierre Dabagh.
“This is awesome and we’re gonna make this a tradition,” said Brannan. “This is what Brooklyn is all about, spending a Sunday afternoon, hanging out outside the church and enjoying food, family and friends. This is what makes our community so, so special. This is what makes Bay Ridge the small town in the big city that everyone has come to love.”
Gounardes also expressed his delight with the festival. He spoke to the crowd about his close ties to St. Mary’s.
“I grew up at the church down the block, the Holy Cross Church, and we are sister parishes,” said Gounardes. “So to be able to come out here and celebrate this festival today is really, really special for me because we have the same traditions in my church.”
“So thank you for being such stalwarts in our neighborhood,” Gounardes added. “The presence of this community, the strength of this community helps build the fabric of Bay Ridge and all of Southern Brooklyn.”